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