When it comes to creative ventures (or athletic pursuits!), here are a few things I’ve learned about my writing priorities.
Output decreases in direct proportion to (unrelated) input.
In other words, when your mind is cluttered with unrelated information coming in from the outside world, it’s hard to access your inner creative world.
The latest political scandals, social media, and TV or Netflix binging are just a few sources of time suckage and brain clog. Creative writing is especially challenging if you’re worried about what’s coming in.
Substitute preoccupied, concerned, or even interested for “worry” and you’ll get the picture.
Writer’s retreats are designed to remove writers from the incoming overload, though even that’s a bit much for many of us. By the time I’m all settled in, it’s over. Isolation is the way to go for me.
Creativity doesn’t like chaos.
It’s hard to settle into writing or anything resembling a writing schedule when nothing else in your life is organized. House or apartment a mess? Erratic cleaning or laundry schedule? Kids misbehaving and can’t get a moment to yourself?
I don’t even have kids, but I’ve lived with chaos (which I clean up every few chapters), and it drives me nuts. And, since I can’t deal with it anymore, I’ve been making changes. Maybe this little system can help you stay sane, develop your writing priorities, and finally start reaching your goals:
1st Priorities: work, bills, classes, family/kids, close relationships, budget (if any), transportation (car tune-ups, a filled gas tank, oil changes or, for me, keeping spare innertubes for my bike on hand). Brainstorm on what your absolute essentials are (those that could cause everything else to grind to a halt).
2nd Priorities: healthy food, household/personal supplies, cleanliness, laundry, exercise. If you don’t prioritize health, you might survive for awhile on take-out or coffee and chocolate croissants, but it won’t be long before priorities shift to health problems.
3rd Priorities: Writing and associated tasks, including research, contacts, and reading.
Everything else: Entertainment (TV, movies, Facebook/social), hobbies, casual friends, parties, etc.), social events, trips, nights out, dating, etc.
You might be wondering: Shouldn’t writing come first? And I ask you in return: Shouldn’t basic needs be met before sitting down to write (or trying to)? How can you write if you don’t eat or pay the electric bill? Is writing more important than changing a diaper, listening to your teenager’s troubles, or maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner? Is it even possible?
And yes, you need your friends and entertainment. But that’s your reward for completing your writing goals.
Don’t have time for writing? Set your writing priorities.
Think about it. Writer’s block is a myth; it’s a symptom of other maladies, not a problem that exists on its own. Practice mindfulness. Reframe your thoughts. Replace “Oh, I can’t do this” with something like “If I sit down and start writing, it will come to me. At least I can outline or write character descriptions and do some research.”
Take action. And trust me; I have to remind myself of this stuff just like I’m reminding you.
For me, it’s Monday morning. My kitchen is clean. I shopped for essentials over the weekend, and I stocked my refrigerator and freezer with ready-to-go, healthy homemade food for the week (I’ve been getting the hang of that here). My laundry is done, and my apartment is fairly clean and tidy.
I have a few copyediting jobs to do this week, and two 9-hour shifts at my on-site freelance gig. Those are my priorities because that’s how I pay my bills. But if I don’t take care of priorities that support them (food, for example, or nice, clean clothes to wear to the on-site gig), I could jeopardize them. Or go crazy, which can make anything else (like writing) impossible.
I’ll get some basic exercise by riding my bike to and from the office and for various errands, but I’ll also have time for the gym and friends. Because I have time for writing. Because I’ve made time for writing and the extras by taking care of priorities.