Gotta make time for what you love

betty ming liu Inspiration 17 Comments

Thank goodness for therapy. In my latest weekly session, I got some insight on how to begin living with greater satisfaction.

As you know, I’m trying to write at least 1,500 words every day during November. The goal is to have 50,000 words by the end of the month. It’s a challenge! I’ve already missed both the word count and two days.

But the good news is that I am writing nearly every day. And the practice has given me a new view of my creative process.

“A writer has to write,” I told my shrink. “I want to get a life where I really, really do this every day.”

I don’t mean the madness of meeting a specific deadline. I know how to work round-the-clock on a project. No, not that.

I’m talking about a sustainable, do-it-daily routine, which is beyond my experience. My typical 24-hour cycle is filled with freelance teaching gigs, household¬†details, errands, the gym and an effort to get at least six or seven hours of sleep. I’m dealing with groceries, bills, the cats…

As I talked, my shrink sat in his chair and listened. This is his usual pose as he offers feedback here and there. He rarely tells me what to do. On this particular morning, though, he told me what to do.

“If you’re working for yourself, then you have to pay yourself first,” he said.


The point is that if I’m gonna take my writing seriously, then I must write. Seriously. Every day. And not just any time of the day but when I’m at my best.

For me, that would mean being on my laptop first thing in the morning, when the house is very, very quiet. This is when I’m most centered, peaceful and fresh.

Now, here’s the trick. I’d love to devote a couple of hours to creativity in the a.m. but it’s not realistic.

“An hour, take an hour,” my shrink said.

Hmmm, one solid hour of me. At my best. What could that lead to?

Years ago, I saw an exhibition of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings. The display included his drawing journals. Every morning, he’d take his dog off-leash for a stroll in the woods. Bonnard would always stop and make at least one rough sketch.

He didn’t use a large, impressive sketch pad. The show featured frayed notebooks small enough to fit in his shirt pocket. These doodles inspired his remarkable paintings. Surely, many of those walks took less than an hour!

I don’t know about you, but this is a different approach to creativity. I tend to think an hour’s not enough time to get into the zone…

When I look back, I can see where I’ve limited myself with this mindset. The new me has to stop rushing around with a to-do list and start relishing an hour as a precious, 60-minute open window. That adds up to 3,600 luxurious seconds of emotional sunshine in my daily life.

So a blog post scheduling update is in order. I’ll keep working on my writing project, which is part of the NaNoWriMo marathon. But I won’t blather every week about it, as originally planned — it would be too boring. Besides, there’s too many other things cool things to blog about.

Meanwhile, it’s a glorious autumn here in New York. The leaves are dropping from trees in a spectacular death of saturated reds, oranges and yellows. What a great season for making changes. Let’s do it with flair!

Comments 17

  1. Post

    Well. I just tried the one-hour experiment and what a surprising feeling! The sense of calm and centeredness is still with me. Instead of rushing to get to my writing, I’ve already touched my writing. It is done. Now I’m ready to go on with the rest of the day.

  2. Wow! Yes! With an hour a day you will spend most of 365 hours in the coming days of a year writing and will achieve so much.!When you first announced this writing challenge, I thought it way over the top, one which was going to leave so many writers feeling defeated. 1500 words a day from people, most of whom had other serious obligations — like earning a living doing something else?. I didn’t comment, because I didn’t want to appear to rain on your parade. But now I know that, with your hour, you will succeed.

    Years ago, having failed to find such a resolution, I finally decided I would write that first novel at one page a day — every day arrived with a page number I should be on. Over the next year, I had many zero-page days and a lot of 3-and-more-page days, but at the end of the year, I had 310 pages, one chapter short of finishing. Publishing it was another story, but because my goal was so modest, it made it possible for me to succeed and keep on going. I’m sure your hour will do the same. ingrid

    1. Post

      Ingrid! Thank you for the encouragement. And, for explaining why you didn’t comment….that was interesting to read. Yeah, the 1,500-word goal is a lot. But I’m sure some people can do it. I, for one, am not stressing on this round.

      I did the one hour this morning and it was great. Left me feeling like, well, at least I did something. And, that I could go on with my day without feeling self-critical. Your one page concept sounds great too. The point is, keep it simple! Thanks again for being so considerate. :)

  3. Hi Betty,

    I started getting email updates about your posts and I love it :)

    This writing project reminds me of something called automatic writing I read about when I was in high school. I didn’t research the details of it at the time, but from what I understood the point was to simply put the pen to paper and to write as long as you could. When the pen was lifted off the paper, that piece of writing was finished.

    The few times I had done this, I usually came up with something completely jumbled, as expected. Sometimes there was a little gem of meaning in what I had written though. I think the point was to just be in the act of writing, like your project is. I like that :) It was cathartic.

    Happy writing Betty! I look forward to your blogs :)

    p.s. Missing your classes!

    1. Post

      Sarah, so nice to hear from you. You’re right, this project is a form of automatic writing. It’s a great exercise in learning how to nurture myself. Nobody writes endless gems. A good nugget here or there is an example of quality writing time.

