It’s a common adage among artists, that scheduling your work is the key to prolific, consistent creativity. I’ve been in many a writer’s workshop, in which a respected writer talks about the importance of writing every day, at the same time each day. It’s the classic principle of the water not flowing until the tap is turned on.
If I’m honest, this truly is my goal: To sit at a desk each morning and work, to build a story or book word by word, brick by brick, day by day. (Bird by bird, if you will.) Sometimes, I succeed in doing this. I finished each of the 2,352 drafts of my master’s thesis/debut novel this way.
But sometimes, and more often, this kind of daily, consistent writing is no more than a dream. The demands of work, family, holidays, commitments, the needs of my body and brain, cloud the good intentions of writing. Sometimes writing feels like a luxury, an indulgence I don’t deserve. When there are too many things on my to-do list, things which pay me money or make me skinnier or make other people happier, taking the time to write seems as vain and unimportant as taking the time to do my makeup.
And then there’s the fact that I’ve always struggled with scheduling my life well. I’ve always hated being shuttered into a tidy, eight-hour, five-day work week, always hated the rigid and arbitrary structure of modern adult life, though I’ve learned to accommodate and value it out of pure survival. Deep down, I want to let my soul and body dictate the rhythm of my days, of my art, of my work. I want creativity to flow not like a faucet, but like a stream: not engineered, but wild.
I tell myself I’m a free spirit in this way, that I don’t give a damn about the expectations of society, but here I am on my couch at 1pm on a Tuesday, writing and feeling guilty that I’m not at my desk working on something really useful. But I assure you, if I was at my desk, I’d be feeling guilty for not spending more time on my craft. This is a very hypocritical kind of self-loathing, this treating myself like a narcissistic parent treats a child, in which nothing the child does is ever right. I don’t know what the reason for it is. I don’t know if other artists feel this way (based on my research, they do seem to). The ever-present tension between following a schedule because that’s what adults do, and following the muse because that’s what artists do, is exhausting. The mental gymnastics of trying to strike a balance is usually what keeps me from writing at all. Because I don’t know the way I should be doing it, I put off the decision until tomorrow. And then tomorrow. And then tomorrow.
The only thing I do know is this: when I write, I come away knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the thing I’m supposed to do. When I write, I never regret it in the end. When I schedule time to write, and I do it, it’s a victory. When I don’t schedule time, and I still write, it’s another one.
Sometimes, I think, we aren’t able to turn on the faucet or dip from the stream. Sometimes we’re just treading water.
Sometimes, that’s enough.