Up until my twenties, I never had trouble becoming engrossed in creative activities. There was a constant flow of writing, songwriting, acting, and music-making. But once all the distractions of normal adult life set in, I found, and still find, establishing any kind of creative flow difficult and I exalt in the times when I actually obsess about an ongoing creative project. What I’d like to do is find a way to make the flow-times more frequent and reliable. So I’m finally going to acknowledge this flowlessness as a solvable problem and work on it until I get the result I want. Hooray for me!
My current strategy addresses four problems that keep me from finding creative time and then actually being creative in the time I have.
The feeling of constant pressure to perform which inspires in me an irresistible desire to stay free of any kind of obligation, to others and to myself.
#2: Time Limit
The feeling of constant pressure because I don’t have unlimited time for creativity. I’ve always hated anything with a time limit and I sometimes find having to choose how to use my limited creative time frustratingly paralyzing.
#3: Imminent Collapse
The fear that if I don’t spend enough time relaxing and having fun, I’ll suffer some kind of physical or mental collapse. It sounds silly, but when you work a money job, day in and day out, leisure time becomes veeeeery important to your spiritual well-being. And creativity is work that requires actual focus and energy, so as fun as it is, it doesn’t count as leisure. I have spoken before about the rejuvenating properties of being creative, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t count as leisure. But it doesn’t.
The self-recrimination for not having started until now whatever it is I’m trying to start. Guilt is a weight that slowly crushes the air from my creative lungs. My current strategy doesn’t actually address this problem directly, but I’m hoping that improvements in the above three areas might jar something loose in the guilt department.
I could probably expound further upon these problems, stating and re-stating them in a never-ending cycle of self-examination, but I want to talk about the potential solution. I’m going to try alternating weeks of creative focus and leisure focus. So … one week on, spending my non-office moments in pursuit of creative fulfillment, and one week off, spending those same moments playing Warcraft or watching good movies with my husband.
Here’s why I think this schedule will help me with the problems above.
If I am making creative progress, the pressure to perform will be lessened both by the fact that I’m making progress and by the natural lessening of pressure that occurs when you are doing the thing instead of thinking about doing the thing.
#2: Recurring Time for Creativity
I currently have only self-imposed deadlines for my creative work. So I have the luxury of making the time fit the project rather than the other way around.
It’s not like I’ve been setting arbitrary deadlines for specific projects to be finished. It’s more like I only have an hour here and there to be creative, so how much progress can I make on this project and shouldn’t I be working on this other project but I really wanted to start something new and if I work on this project I’ll never get to this project so agh, the pressure! *Clutches head to keep it from exploding*
Right now I never know when I’ll be able to grab an hour to create. If I know I’ll have regularly recurring time to be creative, I can afford to work on whatever is “next”. What is “next” is determined by the work, not the crazy circular logic of my inner critic. What is “next” is an endless, varied flow of organized creative endeavor. It’ll take as long as it takes and it will happen as long as I keep showing up. And I’ll keep showing up because every other week I get to goof off.
#3: Recurring Time for Rest
Every other week I get to goof off! Think about it. Even if I’m only working every other week, I’m still creating at least 90% more than I was before. So it’s better to allow for the necessity of blowing off steam with a computer game. Just embrace it, reap the benefits, and then focus my renewed energy on the creative week.
And during that creative week, I can afford to work hard, secure in the knowledge that my brain, body, and spirit will be free to play next week. For a whole week! I should mention here that weeks just feel like the right time unit. A week doesn’t seem that long to wait if you want something, but it also seems long enough to make real progress on a project.
So if I’m making creative progress in a low pressure environment and I’m slowly ticking off project after project in a seamless flow of blissfully expressive focus (a flow interrrupted only by laughter and relaxation) and I’m sharing my creations and connecting with people because of them and all is right with the world, I’m guessing feelings of guilty inadequacy might fade?
I plan to stick with this system for as long as it is useful. If this approach doesn’t help, I’ll think of something else and do that. I’m committed to finding a way, ANY way, to spend more of my time creating. Wish me luck!