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Finding Time to Write (Or to Get Into Creative Mode)

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Click for photoI’ve written this entire blog, past and future, in my head a dozen times over the last decade.  I’ve mentally written millions of words and crystallized my perspective on the topics this blog will cover – but take a guess at what I forgot to do.  Write it all down!  What some would consider the easy part.  Reason?  Lack of time. Or so I’d been telling myself for years.

Everyone has probably heard these phrases:

  • Winners make the time!
  • If you don’t have the time, you don’t want it badly enough.

Naturally I agree with those statements in theory, but it’s always a lot harder to turn them into practice.  How do you make the time when there are a thousand other important things pulling at your attention?  The “answer” to that question is bigger than this one post – it’s the focus of this blog – so for now I’m going to cover the “rule set” I’ve followed for sitting down and writing this blog.  These rules have worked well for the (very) short amount of time I’ve been employing them, and I expect they’re just the start of a longer list over time.  They cover writing as an activity but could also be extended to just about any creative activity – simply replace the word writing with painting, dancing, graphic design, or whatever else you’d like to focus on.

Before jumping in however, it’s important that you’ve already made the commitment to yourself that whatever it is you want to invest in creatively is important to you.  Do you consider it an important part of your core values or mission?  Is it one of your top 3 focus areas?  Do you have both long-term and short-term goals relating to this activity and have you written them down?  If you’ve answered no to any of those questions, you have to ask yourself if you’re actually going to “make the time” for something that doesn’t align with who you ultimately want to be.  Do you “want it badly enough”?  Think about it before taking the next step.

This is how I’m finding time to write this blog with a demanding full-time job, a family at home, an active martial arts and fitness schedule, and a strong desire to catch up on back episodes of Battlestar Gallactica before the summer starts.  Merlin Mann might call these rules “design patterns for creativity” because they’re common patterns seen across most creative work that can help increase the likelihood of success.

  • Writing can’t interfere with my top three priorities: spending time with my family, building world-class software, and keeping up with other aspects of my own personal development.  While I view this blog as a key contributor to my own growth, I’m not going to sacrifice my health (nutrition, fitness) or my own ability to grow through other means just to write.  This was something I evaluated first before writing a single sentence.
  • Writing every week is non-negotiable.  I’m serious about wanting to have an active blog on the topic of focus, and this means spending a few hours every week writing in isolation – even if I don’t “feel like it”.  Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it’s not easy at all.  But if I can write for just a few hours each week, I can post at least twice weekly on a regular basis.  This is a commitment I’ve made to myself and one I intend to keep (feel free to call me on it!)
  • Writing for 2 hours straight is far more productive than 6 sessions of 20 minutes.  As anyone who has attempted any sort of creative work knows, it can take 20-30 minutes alone just to get into the flow of it.  The startup cost is just far too high for this type of work, so it’s almost always hard to do it in short spurts (although not impossible).  In order for me to contribute to this blog on a regular basis, I’ve set aside my daughter’s naptime on Sunday to write for 2-3 hours straight.  In that time I can usually get about a post and a half finished, and I use a late evening mid-week to finish up (like now).
  • Writing perfectly isn’t a goal.  It’s more important to post something that’s less than perfect than it is to iterate endlessly to make something 10% or 20% better.  In other words, posting something is better than posting nothing because it wasn’t “good enough”.  People have described this as writer’s curse – and you see it in other creative disciplines as well.  In software development, you can always refactor code to be “more perfect” but at some point you need to get the code out the door and into the hands of customers.  I could spend more time editing each post than I do writing them by a factor of 10, but instead I’m focused on getting each post 80% of the way there and then moving on.
  • Writing requires my “system” to be in place first.  Given the limited time I have to actually write prose, I can’t spend all that time fiddling with software instead of writing.  My laptop and the software I use to write has to be ready to go.  But just as importantly, my workflow has to be close to automatic before I start.  Just like I don’t spend a bunch of time spell-checking (because it’s automatic) I don’t want to waste time navigating through various tools and windows.  Writing has to be the core activity for the few hours I’m doing it, not configuring plug-ins for Windows Live Writer or WordPress.
  • Writing with a specific reader in mind is better than writing for the masses.  While I would love it if 100,000 people stumbled upon this blog tomorrow, I’m not writing for audience.  I’m writing because I have things to say, and it’s important for me to remember who it is I’m writing for.  Similar to product design, having a persona in mind helps me when I decide what to write and how deep to go.  In many ways, the person I’m writing for is someone a lot like me; the version of me years ago who didn’t have the tools to focus and didn’t even know where to start looking.

These are the basic rules I follow to find time to write this blog.  But again, they can be applied to most creative activities with a little… creativity. 

Thoughts?  Is there anything special you do to get into creative mode?

Written by Mike Torres

April 8th, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Creativity

Tagged with ,

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