What is it like to begin writing a book again after a 60 year break? Yesterday I ran a small workshop about establishing a writing routine, and one of the writers in the group, Fred Sanborn, told us about how he wrote and published books in the 1950s, and then stopped. He was here today to establish a new writing routine for three books he had in mind. At 90 years old, he was very mindful of both the importance of this work, and how he had to make the most of his time.
Here is the group:
A theme emerged from the day: “I need to claim my creative time.” To make it a priority when so many other responsibilities and distractions keep us from our writing.
As Fred put it: “It’s time to get on with it.”
I loved working with this group of writers so much because we delved into the reality of why, too often, we don’t make writing a priority. Usually it is not because we are binge watching Netflix, but because we are caring for loved ones who are ill, for children who rely on us, attending to jobs that support our families, and coping with a commute that eats up a lot of time.
None of these things that keep us from writing are easy fixes because they are important responsibilities.
So how did we address them in the workshop? Like this:
- Everything I do begins with the idea of Radical Clarity. Of understanding your priorities not just in writing, but life as a whole. You only have so much creative energy every day, you need to put it in the things that matter most to you. (You can read more on Radical Clarity here.)
- Right away we talked about the importance of mindset. There is no secret button that will suddenly give you the time and space to write. Instead, we dug into how to get into the correct mindset to write, to sustain the habit, to meet writing goals, and to celebrate what we achieve.
- We identified the minimum we would each need to write each week to feel that we had established a writing habit that was fulfilling. This idea forces you to reframe writing not as huge milestones, but as a simple practice. It doesn’t sound glamorous to say, “I wrote 150 words today.” But if you did that every day for a year, you would have a manuscript of more than 50,000 words.
- I encouraged each writer do do an Energy Audit, to better understand when they have an easier time writing. We then explored other factors that encourage writing — where they write, preparation for writing, how sound factors in (silence, white noise, music), and then discussed this in the context of their real life. Lives amidst kids, jobs, commutes, dishes, and so much else.
- We identified our Cave Trolls — the things that distract us. The key here is not to try to kill the Cave Trolls, but instead, to learn how to manage them.
- For each writer in the group, we explored their daily schedules and came up with clear ways that they can fit in writing while also feeling fulfilled. That is the key. I didn’t suggest solutions that rob you of sleep — but rather — considered how your writing is an essential part of what it means to feel fulfilled as a person. How attending to your writing makes you a better parent, a better spouse, a better employee, a better friend.
- We created plans for celebrating what they write each week, and brainstormed ways to stay accountable to their writing goals.
I would imagine that challenges you face in attending to your creative work are similar to those in this group. That claiming your creative time each week is a difficult because of the other important responsibilities in your life.
If that is the case, I want you to think of Fred. How, at 90 years old, he is working on a memoir and two nonfiction books. And that he has decided, “It’s time to get on with it.”
To create is a choice. Your choice.
But so is the ability to not create. That is not decided by your boss, your friends or your family. It is your choice.
What will you create today?