Tag Archives: creativity

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.

Advertisements

30 Comments

Filed under Writing

Writing Advice for a Younger Me

NotebookA member of an online writing group I’m involved in posed a question to the group yesterday. She’s 18 years old, and has spent the last 18 months studying at university, working in various industries, and volunteering in poor communities around the world. Now she’s got plenty of time up her sleeve and is ready to embark on her next adventure: WRITING. But it’s turning out to be harder than she expected.

“I open up a word document and nothing comes out. I kind of just stare, fingers ready, but with no real idea. I’m terrified of clichés, and every time I think of some remotely interesting story line, am blocked by fear or self-doubt. Has anyone felt this? Does it get easier?”

I read this question and was immediately transported back to various points in my own life.

…when I was 16, with five months off school, and the burning desire to write a novel.

…when I was 18, fresh out of high school, with the burning desire to write a novel.

…when I was 21, unemployed, with the burning desire to write a novel.

In each of those periods of my life, I found myself sitting in front of a blank screen feeling exactly the fear this young woman is feeling. In all three instances, I managed to overcome the fear enough to write something (although the quality of that ‘something’ was debatable). But I always felt I was alone, that I was the only wanna-be writer who experienced the knee-knocking, soul-freezing fear that comes with staring at a white screen and having no idea how to fill it with meaningful words.

So I answered the question. I have her the advice I wish I’d heard when I was young and enthusiastic and inexperienced. And then it occurred to me that it’s not advice that is best kept private, it’s advice that should be shared. Because everyone feels overwhelmed and out of their depth sometimes, regardless of age or experience.

So here goes. I hope you find it helpful.

  • Too much time is as much a motivation-killer as too-little time. Allocate a set amount of time each day to writing and then fill in the rest with LIFE. Life helps you write. It gives you things to write about. It lets you experience emotions and situations and setbacks that will make it into your writing in some way. Go outside your comfort zone and live.
  • What you’re feeling is normal. Normal for writers and artists and entertainers and just about every creative type out there. That doesn’t make it easier, but knowing you’re in good company helps.
  • Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to like it. And it doesn’t mean you should just sit back and let the feelings overwhelm you. Those feelings of fear (terror!) never go away. Never. What does happen is we learn how to overcome the fear and do it anyway. (To use one of those dreaded clichés.)
  • A best-selling, multi-published author once said to me, “In my head, before I start, [a novel] is a perfect thing. It stays perfect until the moment I start typing.” Accept that’s the truth of things, and then write anyway. 
  • Like I said, you’re in good company when it comes to feeling this way. So let yourself BE in good company. Online writing groups are great, because you’re surrounded by writers. But, you know what else is great? Writing groups in the real world. See if you can find one in your local area. Talk to the librarians at your local library (you’d be amazed what and who they know), ask your friends on FB (you’d be amazed how many people are secretly writers but are too afraid to share it with anyone), or loiter outside creative writing classes. When you find like-minded souls, TALK TO THEM. Regularly. About writing. About your struggles and successes and fears and inspirations. You’ll find you have more in common than you expected.
  • Most of all, live the Nike slogan. When you sit down and look at that blank page, tell yourself it’s your job to fill it. Fill it with anything. Write about how terrified you are, write about what you want to write about, write about which actor you’d like to play your main character, write about anything that comes to mind. And when the page is no longer white and scary, start telling your story. Starting is always the hardest part.
  • Finally, celebrate every success. Eat chocolate! Drink wine! Buy books! Share your writing successes with like-minded individuals! Celebrate however is meaningful to you. Just celebrate, no matter how big or small your accomplishment.

Do you have any additional advice to offer?

21 Comments

Filed under Writing

Conversations with Children: How to Make a Movie

Making Movies

Saturdays are a big deal around here.

The kids run around in their pyjamas until after 9:00am. We chill out and snack instead of sitting down for a “real” lunch. We have an early dinner of fish & chips. And, most importantly, it’s Movie Night.

We only turn the TV on once a week, and that’s for our weekly family movie. Then we all sit around together, giggling at the funny bits and generally enjoying our special weekly treat.

Choosing the movie is generally up to five-year-old Big Brother. (Mostly because Little Brother is too young to care what we’re watching.) I usually give him some guidance, or a few movies to choose from, and let him pick. But last Saturday night, our conversation took a turn for the exasperating.

“What movie would you like to watch tonight?” I asked Big Brother when I picked him up from dance class mid-afternoon.

“Hmmmm….”

“Would you like something new, or something you’ve seen before?”

He thought for a few minutes. “Can we make our own movie tonight?”

“Instead of watching a movie?” I asked. Because I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Yeah, make our own movie. We can call it The Invincibots.”

“Um. Maybe.” And then I changed the subject. Because… Make a movie? Really? I didn’t even know what that meant.

Cut to two hours later. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s pick this movie for tonight!”

