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This is the first in a series of blog posts on Creativity Career Killers. The following is adapted from my new book, The Empowered Artist: A Call to Action for Musicians, Writers, Visual Artists, and Anyone Who Wants to Make a Difference with Their Creativity.
Writers (and creative people of all kinds) face a lot of obstacles along the road to pursuing their dreams. These hurdles come in all shapes and sizes – from big and ugly to little and annoying.
But there’s one thing I can say with certainty about these creative roadblocks:
Almost all of them are self-imposed!
Yep. No matter how much you want to blame something “out there” for your troubles, with rare exception, the obstacles you face are self-made. They are sad stories you tell yourself about the world that you fervently treat as the Gospel truth. And these epic tales are blurring your vision and keeping you from making progress with your writing and art.
Here’s a perennial classic:
“I don’t have time to devote to my writing!”
Really? You don’t have time? Did you get shortchanged when the Laws of Physics Gods were doling out 24-hour days?
“Hey, I only got a 17-hour day! What gives?”
Here’s the thing about time …
It’s the true equalizer. It’s one of the only things that is evenly distributed among all human beings. You can make a rational argument that some people have more money, better looks, a fatter Rolodex, nicer cars, and so on.
But everyone gets the exact same amount of time to work with.
I know, you have to work or you have kids or you take care of aging parents. Yes, there are life obligations that appear to suck up most of our time and keep us from doing the things we truly love.
But is that really an accurate assessment of your situation?
A personal story
In the early years of building my reputation and body of work as an author, I had a lot of constraints. I worked a full-time job, my daughter was a toddler, and I was recovering from a divorce. I also played in a band and acted in a couple of plays every year.
I could have easily told myself I didn’t have the time to devote to writing books and marketing my work on this new thing called the Internet. But I resisted that seductive story and, instead, carved out time here and there when I could.
Even if I had only a few minutes to spare, I would make time to tweak a book outline, flesh out an article, or interact in an online forum. I chipped away at the things that needed to be done, while also handling all of my other responsibilities the best I could.
Was it easy? No. Did I whine and complain? Sometimes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
One thing I have never uttered to myself is, “I wish I had started doing this creative stuff later.” No one who puts in the effort to do something worthy regrets it. And you won’t either.
The truth is, you’ll never have “more time”!
Something will always come along to fill the void. So stop deluding yourself that now is not a good time to devote to your art. You can decide right now that your creativity is important, and that you’ll find the time to invest in it.
You may be thinking, “This guy just doesn’t know my schedule and list of obligations.” The truth is, I do. I juggle a ton of stuff in my own life. And at times it can seem overwhelming. I’m not denying that.
I’m also not suggesting that you should pack every waking minute with activity. You also need to carve out time for rest and self care. As always, your goal should be equilibrium and balance.
But, if you accept your role as an Empowered Artist, you’ll also make time for your art. And doing it can be a lot easier than you think.
Call to action
When Jerry Seinfeld was an up-and-coming comedian, he made a commitment to write one joke a day. Not an entire routine or monologue. Just one funny line.
He had a big calendar of the whole year on a wall in his apartment. Every time he wrote a joke, he put a red X on that date. Before long he had a growing chain of red X’s on the calendar – a visual reminder of the consistent work he put in.
Seinfeld once shared the story of his calendar and the chain of red X’s with a young comic. His main advice: Don’t break the chain! Do something related to your craft every day, no matter how small the action is.
This idea dovetails perfectly with “tiny habits,” a popular concept that’s been making the rounds in recent years. Using this approach, you commit to taking one small action every day toward a bigger habit you want to develop.
For instance, if you want to run a marathon, you would simply commit to running ten yards today. That’s all. Then run ten yards again tomorrow, and the next day, etc. Even in the freezing cold of winter, someone could run ten yards every day. Easy.
And that’s your homework for this principle …
Commit to doing your art or music or writing every single day. No exceptions. Even if it’s for just five minutes. Seriously.
If you’re really tired tomorrow and don’t feel like doing it, take five minutes and do it anyway. Get out the sketchpad, pick up the guitar, open the file of the book you’re working on. Spend a few minutes engaged in your craft.
If you end up spending more time on it, great. But at the very least, follow through on your five-minute commitment. And do it every day. I mean it. EVERY DAY!
I guarantee, this tiny habit will gain momentum and expand. You’ll soon discover there is time to devote to your writing on a daily basis.
If you really want to cement this practice, buy an annual wall calendar like Jerry Seinfeld did. Mark off each day that you lived up to your time commitment. Watch your chain of red X’s grow.
And then don’t break the chain!