One Hour a Day

Hourglass

It’s just after 7:00pm, and I’m in a hurry.

“Mummy, can you read me a story before bed?” six-year-old Big Brother asks.

“Of course,” I say. Then I amend, “As long as you’re in bed before I count to twenty.”

A mad dash ensues, with Big Brother racing to the bathroom, into his bedroom, and finding his current favourite book.

“Nineteen and a half,” I call. I’ve spent the closer-to-two-minutes stacking dishes and wiping down benches. I won’t have time to wash the dishes until later, but I like the kitchen to be neat and tidy.

“I’m already in bed!” Big Brother calls. “I beat you!”

“So you did,” I call back. “Have you got your book?”

I pick up a couple of stray toys and drop them in their appropriate toy boxes.

“Yes! Are you coming?”

“Coming!”

I make it into his room and look at the book he’s chosen. It’s a long one. I consider. “I can read this one, but we’ll have to be quick,” I say. “We’re running a bit late tonight.”

“Okay,” Big Brother says.

I read the book. Quickly. (But not so quickly I can’t do the voices and get him to chime in with the parts he knows.) Then I say goodnight.

Big Brother grabs me arm. “Now you’re trapped and you have to stay!”

I look at the time, look at him, and give him another kiss. “It’s time for sleep,” I say. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He nods and releases my hand. “Is it nearly Creative Time?”

“Yep.”

“Okay,” he says. He gives me a beautiful big smile, another kiss and cuddle, and then grabs a book to read on his own.

I head out and check on Little Brother. I give him a kiss, make sure he’s comfy, and move on.

It’s 7:25. I have five minutes left.

“Are you nearly ready?” I ask my husband.

“Just getting set up.”

Great. I do a quick check of the house, make sure all toys are away, all dishes are stacked, and all children are still where they’re supposed to be. Then I head into the office. It’s 7:29. I’m a minute early.

“Let’s do this thing,” I say.

And we do. My husband draws, either on a sketch pad or on the tablet connected to his computer, and I sit at the purposefully-not-internet-capable laptop and write.

For one hour, we focus on our creative pursuits.

For one hour, we lock the rest of the world out of our minds, and we focus on our creative passions.

For one hour, we are artists first.

The clock ticks over to 8:30. My husband stands up and stretches, and I finish the word I’m typing (the word, not the sentence, and certainly not the paragraph) and hit CTRL+S. Then we talk. He shows me what he’s working on, and talks about the process he’s using. I tell him how many words I wrote, and how I’m feeling about my story and characters. We’re relaxed — more relaxed than at any other time in the day.

And then we step back to the real world. We check on the children, fire up Facebook, and wash the dishes. But the world looks different; brighter. Our conversation is more lively. We smile more readily. We feel fulfilled. Connected. Alive.

This is not something we do every now and then. This is something we do every night.*

Every.

Night.

Every night, we spend an hour being creative. And it’s amazing how productive that hour is.

When I’m working on a first draft, I average around 900 words a day. My record is 1700 words in an hour of Creative Time.

To put that in perspective, consider that I’m writing an 80,000 word novel. At 900 words a day, that’s 89 days of writing. Just less than three months.

The idea of writing the first draft of a novel in three months, while investing a mere hour a day, is ludicrous to me. Ludicrous. I mean, it took me 18 months to write the first 35,000 words of my last manuscript.

But I finished the last 55,000 words in two months after we started our daily Creative Time habit.

Not so ludicrous after all, it would seem.

( After all, I’ve written 8500 words over the last 7 days.)

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Yeah, it may work for you, but I can’t do that.”

I don’t work that way.”

I can’t write in short blocks of time.”

I’m too busy.”

I don’t have a spare hour every day.”

I have to be in the mood to write. I can’t just switch my creativity on and off at will.”

The thing is, I said every one of those things at one time or another. Every single one of them. But I tried this system because… well, what did I have to lose? It’s not like I was getting any real writing done anyway. I mean, 2000 words a month isn’t exactly something to write home about. (Assuming I found the time to write home.) “Besides,” I said to myself. “When it doesn’t work, I’ll just stop.”

