During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.
Not Enough Time, Wasting Time, Adding It Up
Almost two decades ago, I heard a psychologist give a lecture about how to write a book while holding a full-time job. He said we don’t need large chunks of time like we feel we do. Instead, we should schedule weekly a meeting with ourselves, even as short as 30 minutes, and use that time to write. He had some sort of math I no longer recall, but the gist of it was: That adds up to X hours a month, X total pages, so in a year’s time, you have a book. Done!
It sounded logical enough, and I toted that idea around ever since—until recently, when after four months of daily practice, nothing had added up. No chapters, no books, not even a completed essay.
I believe the psychologist was right that we don’t need the hours of uninterrupted time we feel we need. That’s nice, and at times it’s necessary, but short bursts of regular practice do add up, but not as seamlessly as he described, at least not for artists.
Art requires meandering and messiness. X minutes of writing might turn into Y pages, but that doesn’t mean those pages hold together in a spellbinding narrative. Those pages might yield one sentence for a piece you’ve not even imagined yet but little else. Same goes for sketching, painting, composing, and other arts. Factory-line assembly doesn’t work for most of us.
I used to think I’d wasted my time if a few days of writing didn’t add up to a completed essay. And, when it didn’t result in Completed Work, I’d give up. When I didn’t give up, however, I looked back at months of effort and saw a wealth of beginnings, drafts, and new ideas.
So, here’s the thing about Time. If you’re practicing your craft, giving yourself at least a few minutes to delve in, even if what you create ends up in your recycling bin, it’s not wasted time. It’s never wasted time (see E for Early, for example, and how you’ll be a better person due to your time spent practicing your craft).
Secondly, there really is power in twenty minutes. Twenty is better than none. Twenty minutes, five days in a row is better than holding out for three hours on Saturday that never happen. Twenty minutes delving into your craft resonate and expand in intangible ways.
Third, your effort today builds momentum for tomorrow. You’re warmed up, your work is waiting where you left it. After a few months, you’ll be able to dive deep in twenty minutes, your muscles lean and your time rich and effective.
Lastly, finding enough time and wasting time go hand-in-hand. Only you know when you’re wasting time. Should you eliminate all social media from your life? No, probably not. I, for one, get a lot of ideas from my writer and artist friends online. However, I know I’ve spent too much time scrolling and clicking when I find myself reading an article about the fashion choices of Taylor Swift. (True story … how does this relate at all to my life or craft? I could say the article was really well written, but even then, is this really how I should spend my time?).
When you’re able to see where you’re wasting time, you’ll be able to find enough time. Maybe you give up morning news shows and gain thirty minutes to work your craft with coffee in hand. Or, maybe that morning routine keeps you calm and sane, so you steal forty minutes of your lunch hour to engage in art. Be honest with yourself about your time, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. Rest and relaxation are important. They’re even better when you feel you’ve earned a break. Put in enough creative time, so when you decide to look at cat videos, you feel no guilt at all.