Episode 17: At Home, Choosing
In the eighth episode of the “honoring your creative space” series, we look at how active choosing helps you make the most of your creative time. If you are uncertain about which creative project you are actually working on, if you can't quite decide whether to tackle chapter three or to do a little research, if one song is pulling at you but you think that you ought to finish up another song, you can tire yourself out even before you begin. What can help you choose more efficiently? Tune in and find out.
Today’s show is the eighth 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 “At Home, Choosing.” Let’s begin!
Every day, writers must make choices: about which piece of writing to tackle, about whether to write for twenty minutes or for three hours, about whether to abandon a difficult piece or revise it one more time, about whether to put the comma in or take the comma out. They must also make choices, at least as hard as their writing choices, about whether, how, and to what extent to market their work. Is this the day to update the website, propose a column, schedule some talking engagements, or engage in some networking?
If you are already choosing to write and choosing to market in a regular way, you may not need to institute the following practice. But all of us can benefit from the following mindful way of living the writing life. Every day, say, “I choose to write today. This means that I will -----” and fill in the blank appropriately. For instance:
I choose to write today. This means that I will
• return to chapter three of my novel for at least an hour
• commit to beginning my memoir even though I’m afraid of offending my parents
• start that article that feels a little bit boring but that would probably be wanted in the marketplace
• walk by the beach and let my swirling ideas settle, then write for an hour at the ribs joint by the beach, then have ribs!
• go directly to my writing
• deal with the unwieldy transition between chapter two and chapter three
• decide whether to write John out of the novel or else figure out how to make him much more lively
Occasionally, at least once a week and maybe even daily, especially if you are hoping to build your platform or have several projects to market, say, “I choose to market today. This means that I will -----” and fill in the blank appropriately. For instance:
I choose to market today. This means that I will
• try to get some early endorsements for my nonfiction book idea
• make a list of twelve literary agents to query about my novel
• tackle writing the synopsis of my novel
• find an Internet site to query about my column idea
• invite my contacts to subscribe to my newsletter (and then write my first newsletter!)
• find the way to give a talk about my subject, so that I can get comfortable with public speaking
• visit the sites of the five small presses that might be interested in my poetry collection
For the coming week, try out both sets of sentences (“I choose to write today. This means that I will” and “I choose to market today. This means that I will”) on a daily basis.
Mark, a novelist, gave this a try. He reported: “This choosing to write daily and then defining the action I'm going to take is powerful. It sets the intention right off and then creates a kind of mini-plan. I've been doing it all week and the writing’s been getting done this way without a lot of struggle getting to the computer. What gets worked on and for how long becomes the ‘conversation,’ not whether to write or how to find the time to write.”
Joanne, a nonfiction writer, explained: “The word ‘today’ is a very useful one for me. Although I did not ask myself these questions every day, I did ask one or the other of them on most days; and having the time limitation of ‘today’ embedded in each was very useful. In the past, I have tended to get overwhelmed, feeling that everything must be done in some amorphous ‘now.’ Asking one specific working question at a time, focusing on one writing priority for one creative day at a time, has been a useful device.
“I’ve also noticed that it’s important for me to get a balance between writing and marketing. When I focused primarily on marketing for a few days, I became crabby in that way that happens when I am away from a daily connection to my writing. In the midst of this frustrating stretch of marketing efforts, I found that I had to return to my writing. But when I don’t ask myself what am I going to do to market my work, I also get frustrated. So the next step is to use these focusing sentences and become aware of the patterns of work that balance me as a productive writer and a productive saleswoman.”
Linda, a screenwriter, explained: “One day this week I decided that I would only have time to read over a part of my screenplay and, because I had been so specific in my planning, I did manage to make the time to do it, even though I felt really tired. This way of choosing what to write each day feels just right: it helps me feel calm and very clear in my own mind about the writing projects I want to tackle.
“Yesterday, for instance, because my writing choices were written out, late in the day I happened upon my list and realized that I’d forgotten my intentions. So I squeezed a little writing in. But I’d like to do better than this and not just ‘happen on my list.’ I recognize that I don’t have this habit in place yet and I just have to keep working at it.”
Each day that you find yourself at home, even for just the few hours before work and the few hours after work, choose to get some writing done and some marketing done. To do that, you may have to crack through your resistance, fight through your fatigue, and have a chat with yourself about why writing is the better choice than flipping on the television. You may have to splash cold water on your face, quiet your fears about entering the mysterious space of your new novel, and skip certain “pressing” duties, like analyzing the day’s junk mail. None of that may come easily. But you have that choice.
Home is a funny place. It is the place to unwind, watch a movie, kick off your shoes, and drop your public persona. It is the place to read a magazine, surf the Internet, and return a few phone calls. But if you are a writer, it is also your office. It is your place of business. It is the place where you think hard as well as relax. It is the place where you suffer some as you try to get your writing ideas worked out, so it is not always a cheerful place. It can’t always be a happy, kick off your shoes kind of place: if it is, you aren’t writing and you aren’t selling.
This means that you have to enter into a complex relationship with your home space, one defined by a critical daily choice: how much of the time you will be “at home” and how much of the time you will be “at work.” Maybe you can make some clear distinctions, for instance that when you are in your study you are “working” and when you leave it you are “at home” again. But such neatness is hard to maintain. What if an idea comes to you unbidden when you are doing the dishes? Will you tell it to come back later, when you’re back in your study? No; you’ll be forced to make the kind of choice we’ve been discussing throughout: to be a writer, or not to be.
Four things to remember:
1. Answer the following question: “How can I construct my home life around the fact that home is where I relax and home is also where I work?”
2. Every day, make a concrete (though simple) plan for your writing life: for instance, “Today I will write from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.”
3. At least several days a week, make a concrete (though simple) plan for your marketing life: for instance, “Today I’ll write two sample columns.”
4. Choose writing.
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!