Episode 15: Like Taking Your Medicine
In the sixth episode of the “honoring your creative space” series, we look at the idea of returning to your creative work periodically during the day. Many creative people, even when they have sufficient time available, only create once a day. What if you were able to return to your creative work several times during the day? Wouldn’t that increase your productivity and deepen your connection to your art? What can help you do just that? Tune in and find out.
Today’s show is the sixth episode in a series called “Honoring Your Creative Space.” In this series I’ll be chatting about what you need to do in order to find, protect, and honor sufficient space in which to create. For convenience I’ll address you as a writer, but the same ideas apply whether you are creating novels, paintings, songs, or theorems. Today’s show, from an essay in my forthcoming book A Writer’s Space, is called “Like Taking Your Medicine.” Let’s begin!
You’re at home. But the faucet has a drip. The plants could be watered. The hall could be swept. You are at home, yes, where you do your writing, but writing isn’t quite on the agenda right at this moment. You feel a little too muddle-headed to write; and then there’s the drip, the parched ferns and the dust bunnies. So, although you are at home, just a few feet from your writing, you might as well be in Kazakhstan, as close as you feel to writing.
So you wait. But waiting is very dangerous. If you wait for a time when your muddle-headedness, mild depression, to-do lists, doubts about the universe, anger over politics, and a thousand other things you could name are finally handled or settled, you will wait for a very long time. And as you wait, nothing good is happening; in fact, you are digging your hole deeper. No, waiting is a very dangerous game. Why don’t you try the following instead?
Every four hours, just like taking your medicine, maybe at 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., and 8 p.m., ask yourself the following question: “Given the exact circumstances in which I find myself, am I able to write for fifteen minutes?” If your answer is no, explain to yourself why you are answering no. If your answer is yes but you don’t start writing, explain to yourself why, even though you feel able to write, you aren’t writing. If your answer is yes and you do write, have a chat with yourself about whether this writing stint would have occurred if you hadn’t been checking in with yourself in this experimental way.
People who try this experiment typically report the following. “I wasn’t able to write every four hours, as that seemed too artificial and arbitrary; and it also didn’t work very well given the shape of my day. But I did notice that writing was much more on my mind and in fact I did turn to my writing more than I probably would have if I hadn’t been thinking about those writing stints.”
That’s the point of this tactic: to keep your writing on your mind in such a front and center way that you’re holding the intention to write even as you pull out the ironing board or pay your bills online. Whenever you find yourself at home, hold the intention to write, as that intention will translate into actual writing stints. However it is that you remember to take your medicine four times a day, do exactly the same with your writing.
Of course there’s the risk that at your appointed time you’ll find yourself unable to write; that by not writing you’ll disappoint yourself; and as a consequence you’ll feel even worse than if you hadn’t tried at all. There is always the risk that you may disappoint yourself. That risk is there even for productive writers, as most writers don’t write as often as they would like. Because of this reality, you will need to practice self-forgiveness. Just so long as you tie self-forgiveness to new resolve, it’s smart not to badger yourself about any writing stints you skipped or any writing you failed to get accomplished.
We are very clever in the ways that we talk ourselves out of writing. Only rarely do we say, “I refuse to write today.” More usually we say things like, “I can’t go shopping without a grocery list, so I had better get that list written” or “A little nap would be pleasant; no, more than pleasant, vital.” By talking this way, we make sure that we don’t notice that we’re holding the strong intention to avoid our writing. The day goes by; some guilt accumulates; a little bitterness builds; maybe a little depression flowers. But on balance we’ve achieved our objectives: to avoid writing and to say nothing to ourselves that might alert us to our shenanigans.
By getting small, regular writing stints on the table, you get some writing-related inner talk going, even if it’s of the “Oh, time to write—but I don’t really feel up to it!” sort. That refusal, while disappointing, is nevertheless better than not thinking about your writing at all. You want to get a grip on your mind in such a way that your writing intentions exist in your thoughts. Planning your day around a series of writing stints helps with this.
Joan, a novelist, explained: “Continually holding the intention to write in the back of my mind has caused my writing to feature more prominently in my life. Now I’m always mulling over the next paragraph, ruminating on it throughout the day, and thinking about where it’s going to lead. Doing this regular ‘intention holding’ has given me a feeling of power and a new freedom to think about the work, do the work, and allow the work to flow.” You could wish to write, but that isn’t quite strong enough. You could want to write, but that isn’t strong enough either. Intend to write: that is the steelier orientation.
Four things to remember:
1. Pick a day when you will be home all day.
2. Agree to write four times that day, just as if you had medicine to take.
3. Write for those four stints; or for as many as you can.
4. Forgive yourself for any writing you didn’t get done and commit to doing a better job of taking your medicine.
That concludes today’s show. I hope you’ll come back next week for another episode in the series. To subscribe to “the joy of living creatively,” please visit personallifemedia.com, where you’ll also find my blog. You can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; and I hope that you’ll visit my website to learn more about my books and services. That’s ericmaisel.com—(spelled out).
Thank you for listening!