Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fifteen Minute Epiphany

There are two parts to the writing life. The solitary pursuit of putting a story down on “paper,” and the social aspect of meeting fellow writers, putting yourself “out there” and taking classes and conference sessions on learning our craft. My theory is, the most successful writers learn to enjoy both parts of the journey.

On any given day, either part could be my favorite. I definitely love the solitary aspect of writing. I am never bored when I’m in creative mode. But we all have days, weeks, months (well, we hope not months) when we’re stuck far outside of creative mode. Those days we love our social tools: crit groups, online classes, conferences, how to-books, blogs, social networks. I love meeting new people, getting new information, finding a new perspective.

In the social writer’s world we can learn how to motivate ourselves, how to enter contests, how to edit, even how to write in the first darn place! We have every tool for success at the touch of a computer key.

But what happens when your head starts spinning with all that knowledge? What happens when you’re exiled from creative mode AND burned-out on how-to’s? That’s been my question for several weeks lately. I’m information-ed out and honestly afraid of adding any new information to my brain. (As my husband says, “There comes a point when your brain is full, and if you add something new, something old gets pushed out to make room. My brain definitely feels full these days.)

In addition, trying to assimilate all this info takes so much time. I spend whole days doing things that relate only to my writing. For example, writing. And revising and e-mailing and Facebooking and blog-hopping and plotting and cheerleading and critiquing.

The benefit I’ve reaped is that I no longer need a huge incentive to write. Believe it or not, I’ve found my motivation to write or revise something every day—not always a lot, but some.

And I’m grateful for all of this.

So why isn’t my writing life going better? Why am I still often depressed about the state of my so-called career? Sometimes even my life?

It took me a while to give the problem a name. I’m out of balance. I write. But I don’t sew. I don’t scrapbook. I don’t ride my horse. I don’t do any of the things I love that used to fill my days.

Well, I got an unexpected epiphany just yesterday that has me suddenly excited. That dumb kind of excited that makes you think you’re really going to change your life. Answer the problem of no balance. I don’t know if it’s going to work. See, this potential life-changing idea isn’t on a par with, say, marrying my husband, bringing my children home from the hospital or moving to Alaska.

This was my friend paraphrasing Creativity Coach Eric Maisel’s extremely unassuming suggestion: Start every single day with fifteen minutes of something meaningful to you. Fifteen minutes.

When she said this, I thought, “Yeah, yeah, I know. Get your writing done before anything else.” Hey, I’ve been trying to do that for five years – and all it does is frustrate me because I got to great lengths to avoid work first thing in the morning. I told my friend it was a nice idea, good advice, but I’m still working on that one. I still procrastinate. I still feel guilty.

She surprised me. She said, “I decided to start my day with reading. Your fifteen minutes could be scrapbooking or sewing.”

What?

“But I thought writers supposed to write first thing every day.” I said.

“But, what if that doesn’t work for you? You just told me you write better at night. Doesn’t that just put you in a bad mood?”

“Yes.”

Turns out, Maisel’s advice centers around doing something you find meaningful, that will put you in a positive mood for the rest of the day. Something that lifts you into the frame of mind to work (in our case write) happily.

I tried it this morning. I got up and I read—for twenty minutes. Before breakfast. Before checking e-mail. Reading is something I normally deny myself because even though it’s fun and its honest “research,” I’ve also convinced myself it’s wasting time. Guess what? When I did it as something meaningful to me—it worked! I’ve had a better day than I’ve had in a couple weeks – mood and energy-wise.

Tomorrow, I’m going to set up my sewing table as my something meaningful. And I’m going to find a small sewing project the next day. Fifteen minutes. There’s no need to do more if I don’t want to. And the thought that doing something other than writing isn’t wasting time is more liberating than anything I’ve heard in ages. My hope is, it will give me creative energy that spills into my writing later in the day, when I actually like to write.
Now, your meaningful thing just might be writing. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Maybe fifteen minutes of writing first thing will put you in your good mood. So, what the heck? Give it a try. Whatever your fifteen minutes brings you—the best thing might be a sense of learning what a cheerful day can do for your creativity. I’m sure ready to find out!

7 comments:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Thanks for sharing your epiphany. I keep hearing we should find balance in our lives, but you gave a concrete way to do that, not just lip service. Fifteen minutes sounds small, very doable. Let's all try it and see what happens!

Tamera Lynn said...

Wow. What an amazing concept. As usual, your thought process resonates with me, Liz. I'll have to try this, too.

Juniper Bell said...

I love this epiphany! When writing starts to feel like work (I know that feeling!) it's great to have something to help ground you and get you in a good mood. Thing is, I don't sew and if I start reading, I never stop! Maybe it's time to pick up knitting again. ;) Thanks so much for this wonderful post!

Boone Brux said...

Liz, this is such a timely subject for me as I too am trying to find the balance in my writing and other life. Is there any denying that they are two seperate worlds? I think not. If anybody can find balance, it's you. For me, I've realized that everything can't get done in a single day. I must baby step my way through it. Here's to hoping that we become more balanced in 2010.

LizeeS said...

I hear you my friends -- this whole balance-thing is tough. And I say that as someone who's already been through the days of raising children and heading off to an outside-the-home job. I have been trying to give this idea some time. I did pick a sewing a project. I will be working on it a little at a time. It has been helping my mood -- a lot! Here's to progress. Boone -- you're right: we'll find that balance in the new year!

Stephanie Shackelford said...

Great post, Liz. I have discovered I desperately need that balance. For me, that means making weekends non-writing days, not allowing myself to write during those days. (With a blog that goes up on Monday morning and a procrastination streak to my personality, I sometimes fudge on that and write Sunday night.) I needed your reminder to bring back those other activities I love as much as writing. Thanks!

DeNise said...

Liz, thanks for making this concept of little bits of time accessible, its somthing we need for our writing. I've used 'creative dates', for a long time but they always seem to fit into big chunks of time. Lately, those big chunks of time are farther and farther apart. Better balance will make my life happier. I'm going to try this.
DeNise