      Thanks for signing up for my email alerts. Keep me posted on how you’re doing too. (Private email is always good for this.) Miss you too and it’s great to hear from you.

  4. I’m not a writer, but today’s blog hit the right cord. Taking an hour of me time when I’m at by best! I’m going to try it :)

    1. Post

      Chinamomx2, I would love to know how the experiment works out. If you feel like checking in with an update, we’re all ears. The point is to not make such a big deal out of our goals that we are paralyzed. I love the new sense of freedom I’m getting from this approach!

  5. Like yourself, I do my best writing early in the morning. I am always the first one up – usually by 4:30 AM or 5, and following coffee & danish, I like to spend an hour or so in my study, doing emails and working on whatever writing project I have going. The house and the neighborhood are quiet. The phone never rings that early. nothing prevents me from losing myself in my work. Even the cat, who dutifully gets up with me and comes to the kitchen for breakfast, goes back to bed after I head for the study and leaves me in peace. Sensible cat. I have always found the important thing about writing is just to sit down and start – even if you haven’t a clue what comes next. Once you actually begin to put words on paper or on the computer screen, it will come – often faster than one can get it down in proper English. It seems like one’s characters have the most surprising twists and turns in store and can hardly wait for their chosen Boswell (one’s self) to get it all out there.

    1. Post

      It’s the practice of writing that counts, isn’t it, Toby? I can feel the quiet in your words. Ahhhh. Btw, I’m interested to read that you feed your cat when you’re at your best. I’ve got three cats to feed, plus three litter boxes to change. That takes at least 20 minutes! Haven’t decided yet if I should feed them during my best time, or shut the door on them until I’m done with my private hour. But I like you’re image of your kitty following you around. Maybe I should just view my cats as part of my support staff and just feed them already.

    1. Post

      Yes, Carrie, I will carry on! This morning, I woke up and gave my best hour to the writing. Then I got busy feeding the cats, changing litter boxes, doing breakfast, reading the paper. So far, so good.

      But then I spent the next three hours taking care of bills, calling my accountant, etc. Could these tasks have waited until late afternoon? In hindsight, yes. So the good news is, I learned a little more about organizing my schedule. Tomorrow, I get to give it a whirl all over again!

      1. Your activity list looks a lot like mine. Chores can really eat up a beautiful morning. Another morning-eater is the newspaper. For most of my life, I have limited my newspaper reading to the headlines, Funnies and the advice column. More recently, I have devoted a few hours on several Sunday mornings to actually reading whole articles. Well, I’ve concluded that reading the paper is a BIG, BIG time killer. Not only do I fall far behind on my To Do list, I feel depressed and stressed after reading about all the murder and mayhem. I’ve decided to omit reading the paper and just get to my To Do list – after having my tea, cereal and reading the Funnies. Ok, maybe also doing the Sudoku puzzle (another serious time killer).

  6. Betty, please keep writing. I love your posts, your honesty, and reflections. I get pulled away from the writing I’d like to do between teaching yoga, freelance work, and other responsibilities. I’m sure you have a lot of books about the craft but after taking a writing seminar with Heather Sellers this summer I have found her book “Page after Page” a helpful motivational tool. She offers wonderful insight and I love her technique. Could also be a good resource for your students.

  7. Post

    Thanks for the encouragement, Adriana! Well, you know exactly how the distractions go. But let’s both keep doing the writing. We need to do the things we love. :)

    And thank you for the book title. I am definitely going to check it out. Next semester at the New School, I’m teaching an online class called “Self & Craft.” I have room for one really great book. Maybe “Page After Page” will fit the bill. At any rate, never heard of it and looking forward to exploring. xo

  8. I could use some freedom today. I’ve missed the past 5 days of this challenge and with juggling new responsibilities, did not see how it would fit on my plate. I’ve felt angry with time, disappointed with myself. You know, the times I spent thinking about this disappointment could have at least been a good 10-15 minutes of writing time.

    I’m going to have to subscribe to paying myself first, in so many ways. My writing, far beyond the NaNoWriMo challenge, has to have its place and mot be in competition with the rest of my life.

    Whew! Let’s hear it for emotional sunshine.

    1. Post

      Skye, I’m so glad you stopped by to vent! I hope you applied this mini-rant towards your word count for Nov. 20, haha.

      When I read your comment, it made me think instantly to my last NaNoWriMo. I tried to do 2013 and it was a total waste. Barely accomplished anything. I felt like I was all talk and no action.

      But looking back, the 2013 fumble actually prepared me to deal more thoughtfully with myself this year. It’s all part of the process. No need to be mad at yourself. You’re thinking about your work. That’s progress!

      As for me, I KNOW I’m not making the daily word count. But that’s okay. I’m writing an hour nearly every day, which is a new experience. My goal is to simply write more regularly and it’s happening.

      No matter what’s going on, Skye, you’re moving forward!! xo

  9. Post

    Well. I did it. Let’s hear it for NaNoWriMo! I have no idea how many words I produced. All I know is that I wrote at least an hour nearly every single day! Learned a lot about myself as a writer and the kind of routine I need. Eg, I’m definitely a morning person. Congratulations to all of us for exploring our gifts. That’s what counts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *