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S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Four Keys to Finding Time For Your Creative Work

I fight a war every day.

My adversaries are distraction, fatigue, and the demands of ordinary life. These adversaries include things I love (my husband and children) and things I loathe (laundry and shopping) as well as an oft-neglected need for renewal (of mind and body).

I fight these things each day so that I can do the one thing that fulfills my need to bring something new into the world: my creative work. My writing isn't just my profession (although I give it that level of respect and ardor in its pursuit) - it is a calling (see The War of Art for a deeper understanding of this). It's my contribution to the collection of human expression, rendering stories through my unique lens on the world. I'm radically egalitarian: I believe every person is called to express themselves in the world through their unique potential and that everyone has something worthy to contribute.

This is the first key: properly valuing the work. 

Once you properly value something, you can easily find time for it, right? In fact, we don't actually do this - we often don't make time for the things we value most (in other words, we don't put first things first, see 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). But if you acknowledge that writing is a vital part of who you are and you add a determination to put first things first, you will have a new urgency in seeking out time for your writing. Like the hot pursuit of a new love, you won't have to be convinced to find time; you'll be too busy seeking every opportunity to spend time with your work.

The second key is building creative endurance.

By creative endurance, I mean sustaining a creative focus long enough to immerse yourself in your work. You may have to start with small blocks of time and build up, just like a new exercise program. But blocking out time and muting distractions is vital to building endurance. For me, I can work in 40 min to 1 hour blocks and then I need a mental/physical rest. If I stretch, take a walk, get a drink - something that has no danger of turning a few minutes into forty - I can return and do another hour of creative work. If I Facebook or check email, I am lost (see Manage Your Day-to-Day). If I manage my breaks wisely, I can sustain my creative endurance for many hours at a time, day after day. Usually, though, I only have a limited number of hours each day before life requires attention, so husbanding those hours and spending them in pure creative work is vital to productivity.

The third key is (ironically) complete separation from creative work.

When I am tending to children or other duties - even the relatively mindless ones - I strive to stay present in the task at hand. The mind wanders, especially for creative types who like to live in their heads to begin with. But attention to the task at hand, rather than perpetually living (mentally) in that creative space does two things: 1) it makes you more likely to accomplish your demanding tasks, and 2) it gives your creative brain a rest by engaging it in alternative work. A mom who is both discussing the events of the day with her teenage son AND worrying how to solve a plot point is doing neither very well. Trust your subconscious to work those problems for you and bend your conscious mind to attending to your teen. Or fixing the dishwasher. Or deciding which ingredients are needed for tonight's dinner. Even relatively mindless tasks allow an opportunity for stillness, which the mind also needs. Creating that mental separation can be difficult, especially for people who love to live in their worlds. Which is every single writer ever born.

The fourth key is creative renewal.

In a sense the third key is also renewal - giving your brain a rest via stillness or active alternate work that is not your creative work. But the fourth key is more specifically about creative renewal - a deliberate renewal of your creative soul by actively engaging in creative works. Reading, free writing, watching movies, TV, engaging in erudite discussions - all of this feeds the creative well. It will fill your subconscious mind with the raw stuffs you will use to create your work when the time comes. This isn't TV-as-distraction or a brain-dead-reception of whatever is put in front of you, but an active, voracious consumption of creative works. This will renew - and inspire - you when your creative work block-time comes around again.

To recap the keys:
1) Value Creative Work
2) Build Creative Endurance
3) Practice Mental Separation
4) Seek Creative Renewal

If you practice these daily, you will not only find more time to write, the time you spend will be more productive, allowing you to accomplish more in less time. And leaving time for living life as well.



22 comments:

  1. I have a very big problem with key point three. :)

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    1. I expect most writers do (including me). But after struggling with it for a long time, and finally making some headway, I can attest to the power of it.

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  2. I hate researching, but really need to for book#2. So to keep myself engaged I started watching Survivor man and taking notes. Not only did it get me excited about the scene I was working on, but I got to watch Les Stroud do his thing.