But it did work.

The first few days were hard. It felt alien and unnatural to be sitting down to write at the end of the day, and I picked away at the keys like I’d never seen a keyboard before. I wrote maybe 100 words. I wasn’t in a routine. My creative mind wasn’t ready. It was all over the place. It was out of practice.

It took until day four for my creativity to really kick in.

On day four, I wrote 1100 words in an hour. And I was hooked.

Now, six months down the track, I’m still busy. Busier. Not only am I writing every day, I’ve also taken on a paying part-time job that I do from home, and extra volunteer work. I drive two hours every weekday getting Big Brother to and from school. I bake and organise birthday parties and do housework and raise children. I’m busy. I have no spare time.

But, you know what?

I have no idea what I used to do in the one hour time-slot that became Creative Time.

Whatever it was, it can’t have been that important.

Certainly not as important as this.

*     *     *     *     *

If you’re struggling to find time to write and want to organise your own Creative Time, here’s a few tips that might help:

  • Talk to your family and get their support. Even better, get them to pick a project and join in.
  • Tell people what you’re doing. Let people know you’ll be unavailable for phone calls, internet chats, and other things during that one hour — and stick by your guns.
  • Choose a time that suits you and your family. An evening time-slot works for us, but maybe an early morning or an afternoon time-slot would work for you.
  • Set up your work area before your Creative Time starts. Turn on your computer, load your file, get out your notes, whatever you need to do.
  • Stick to it, with no excuses, for at least two weeks. Even when you don’t feel like it or you’re not inspired. Your creative mind needs to get into a routine.
  • Record how you go. Track word count, or pages written, or whatever progress you’ve made on your creative project. Being able to look back at a diary and see written proof of your success is an amazing motivator.
  • Once you’re in a routine, and you’re confident with it, give yourself a break when you need it. But not for more than one night at a time. You don’t want to get out of routine.

Good luck!

*     *     *     *     *

* Yes, including the mad rush to be ready on time.

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30 Comments

Filed under Writing

30 responses to “One Hour a Day

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. When I was working on the early draft of DM I wrote for 107 days straight (my best consistent period of writing in my life to date). Unfortunately I wrote something like 200K words that need to be culled down to 125-140K. I’m still trying to figure out what the best process for revision is. I feel like I need a few hours in a row to make good revision happen, but that’s something I can really only manage a couple of times a week. Maybe the hour a day approach that works for drafting would work for revision and I just have to let some of my prejudices go. I’m also figuring out how to write in more of a partnership than as a solo endeavor. My wife and editor “the little red haired girl” has been instrumental in making my work shine to its fullest, but always after a full draft has been completed, when I have already committed the same sins dozens of times. My next new drafting project, I want her in on every chapter, but admittedly I don’t know how this will affect the flow of the work. We writers can be a very private lot, and it can be hard to let others in. I’m so happy for you that your family is on board and even participating. That sounds very special. Keep up the good work.

    • I’m due to start editing my last m/s in July, and I’m actually going through a similar thing in regards to editing. I keep thinking, “Yeah, I know I can WRITE in an hour a day, but editing really needs a big block of time…” So I’m just going to try it and see how it goes. Otherwise I’ll put it off forever.

      And as for system… I’ve not actually started the revision process yet, so I haven’t technically used this myself, but I was recommended a great book on revision. If you’re not sure where to start, or what process to follow, maybe this would help you? Rock Your Revisions by Cathy Yardley lays out a system that sounds great. I’m going to use it when I start my editing — technically I’m already using it, I’m just in the “let your first draft marinate” step. 🙂

      Good luck with the partnership writing — sounds both inspiring and terrifying. 😉

    • I have a 300 page novel that was written using 1 hour before work 4 to 5 days a week at Starbucks, plus 30 to 45 minutes of my lunch hour an average of 4 days a week, and 3 hours every Saturday morning. I was able to do the the second edits/rewrite in 4 weeks using this schedule. It is the discipline that gets it done. Great article.

