Scene: A Dark Parking Lot in the South of Madison
“Why are you giving me a ride this morning?” my partner asked me at 5am as we walked toward the car in the pre-dawn darkness.
“Because I’ve had finish next chapter on my to-do list for the last three days, and it keeps getting put off,” I answered. “I’m starting things early today so that I can check it off.”
Writing is a funny thing for me. I dread starting it, and will go to extreme lengths to procrastinate it away. Re-arrange the desk. Check my email again. Look for more efficient writing software. Read another blog about how to be a writer. Read another blog about marketing yourself as a writer. Read another blog about how reading blogs about writing is not actually writing.
Eventually I do force myself to write, often through tricks of momentum such as this morning. After I dropped her off at the coffee shop, I came home and fell into my morning routine: a bit of yoga. Sit zazen for fifteen minutes. Coffee and a page of journaling. Breakfast and a couple of TED Talks. Then it’s 6:30am, and I’ve nothing to do until 9am when my “work day” starts.
What else is there to do but write?
The Heady Joy of Flow
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t always enjoy the actual act of writing. I am a craftsman, and writing things like this blog or the other professional newsletters and web copy for clients are work. I’m not at a point where I can really justify “just write what you want“, but when I carve out the time, oh what bliss.
That’s what happened at 6:30. I fired up OmmWriter, with Secret Agent Radio playing in the background, and dove into an imaginary world of my own creation. I’ve recently abandoned the “write what will sell” mantra for “write what you want to read“, and it’s amazing.
We show up. We do our best. Good things happen.
— Steven Pressfield
However, there are three things that I have to do to actually get to that state:
- I have to make the time. That’s why I got up early, why I purposely created a bubble in my schedule where there was nothing else scheduled but I was awake and alert enough. If I’d just gotten out of bed and sat at my desk, odds are I would have been too sleepy to actually write. It’s a time of day when no one will be calling me or expecting me to call them.
- I have to make the space. That’s my desk, an app that makes me focus on nothing but writing, and an empty apartment. Sometimes it’s a coffee shop (yep, believe it or not, people are often more productive there).
- I have to make it a priority. This is probably the most important, and the most difficult. For example, this morning I noticed an error in my blog configuration, which kept me from being able to log in. The urge, as I get with just about any tech problem, was to fix it now. It’s better, though, to recognize that while it may be urgent, it is not important – and so I focused on the writing.
Two hours and almost 3000 words later I came to a stopping point. It was a half-hour before it was time to start my regularly-scheduled workday, and that was just enough time to fix the blog and even get a little ahead on planning for a speaker’s event I’m doing in NY later on this summer. By the time 9am rolled around and my schedule told me to start work (ironically, “Write” is my first task of the day), I’m actually already a bit tired.
A Jubilant Kind of Tired
But it’s not the dragging Oh I hate mondays kind of tired. It’s the tired at the end of a good workout, at the finish of a great day at the amusement park, the weariness of a raw throat after you sang along to your favorite band with thousands of other fans. I don’t know that anyone will ever read this book I’m creating; I don’t know if it’s ever going to be anywhere but my computer.
It doesn’t matter, though, because the activity of doing what I love is what feeds and nourishes the rest of my day. It’s kind of like that happy tired you get at around 2pm the day after you were up all night with that special crush. In this case, that special crush is my muse and even when I’m yawning this afternoon, it will end in a smile because she and I had a fine time this morning.
But that’s all I will say about the subject, because a gentleman knows how to exercise discretion.
I will ask you this, though: are you making the time and space for the thing you actually love doing? If not…maybe you should ask yourself why not?