Lately, things have gotten very busy for me in my writing world. Rather than just having one project – my novel – to work on, I am now committed to posting one blog entry a week (ta da!), keeping up with requests from my publisher to provide various items regarding my novel, research and write my current novel and, if all goes well, turn out the occasional short story.
I’ll grant you most of these items are self-imposed demands, but how does a creative person function if they don’t make demands of themselves? How do you meet your goals if you haven’t set any? How can you avoid wasting time and produce work of the highest calibre?
The whole business of time management for any sort of a creative person is problematical. The very nature of what we do is at odds with common wisdom. You know the sort of thing: Establish a schedule and stick to it… keep a calendar… keep a log…
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these tools, per se, and they can be helpful some of the time or even all of the time for some writers / artists / musicians. But, and it’s a big but, there’s one fundamental flaw all these pieces of hoary wisdom have in common:
They all assume if you’re not producing copy (pictures, songs) you’re wasting your time.
And that is, in my opinion, a load of tripe.
I probably ‘waste’ whole hours every day just staring into nothingness. When I return to the ‘real’ world I’ve no clue what I’ve been thinking about. Does that make me an idler? Nuts? Or an artist? To what extent does my art depend on these empty periods? I have no proof but I’d guess a lot. But try telling some time management guru that you need an hour a day to do just nothing and watch their head explode.
So here are my unconventional, flying in the face of logic ‘rules’ for time management if you’re an artist:
- YOUR FIRST DUTY IS TO YOUR ART not to the clock or the calendar. How long does it take to produce a work of art? Only the artist can answer that and then only in hindsight. Set deadlines if you must, but don’t beat yourself up if you need to extend it. The only caveat to this ‘rule’ is if other people are waiting for you to finish. If you have a cast waiting for a script, an orchestra waiting for a symphony, or a gallery waiting for a painting, you do need to try to accommodate them in a timely manner.
- MAKE YOUR OWN RULES. If calendars, charts and logs work for you, use them. If not, not. If you do choose to use these things find or create ones that are as intuitive to your process as possible. If you can’t find an electronic or hard-copy version you like, invent your own. What would your ideal calendar look like? Or your To Do list? Tools are meant to serve you, not the other way around. The same with rules. If you find one you like – using a word count each day to keep you on track with your novel, for instance – then use it. But if it doesn’t work, let it go.
- MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME. If the time you have available in which to be creative is strictly limited you do need to make the most of every minute but it’s up to you to decide what ‘making the most’ means. Ideally, you want to spend that time applying brush to canvas or pen to paper, but if you need to spend part of that time communing with the muse, that’s your choice. Art doesn’t come out of a tap. You can’t just turn it on and off.
- BE READY TO CATCH LIGHTENING IN A BOTTLE. As a creative person, your best ideas are likely to pop up at very odd times. You need to record them or risk losing them forever. So, keep a notepad and pens with you at all times. Pay attention to when you get your best ideas. If it’s in the shower, then maybe keep a dry-erase board and markers in the bathroom; if it’s when you’re traveling perhaps invest in a Dictaphone so you can record your thoughts. Most mobile phones have audio record capability too.
- BE ADAPTABLE. Sometimes you find a tool that functions perfectly well and then, for no apparent reason, just doesn’t any more. Or the nature of your work changes and something that was once helpful becomes a hindrance. For instance, when I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I find following a word count every day keeps me on track. But once I start rewriting or revising, or if I’m writing poetry or a play, for instance, then the word count is no longer pertinent. In these cases I find allotting a number of pages to revise (for instance) works better. Or setting a time limit for a task can work.
- ACCEPT THE MUNDANE. Even creative beings must deal with the mundane sometimes. No, I’m not talking about trips to the supermarket or the post office, though those do apply, but things like research for your novel; checking galleries to display your work; managing the financial aspects of your profession. Don’t factor these mundane tasks into your art-production time; set aside a different time of the day or week to do it. Why? Because if you’re all set to produce 1000 words of your novel but have to spend the time, instead, researching markets for your recent short story, you’re going to feel like you’ve been robbed of your creative time. And you will have. And you’ll have done it to yourself. Avoid disappointment – as the Christmas ads say – and schedule those tasks for a different time than your period of creation.
- BE SENSIBLE. I know, I know. You think of Vincent van Gogh or Mozart and you wonder how sensible they were. But I am not they and neither are you. So… Eat right. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Spend time with the people you love. Laugh. Art doesn’t have to be synonymous with addiction, depression or insanity.
- SET GOALS. Yes, you’re right. That is one of those hoary old pieces of wisdom, but this is one that works, in my opinion. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know you’ve arrived? I’m chagrined to say that. I heard it in a business meeting once and it stuck. Forgive me. All the same, there’s a tiny kernel of truth in it. You really do have to finish that novel / sculpture / composition eventually. Remember, an artist is someone who creates art. Someone who just piddles about talking about it isn’t an artist but a dilettante.
- STEAL FROM THE PROFANE. There’s a phrase in Judaism that says if you start the Sabbath early or end it late you’re stealing from the profane to give to the sacred. I love that concept and I think it’s one that artists can adapt. Steal from those non-creative times to contribute to your art. For instance, if you’re sitting in a doctor’s waiting room you can do some research for your novel, or sketch, or make notes of snatches of dialogue. You can use commutes to imagine the next scene in your play.
- START WITH ART. Yes, you live a busy life and there are things you have to do: Feed children. Finish a report. Bathe. And yes, there will be times when creating art isn’t possible. But if you want to do it badly enough, if it matters to you, you’ll find a way to squeeze it in. Do you really need to vacuum the floor every day? What would happen if you didn’t? How much time might you save? What if you skipped one television programme a night? Or if you only checked your e-mail twice a day? Start with art and the absolute essentials. Compromise on the rest.