I'm afraid I'm not going to write a post apologising for my absences from blogging, but this post may shed some light on things. Life keeps going and I'm still here, even if it's not as frequently as usual. The life that is going on is one that filled with quite a bit of reading, but mostly it's been filled with writing. And so today I want to share a bit of it with you.
If you pay attention to my online ramblings regularly, you'll know that in addition to keeping up this beloved blog about books I am also working on my PhD in English Literature as well as writing fiction. I know a lot of bloggers have similarly full schedules. One of the most important things I've learned over the past six months is that life is always full to the brim with stuff and the only thing I can do is to find a balance that works. I'm still working on this, learning what works for me - and I have a feeling it's going to a be lifelong process. I'm finally starting to feel confident in this process, though. I've found some things that work for me and so if you're struggling with productivity and creativity and balance, I wanted to share a few tips to help you start to figure our your process.
The creative life is hard work. There's this cliché that portrays the creative life as romantic and inspired. And of course if you keep at the creative work long enough, there are moments of inspiration and romance (if your idea of romance is falling in love with what you've created). But the reality of writing and of many other creative pursuits is that it is as much of a daily slog as any office job. Of course when you have another 'day job' that includes quite a bit of slogging, this reality of the creative life can be quite off-putting.
And in my case I had not only a 'day job' that is mentally exhausting, but also a part-time job that claims many of my evenings and a time-consuming hobby that I love and a personal life I put a lot of energy into. Add in the other concerns of daily life that come with adulthood - family stress, health issues - and the idea of committing to a creative life seemed like an impossible dream. But here I am. Committed to pursuing a creative life and finding a balance in this crazy life.
How? Well, it's been a long process, but I'm going to share the journey with you step by step. It's an ongoing journey so the steps I've taken to come this far are only the beginning. I know there are many more steps ahead of me, and I hope to share them with you, too. But, first -
How to bite the bullet, Get your butt in gear, and Go for it with all you've got
It's pretty simple - just ask yourself how much you want the creative life and why. As a writer, I had to come to terms with whether or not I wanted to write my novel enough to make sacrifices in my life. I also had to figure out if my reasons for wanting to write were meaningful enough to warrant the sacrifices necessary.
Writing for fame or money? Not very compelling.
Writing because I can't imagine a future without it, because it is intrinsic to my sense of self, because I love to write even if my work will never be published or celebrated? That's a good reason.
At first I didn't know what sacrifices I would have to make, but I spent a long time looking at my life and assessing what I was willing to sacrifice if need be. These were hard questions to ask, really hard -
Was I willing to sacrifice my relationship with H, or with my family? No.
Was I willing to sacrifice time with friends, even risking our relationships? Yes, to an extent - my most important friends would understand why this is more important and hopefully would be able to forgive me if any damage was done to our relationship.
Was I willing to sacrifice my time - time away from blogging and nannying and social life? Yes. Even if some of that sacrifice has financial ramifications.
Was I willing to sacrifice my academic career, what I've been working toward for years? Yes. It's a terrifying thought, but ultimately yes.
Once you're committed, once you're in it, the whole mess of it, and ready for the long slog -
This is a natural follow up to the questions you've just asked yourself about sacrifices needed to make a full commitment. Look at the parts of life you considered sacrificing and assess their priority value. Add any other priorities you have in your life, and don't forget to put Writing (or your creative endeavour) on the list as well.
For me, the list I made up included my relationship with H, my family, my friends, my academic career, blogging, my social life, and my part-time work. I also added health and money to the list.
Then you just have to order the list from most important to least important. I won't share my own prioritisation, but needless to say writing was very near the top. What are the Big Things? What are the Little Things? The list will be a fluid document, changing with you and your life over the years, so don't forget to check back to reassess your priorities anytime you're feeling stuck, bogged down, unmotivated.
And this is the real deal. This is how you make it work. And actually this step is the one I'm currently working on. This step will require a fuller, more in-depth post of its own, but the initial stages are quite straightforward.
First you need to look at your daily life and note how you are spending your time. The first thing I did when I started thinking about real strategies for making writing work with my life was to do nothing and just go about my normal business for a few days. While I went about my thesis work, blogging, nannying, reading, travelling, spending time with family and friends, I took note of how I spent every hour of the day.
It was useful to write it all down in a notebook as well - 6.00 wake up, 8.00 wake up again, 8.05 check phone/social media in bed, right up to 21.13 commute home from nannying, pick up snacks at Sainsbury's, 21.45 get ready for bed.
Then, you need to assess your time and see where you could streamline, where you could make some sacrifices, and how you could fit dedicated writing/creativity time into your daily schedule. This is also a chance to recognise your patterns of productivity - when are you most productive? how much can you get done on a really good day?
Unsurprisingly, I noticed how bobbing around on the Internet was eating away at my time. However, I knew going on a social media starvation diet was not the way to go. Neither was cutting out Netflix. I need my mental down-time.
Looking at my daily schedules, I also realised that there was a pattern. I could really only focus on two, work-related (i.e. not personal life stuff) Big Things each day. The Big Things for me are Thesis, Blogging, and Writing. Even when nannying, travel to/from London, and appointments were thrown into the mix I could still give some time to two of the Big Things each day.
Once I realised this about my productivity patterns I had a decision to make - how often did I want Writing to be one of my two Big Things? The answer, of course, was every day. So that left me with the uncomfortable realisation that at least for now I would have to make some real sacrifices. I'm still hoping to add in at least a few days of the week that I can give my focus to all three of my Big Things. For now, though, I'm writing every day and that's the most important thing. It's the first thing on the agenda, and the work that comes after writing is either blogging of thesis work depending on deadlines and To Do lists for each. That's my new routine and so far it's working.
So, there it is. I made a commitment, I set my priorities, and I used that knew knowledge to make a strategy for fostering a happy, productive, and fulfilling creative life. I made choices about my time and energy, and I'm making sacrifices for my writing. I'm a writer. It's real now and it fees great.
Maybe that's the final step - claim your identity as a writer.
Make your pronouncement. Shout it from the mountaintops, or just tell your friends, or just tell yourself - you're a writer. I'm a writer, too.
There's a lot more to how I write - my rituals, my habits, tips and tricks for getting words on the page. But I'll save that all of that and more for the next part of the series.