      • You’re exactly right. And once you have that discipline, the creativity just magically appears at the right time. 🙂 I hope my editing goes as smoothly as yours seems to have done!

  2. I really need to get back in gear. And you have an enormous advantage in Robbie’s support! How wonderful that he shares the hour with you.

    • I am very lucky to have such a supportive husband. I hear about people whose partners don’t support their writing (and sometimes actively discourage it), and I seriously wonder how they manage it. Good luck getting back in gear — your “write 100 words” system is great, too.

  3. I’m getting quite good at writing on the train.

    I agree wholeheartedly about not waiting around for “inspiration.” As my mother always says, put your ass in the chair.

    • Writing on the train is another great habit to get into. I’m quite partial to W. Somerset Maughn’s quote: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

  4. This is amazing advice. I’d love to schedule something like this for me – perhaps when we get moved?

  5. I get plenty of time for myself. I just haven’t been feeling creative. Too much on my mind…Noah…my crazy…

    • Oh, Kimmie, I know from long, long experience that “time for yourself” isn’t the same as “time designated to being creative”. If you want to get back to writing (or knitting, or finger painting, or plate decorating, or whataver), give it a go to schedule time to be creative. You can even write it on a list! 😉

      In all seriousness, though, having an hour of scheduled creativity every day has done wonders for my mental health while I’ve been going through Stuff (TM) this year.

  6. I’m glad you mentioned “Rock Your Revisions.” I just finished “Rock Your Plot” and have spent this long weekend (for us in the States) doing the character pre-writing. I found that after taking most of the last year and a half off as I immersed myself in volunteer work, I had no idea how to approach resuming work on my novel – especially as having all that time to think about it had yielded a number of deeper ideas about it. Cathy Yardley’s plotting system is exactly what I needed.

    Next up: Mapping out the plot points!

  7. Reblogged this on [BTW] : Ben Trube, Writer and commented:
    Blog’s going to be a little sporadic this week so thought I’d share this excellent post from Jo Eberhardt. Enjoy!

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  10. Love that you and your husband create together alone. Loved everything about this post, Jo. Love you. xxxs

  11. Great post! What I love best is that your son respects your hour as special for you, and in that, you are teaching him to own the creative time he deserves throughout his life. 😀

    • We’ve been really strict on our time to make sure he understands it. Our goal is for him to join in and have his own Creative Time when he’s a bit older. I have this vision of us in 10 years, when we get to Creative Time of an evening, and we all go and do our individually creative things and then come back together to report and share.

  12. This is amazing! Especially that you and your husband do it together. My husband is a musician who rarely plays for his own enjoyment anymore. I’m going to plant this idea as a little seed that will grow into something fruitful eventually for us. It’s funny how giving it a name that your whole family can refer to gives it more weight. Thank you so much for this post.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Natalie. I’m glad you found it useful. Best of luck planting that seed — if you can get him to commit to trying it for two or three days, I’m certain he’ll be hooked. 🙂

  13. You make it sound easy! I know it’s not, and I admire your discipline all the more for it. It strikes me that self-belief is crucial in this: you have to value your creativity, to believe that it is as important as your other roles in life. Yes, even motherhood. I am working on that self-belief. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • It’s both incredibly easy, and one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Setting aside the time is the easy part. The hard part is sticking to it no matter what. You’re right — self-belief is critical. One of the other things that helps me is reminding myself that sticking to Creative Time makes me a BETTER mother.

      (1) When I’m happy and fulfilled creatively, it makes me a happier person overall. That means I’m more able to be the mother I want to be.
      (2) Because I’ve got my writing scheduled, I’m not thinking about writing when I’m with my children. So I’m able to give them more attention, more focus, and more of ME than they were getting when I was trying to smoosh everything in together.
      (3) It teaches them the value of creativity and personal growth in the most effective way possible — leading by example. Or, as we writers would say, it’s Showing rather than Telling.

      Best of luck!

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