“No,” said Big Brother,”we’re going to make a movie tonight, remember?”

Oh, yes. How could I forget? “I don’t really understand what you mean.”

He put on his serious expression and looked at me steadily. “I mean, make a movie.”

“Yes. Okay. But what does that mean? Is it like putting on a puppet show?”

“No.”

I was struggling to get a sense of exactly what he wanted to do. (Is it just me? Is this obvious to everyone else?) “So how is making a movie different from making a puppet show?” I asked.

He kept giving me that same look. “One of them is a movie,” he said. “And one of them is a puppet show.”

At this point, I poured myself a drink.

Of water*.

Obviously.

Then I tried again. “Okay. So when you say you’d like to make a movie, what exactly do we need to do? What steps do we need to follow?”

His plan was simple.

Step 1: Think of what you want to make.

Step 2: Make what you thunk.

Step 3: Watch it on TV.

I waited. Just in case there was more. But there wasn’t.

“So when you say ‘Make what you…. (I couldn’t say it) …thought’,” I said. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

He looked at me with his deadpan expression.

“Mummy,” he said. “Do you remember step one?”

* I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of this statement.

18 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids

Mostly Random Musings

I’ve been a bad blogger. It’s been… I don’t even know how long since my last post. A week? Probably. Between getting ready for school to start, dealing with extreme weather situations, and coping with some other person issues, blogging hasn’t been on the forefront of my brain. And now that I’m here, I have so many things I want to say… and none of them are worth a whole post. So please excuse me while I share some random thoughts that have occurred to me over the last seven days.

  • Two years ago, we had the flood of the century rip through most of Queensland and leave hundreds of people homeless and possessionless. After much hard work, and the generosity of the community, most of those people managed to rebuild their lives. Last weekend, we had another flood. In some areas of Queensland, it was worse than others. Through Brisbane and the immediate surrounds, not so much. Still, many of the same people again found their homes underwater. My heart goes out to everyone who lost possessions, homes, and, most of all, loved ones over the last week. 
  • What is it about crazy weather that brings out the stupid in people? Seriously, who thought this was a good idea???
  • We were lucky and avoided any real difficulties in the flooding, wind, torrential rain, and tornado-laden storm. The worst damage we sustained was a couple of fallen trees in the back yard. And the first day of school for the year was cancelled due to a lack of power.
  • Big Brother cried when he found out. Literally burst into tears.
  • It was terrible to see him so upset and disappointed, but I have to admit to feeling secretly pleased that he loves his school and teachers so much that the thought of missing a single day brings him to tears. Is that wrong of me?
  • Meanwhile, the newest member of our family — Buddy the dog — has been settling in well. He’s cute and smart and loves the kids so much. Well… Okay, he is smart. Honest. Except for one little thing. He’s developed the habit of jumping up and sitting on our outdoor chairs. Like this:
  • 130130 - Buddy (1)
  • What’s so “not smart” about that, you ask? Well, while he’s happy to climb up on to the chair, he can’t get down. He just sits there and whines and barks for someone to rescue him.
  • Sometimes I get home and find him stuck on the chair, and I have no idea how long he’s been there. Ten minutes? Four hours? Who knows. You’d think he’d stop climbing up there, but no….
  • I’ve had to start laying the chairs on their sides at night, because there’s only so many times you can go rescue a puppy at 2:00am before you decide that something has to change.
  • And speaking of change, do you remember me talking back in December about scheduling time for creativity every evening? Well, it’s still happening. And it’s still working. Stay tuned next month for a post where I’ll talk about exactly how well it’s worked for me in the month of January.
  • Here’s a sneak peek: Even I was surprised by how successful it’s been.
  • And speaking of creative time, I’ve got about five minutes before it starts.
  • Peace out.

12 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids, Random Stuff

Scheduling Time for Creativity

ClockI’m a big believer in the idea that professional writers — or professional artists of any style — don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike in order to be creative. Certainly, there’s a need for inspiration when you’re creating something from nothing, but inspiration comes from doing not from waiting. As Stephen King says in his book On Writing:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

But I admit, I’ve had a lot of trouble with that recently. And when I say “recently”, I mean “over the last 18 months”.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Poor prioritising, perhaps. Or poor time management. Or, more likely, a lack of energy and focus. But in all fairness, it’s not easy to find energy and fairness when you’re the primary carer for an incredibly demanding child like 22 month old Little Brother.

For the last 18 months, he’s been waking me up anywhere between 3:45am and 4:30am. Every day. And every moment I’m not actively supervising him, he’s breaking something or emptying the contents of my cupboards all through the house.

By the time the boys are both in bed asleep (generally between 6:00pm and 7:00pm), I’m exhausted.

And so writing has happened when and if I could fit it in.

But this week, something amazing has happened.

