Ira Glass has a quote on creativity, as follows:
Now, I know I’ve mentioned this quote before on here, but it’s been floating through my mind again lately, and I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve been using to actually close that gap, to create the volume of work he mentions above.
This one sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how easy it is for life to tug your time away. Make a schedule for yourself. Find gaps in your calendar, and make them if they don’t exist. If you can, try to find the times that work best for your natural creative rhythms and work doing those.
Protect your time
Once you’ve worked out your creative schedule, stick to it. Now, I know things come up. They do, and that’s fine. But you are the only person who is going to advocate for this time. Nobody else will. So set boundaries. Enforce them. Go someplace else if you’re being distracted or pulled away where you normally work. Don’t feel guilty for following your passion, either. You are the only person who can do your work, and it’s important. Keep holding your boundaries, and eventually other people will learn to respect them too.
All that being said about boundaries and schedules, remember that no matter what your work is, people are ultimately more important. It’s good to maintain healthy boundaries and to be diligent and work hard, but if you’re missing every important event in the lives of those you love, you probably need a break. People will always matter more.
For me, this can look like a variety of different things. One example is writing two blog posts a month. Another is having something ready for my writing group whenever we meet. Sometimes it’s as simple as setting a timer and making sure that I write for a solid thirty minutes at a time. Whatever your goal looks like, make sure that it’s reasonable, and give yourself the tools you need to achieve it (for example, scheduling enough time, having people to hold you accountable, or buying a timer). Also, as writer Steven James points out in this helpful article (no really, read it. It’s short), try not to set your goals by something that may not be realistic or within your control. After all, diligence can only go so far when the creative juices run dry, and there’s no reason for you to feel discouraged when it’s just an off day.
Another obvious one that’s easy to miss, sometimes your brain or body just needs a rest. For me, as a writer, this could mean eye strain, hunger, a lack of tea (of course), needing more sleep, or simply running out of creative steam for the day. For you, it might look different, but learn your signs that you need to take a break. Be especially aware of when you need to take a longer break. For example, when I was younger, I used to get so knotted up and frustrated when I was trying to get something to work on Machine that I would drive myself crazy. When that would happen, when I knew I was forcing everything and getting nowhere, that was when I knew I needed to step back and take a break not just for a few minutes, but for a couple of days, sometimes longer. If your creativity is swallowing you alive and making you miserable, if you’re throwing yourself at the wall until your head is bleeding, consider giving yourself time to recharge. Anne Lamott has a great analogy about the subconscious, a sort of child living inside you that knits things together before passing them up to your mind. Sometimes, you just need to give that child time to work.
Tied into the idea of rest is the idea of refueling. For me, that means spending time with family, friends, Jesus, and good art. Each one of these fills me up in a unique way, not only creatively, but also as a person. They also remind me why I do what I do, getting me back to center when I start to stray, and setting the standard for what I hope to do or be. As a recent example, I’ve recently been discovering some new (to me) YA books that I like, and reading them has been reminding me of things like the pleasure of reading (part of what I want to give), why I like YA (purpose), and what good writing looks like (what I hope to do). Other kinds of art stretch my horizons, challenge my thinking, and otherwise fill me up too.
I’ve only discovered the importance of this one in recent years, but it has definitely changed my writing life. If you want to do creative work, having people hold you accountable to do it is one of the easiest ways to make sure you actually get it done. This can look different for everyone. For me, it looks like a list of blog posts on the sidebar, ordered and numbered by month, a writing group that meets monthly, and writing friends that sit in the same room as me to get work done. The last two have been especially helpful in helping me meet deadlines and get work done. This can also look like you holding yourself accountable. Looking at your goals, make sure you’re taking the steps you need to achieve them, and be specific. Make deadlines, tell others what you plan to do, and remind yourself why it’s important that you do it.
Perhaps most importantly, remember to give yourself grace. As the video says above, you need to work, and work hard, but don’t give up in the middle. Be okay with it if you don’t get in quite as much writing as you’d hoped to, or it isn’t as good as you want yet, or you’ve been rejected again. Keep pushing through, keep trying. Someday, it will come.
What strategies do use to create your volume of work? Anything I missed? Any tricks or helpful hints? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow me here on the blog or on social media using the links in the sidebar.