Planning Your Creative Time


Today, when feeling slightly overwhelmed and uninspired, I went outside and sat on my lawn. I listened to the nothingness—to the silence, to the wind in the trees. I breathed in the fresh air and watched a bird flit through the branches overhead. And, I felt a lot better and more inspired when I came back inside.

I suffer from being driven. Sometimes, that’s good. Having drive means we get things done. But if you’re me, it can also lead to “work-a-holism” and “self-flagellation for a lack of anything to show for your time.” Meaning… I don’t take time off. I finish writing one book, I start in on another one. Writing 500 words isn’t good enough; I should be able to produce three times that. I should be able to get a huge amount done in one day (and on a good day, I can multitask like you would not believe).

But often, my creative tank runs on empty and I find myself frustrated and tired. I’m expounding too much energy and asking my brain to switch gears too many times in one day—from the editor to the creative writer, to the blogger, to the analytical “left-brained” INTJ.

Last week, in forcing myself simply to focus on one thing for two days in order to finish it, I discovered something: the mind can work better, and you can produce more, when you have a set time to do ONE THING.

Mentally, it prepares you for that time and channels your creativity in the direction it needs to go, because it is without distraction. It’s much easier to get up and start writing fiction than it is to try and write it after checking non-fiction sources for two hours before you start (e-mail, tumblr, Goodreads, Facebook, etc).

Knowing in advance what you plan to accomplish on a particular day also helps you mentally prepare for it. You can gather ideas and renew your “excitement” because you’re “waiting for that day to arrive” to put into words what’s in your head. Mentally, you’re not only giving your brain a break from gear-switching, you’re also training it to be productive in the direction you want it to go, at a certain time.

(This is why so many writers encourage writing at a particular time of the day—it programs your brain to “produce” on a regular basis, and you learn to live by a “writing schedule.”)

This week, I’m going to try an experiment: I’ll assign different creative tasks to different days so that no project gets in the way of another one. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on the days my computer isn’t to be used for anything except book-writing. Can I withstand the temptation to procrastinate by checking my e-mail? Can I go a few days without checking my e-mail? Will I have a meltdown? What other uses will my time be put to?

I guess you’ll have to come back in a week and find out!

9 thoughts on “Planning Your Creative Time

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    1. How did it go? I did it for awhile, and then got really busy and had to go back to multi-tasking, but I’ve found in general when you “prepare your mind” to be creative, it really does help you shut out distractions when you sit down to do it.

  1. Good luck! I’ve read many times that multi-tasking isn’t good for us because our brain takes time to adjust to the new thing we’re doing. Instead, we should focus on one thing, finish it, then move on to another. I hope your experiment goes well!

  2. Oh gosh, I have spent so much time trying to explain to friends and family, the concept of “mental self-flagellation”. They don’t get why if “nobody’s going to really punish you” you should get so upset when something’s unfinished!

    I think the reason most of us multi-task so much is because we’re naturally good at it. No, really! Think about it, for most of humanity’s history (irregardless if you believe in creation/evolution) we had to multi-task. Farming didn’t just mean tilling the soil, but digging, while keeping an eye out for weeds and sickly plants, taking note of the weather, carrying on several conversations. The scene indoors is just as busy, a woman might set a pot to boil, while mending, watching the children, nursing the newest baby and again, carrying on one or more conversations.

    The problem comes when we want to multi-task all the time and our brain just can’t handle that. And as you say, the mind sometimes produces its greatest work when it focus on just one thing!

    I’ve heard of “scheduling” your writing time. But I think most of us find the idea of planning creativity to be just odd!

    Fantastic post again though! I think this one I’ll be bookmarking 😉 ! (Along with the one about 8 ways to annoy an editor, or how to submit/polish a manuscript)

    1. Some personality types suffer from being chronic over-achievers. The idea of “relaxing” is foreign to us, since we’re not PRODUCING anything. Giving our brain a rest doesn’t qualify as “results,” because it’s not something you can hold in your hand and point to the progress you’ve made.

      Multi-tasking is great, but not when it comes to flipping between the left and right sides of your brain (creativity – right side, logic / editing skills – left side). Sometimes, we just need to cut our mind a break.

      Planning creativity may sound odd, but it works. I say this as someone who’s written seven chapters today because I got up and did just that — wrote. No e-mails. No checking blogger. No tumblr. No nothing, except writing, breakfast, and walking the dog. It feels good! I’ll have no guilt at plopping myself down in front of a costume drama tonight. 😉

  3. That sounds like a better idea than trying to multi-task. On Sunday all I did was study for my history class. And when I needed a break, I stopped to read a book. It seem that most people really aren’t good multi-taskers, we just fool ourselves into thinking that we are. When we work on more than one project it’s a recipe for distraction!

    Good luck with your new method!

    1. Here’s something to remember: creative writing and imagination is “right-brained,” whereas proof-reading, editing, and analysis are “left-brained.” That’s why often when you’ve finished doing something “serious,” you can’t always shift back into “creativity” with any kind of inspiration.

      Today, I had scheduled “book stuff” and “blog post.” I did the blog post, then spent the rest of the day writing out profiles and MBTI types for the characters in the book I’m working on (since I have creative writing for tomorrow, and I don’t want to have to stop and do any research / analytical writing in the middle of it). I made a lot of progress and did kind of a brief outline to remind me of what needs to go in which chapter. Hopefully, tomorrow I can just launch right into the “fun” part of actual writing! 🙂

  4. Great ideas, Charity. Often I tell myself that I need to set up a schedule for what days I do what. So far, that hasn’t happened.

    Wishing you the best of luck – betting you’ll succeed. 🙂

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