When we were away on holidays last week, I didn’t have a cot in the hotel room. Little Brother is 91cm tall (3 foot) tall. He’s really too big for a fold-up cot. So I put a bedrail on a single bed, pushed it against the wall, and hoped for the best. And he was fine.

Next week, we’re visiting my parents for Christmas and have the same problem re: portable cots, so he’ll be sleeping in a single bed again.

It seemed silly to spend a week with him in a bed, then put him in a cot for a week and a half, and then back to a bed. So we decided to take the plunge and convert Little Brother’s cot into a junior bed.

Big Boy Bed!

Oh. My. Goodness.

All of a sudden, he’s not waking me up at 4:00 in the morning anymore. Yesterday, he slept until 6:45am. Today was 6:30am.

Do you have any idea how amazing it is to get to sleep in until 6:30 in the morning? Let me tell you: after months of 4:00am wake-ups, 6:30 is pure bliss.

Suddenly, I’m not so tired in the evenings.

Suddenly, I’ve got a chance to reclaim some time for myself.

My husband has his own projects that he’s working on, so we’ve decided to set aside time every evening for both of us to work on our own things, and then come back together to clean up, talk, and spend time together. To that end, I’m writing every night between 7:30 and 8:30. One hour a day. It doesn’t seem like much, when you think about it. But that’s seven hours every week. Thirty hours every month.

And since I can write 500 – 1000 words in an hour, that means I can theoretically finish my first draft within the next two months.

It feels good to have time scheduled for creativity. Thank you, Little Brother. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How do you schedule time for writing into the rest of your life?

 

30 Comments

Filed under Writing

Smart Phones: Novocaine for the Creative Mind

There’s a table out front of the cafe. It’s a square, low-set thing surrounded by comfy couches and it’s always in use. Today, it’s occupied by a group of friends drinking coffee. At least, I assume they’re friends. It’s hard to tell because they’ve all got their phones in their hands, too busy texting and tweeting and Instagramming their cheesecake to talk to each other.

Nearby, a young couple talk about their plans for the weekend. In the middle of their conversation, a phone beeps. The woman doesn’t hesitate. She whips her phone from her bag and swipes across the screen while her partner continues talking about restaurants and movies. “What?” she says when he pauses for breath. “I wasn’t listening. Sarah wanted to ask me about Fiji, so I told her I’d call her later.”

At another table, a couple my age eat their croissants in silence. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Before she’s even picked up her bag, he’s pulled his phone out and is tapping away at it, completely oblivious to the world around him.

Everywhere I look, people are on their phones. Not talking on them, just tap-tap-tapping away. Who knows what they’re doing. Maybe they’re texting directions to a friend. Maybe they’re shopping. Maybe they’re flinging righteously angry birds at towers. I don’t know. But what I do know is what they’re not doing. They’re not looking at the world around them. They’re not communicating with their friends. They’re not communicating with themselves.

It’s that last statement that bothers me the most.

For so many people, the idea of being forced to sit and do nothing — to be trapped with nothing but their own thoughts for company — is the worst kind of Hell imaginable. A wait of two minutes is unendurable without the benefit of a phone to relieve the instantaneous boredom. And the thought of being stuck without that mindless entertainment for half an hour? Or an hour? Or a whole day?

I’ve heard it said. “What did you expect me to do, just sit here and do nothing for five minutes?”

Yeah, I kinda did. Because that time when you sit and “do nothing”? That time is valuable. That time is important for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Without that kind of downtime, when do you listen to your own thoughts? When do you truly think and reflect and consolidate everything you’ve seen and done? When do you just be you?

I worry. I do. The modern world is designed for entertainment. From Angry Birds to LOL Cats, World of Warcraft to Bachelor Pad, there are endless opportunities for us to immerse ourselves in electronic Novocaine. And our Smart phones make that possible even when we’re on the go.

Do you know what happens when you spend all your time immersed in electronic media? When you rely on your TV, computer, iPod, and phone to entertain you every minute of free time?

Nor do I.

But do you know what happens when you don’t?

Creativity. Passion. Inspiration.

All those things that require an open, quiet mind.

Think about what you’re doing when you get your best, most crazy exciting ideas. Chances are, it’s either when you’re asleep (or near sleep), when you’re exercising, or when you’re in the shower. When was the last time you had a crazy, exciting, inspired idea playing Angry Birds?

I don’t have a smart phone. I don’t have games on my dumb phone. But even I sometimes fall into the trap. Even I sometimes find myself thinking I’ve got five minutes to wait. I’ll just check my email…

Do me a favour. Next time you’ve got to sit and wait for five minutes, just sit and wait. Leave your phone in your pocket or your purse or your bag or your car or (gasp!) back at your house. Sit. Wait. Look at the world around you. Let your thoughts wander and see where they end up.

You know, the way you used to back in the olden days .

 

19 Comments

Filed under Opinion