Time: Microwriting and Your Creative Budget

I don’t waste too much time reading articles about managing “time for writing.” There’s a troublesome irony in articles that make even more to-do lists for my already exhausted and overextended life. Still more, many productivity articles sound punitive and shallow. “Tough,” barks one author. Take heed, I try to avoid that here. A crucial point seems lost.  And yet, we DO need to pay attention to the real crisis of sparse writing time. We do need to show up and nurture our creative lives again and again. Even as we struggle to pay bills and care for those we love—we must clear authentic space for the breath-giving life of words on paper (and then refining those words on paper until the words become our blood and bones—that is, until they merge under our skin). Here are a few tips on my latest initiative for writers called: The Creative Budget to keep your writing life alive during busy times.

Five Starter Principles for Your Creative Budget:

  1. Take a moment to validate and congratulate yourself for your thirst-quenching need to create and make sense of your life (and the universe) through the transcendent possibilities of expression. This means you are a resplendent thinker—and though that can be a terribly inconvenient trait—my guess is that you already are living a fuller, if more demanding, life because of it.
  2. “Keep the taps open” During many spells of my life, I have almost no time for writing. My writing day goes up in a puff of smoke to client deadlines and the needs of my daughter and others. But I always keep a journal by my bed…and write in three-minute increments. I just don’t let phrases go. (They are clues for me to align with my writing map later…) How do I know I need to write these phrases down? When they touch me with their clarity and resonate somewhere deep in the gut. These micro-writing sessions can lead to powerful longer sessions when time affords.  (NOTE: You might want to assign a private drawer for your miscellaneous notes. Once, I left a post-it note on the kitchen counter that read: “The taps are open.” I knew what it meant, but eyebrows were raised. Alas.) Get to know and own the private language of your voice.
  3. Be vigilant and take good notes everywhere. Listen to the cadence of conversations in restaurants or doors slamming shut at 6am in the morning or the pigeons fluttering in the eaves. Stay awake to the world around you. Write about midnight fights between lovers on the street or the muffled sound of snow trucks or sand beneath your feet. Make a place for EVERYTHING YOU SEE, FEEL, TOUCH, SMELL AND HEAR in your notebook. You already know this, but remind yourself: This is good practice whether you ever use the material or not.  For memoir writers, this will sharpen your ability to remember in detail.
  4. Be brave. “Write where it hurts,” Watch what you avoid–is it money, death, feelings, injustice? Write about it. What side can’t you tell? Can you walk to the bruise in your mind–gently? Kindly? With enormous patience? Can you recognize the complex multi-colored pain in the bruises of others? Our inner conflicts can lead to the richest writing, and, significantly a more informed and measured writing practice.
  5. Pragmatism, outlines and maps. Boundaries and goals work. Structure and regularity will protect your ability to get wild and free within–knowing you are being carried. Of course, the point is never just getting there. It’s getting there with steeped-tea presence. Readers will be able to tell that you’ve done the work. BONUS: Don’t kick yourself if you can’t stick to 10 hours per week or some such number, but DO pay attention to what happens instead of writing—and let it inform you. Continue to align your practice with your overall map. Watch your progress and build on it.