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    1. Research really turns my gears, so stuff like that is a double pleasure for me! #nicework

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  3. I'm very disciplined, but when both of my boys are at home (like now) I have a hard time not feeling guilty about creeping away int my sanctum. Plus, they are messy and I hate nagging. It saps my creative energy. One solution? Go to a weeklong writers' retreat like the one I'm headed to this Friday.

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    1. Summers are the hardest for me too - because of exactly what you're saying! For me, I block time each day for writing and my kids are old enough to respect that (mostly). Then I spend another block of time actively with them. It works (most days) - but I love the idea of a weeklong retreat as well. Enjoy!

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  4. I struggle with #1 and #2. Working full-time, I have SO many pulls on my time and not enough blocks of time to really focus on the writing. And when I get tired, I wonder if I deserve/want this time or just want time to be lazy. I'm taking it easier this summer and hope it'll help me re-energize.

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    1. The demands are endless, aren't they? And the desire to be lazy is really just a sign that you need time to rest and re-energize. I'm not a very disciplined person (I'm working on it), but I am driven (seems like those two should go together, but the don't). Even finding an hour a day can work wonders, if you do it every day as part of your routine. Or start with 15 minutes of free-writing - that you can squeeze in every day, no matter how hectic. Then see how it infects you, inspires you to do more. :)

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  5. Choosing those breaks wisely is such a great tip! I've got to start unplugging from the internet for the whole writing time, even the breaks...well except for thesaurus.com. of course.

    I hadn't really looked at three & four that way before - only thought of them as slacking from my writing, but now I see that I'm just renewing!

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    1. I'm all for calling slacking "work". LOL!

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  6. Thanks, Susan. You've put a complex subject in easy to follow sections. When I worked in an office I was able to do my work quickly, then shut the door and work on my novel. Ya, there were twinges of guilt - but I got over it. The older I get the more I think we take ourselves far too seriously - and life, too. I like the motto, "If it feels good and no one gets hurt, do it."

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  7. Great post and so helpful. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and talents. Have a great day!

    Paul R. Hewlett

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for the tweet!

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  8. As usual you've managed to say, succinctly and effectively, what so many of us writers struggle with! I'm tweeting this one. You really should consider publishing your blog posts as ebooks for writers a la Rachel Aaron, Sue. :)

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    1. I keep toying with the idea! Thanks for the encouragement, SK!

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  9. I love these four points and the reminder that other people struggle with the same thing I do. Reminds me I need to push myself to try free writing!!! (Well, I do journal a little, so I think that really helps, but I want to push myself a little more in this area, like waking up and reaching for a pen first thing, even while I'm groggy).

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    1. Oh and I also wanted to say I really enjoyed the first episode of Delirium. Such a neat concept and the ending really made me sit up and go Hmmmm! I am very wary of graphic scenes in novels (it's a personal thing), so I wanted to ask you about the rest of the series. I had no problems with the first episode - it was dark stuff but it didn't get graphic. How are the rest of the episodes in comparison?

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    2. Margo – just try it! (the free writing) I promise it will surprise you and suck you in. #LOVEIT

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    3. Re: Debt Collector - if you mean graphic violence, I would say there's not much. Some blood, and definitely some dark concepts/situations, but not a lot of gore. If you mean graphic sex, there are two sex scenes, but they're not what I call "graphic" or anything like erotica. No body parts (well, not any graphic ones, anyway). These reviews (from Ep3) give a good sense of it, I think:

      "I just know that with every instalment I read, the book's darkness and sexiness (and not in a lurid or erotic sense of the term) becomes more intense and apparent."

      "And this episode is a little more gritty, and delves just a bit more into the adult content that has been mentioned in all the blurbs!"

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  10. One of the best posts I read on this subject. Thank you, Susan!

    I'm with you. I can't even look at Facebook at email until I've done my writing for the day. As for creative renewal, I've just got to get away from it all every once in a while, even if it's just an afternoon hiking. Never gave a thought to #3 though. I think you've hit it there.

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    1. Thanks Debra! I need to add more afternoon hikes to my life. :)

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