Moving from being inspired by an idea to actually acting upon it is not always easy but any successful creative entity must be comfortable alternating between these two creative phases: ideation and execution.
After a year of struggling to prioritise my writing over other duties, a couple of months ago I bought a time management book called Making Ideas Happen:Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality. I have to admit that I was not expecting it to make much of a difference to my life and I also felt slightly embarrassed by the idea of time management; as if I had anything to manage, as if I was a CEO or some sort of entrepreneur with a busy meeting schedule. And anyway, my days were already so full I couldn’t see where to squeeze anything else in without letting go of something – paid work, exercise time, family time, or even sleep; all of which I treasure. I was desperately tired and was already pushing myself too hard, ending each day with a feeling of failure because I hadn’t achieved everything I set out to do. Each day I wrote a to-do list and each day it grew longer. Write novel was always somewhere on that list but rarely was it crossed out. Once again my writing had been put on the back burner, becoming an increasingly distant dream, and unless we’re lucky enough to make a good living out of our writing, this scenario is most likely a familiar one for many of us. As Philp Roth said, ‘The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.’
So I bought Scott Belsky’s book and sat down with a cup of tea and a good dose of skepticism. Within minutes I was hooked, despite the fact that for the most part, the world Belsky described did not resemble my own. Nevertheless, the ideas were practical and useful and possible to achieve. According to Belsky ideas only happen with organization and prioritization. In a sense this is pretty much stating the obvious but like most of us, I had never thought of the obvious. Belsky successfully tailored the obvious into practical applications that made it possible to begin making changes. I was already familiar with motivational material – books by other writers that invariably inspired and enthused me temporarily but I had never been able to translate this ‘just do it’ inspiration into just doing it.
In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As I sipped a second cup of tea and continued reading, one mini revelation followed another: I checked my emails too often and interrupted my thinking process to answer them immediately. I scrolled through my facebook homepage way too often. I read the online newspapers. . . things that when added up took an astonishing chunk of my day. Decide what projects are important, wrote Scott and make action plans for each of them. Divide your to-do lists into urgent and important, don’t answer your emails until you need to, move on, don’t dwell, and most importantly, create and prioritise times when you can focus on an important project. And there lies the biggest revelation – writing is important, of course it is. The stories we tell, change us and they change the world around us, so we need to give it our attention.
When you are writing, you must treat it as the most important thing in the world, even when you know it is not. This helps you take the job seriously and do your best on everything you write.
In the new year I decided to implement some of Belsky’s tips and re-prioritise my life in order to put my big projects first. It has only taken a few adjustments to make an incredible difference and so far it has lasted. Every day now I do something to bring those dreams to fruition, even if that means writing just a few words or devoting a few minutes to research or planning. I still write to-do lists each day but my diary has become more important than my lists because that’s where I allocate my time. Each weekday morning from 8.30-10.30, is allocated for work on my novel whether or not I want to and whether or not I have anything to say. It’s in my diary, it’s sacrosanct and it’s a meeting with my muse away from the internet and other distractions. It means my days are longer but they’re also more efficient because I’m taking into account many of the other points, made in the book. The bonus is that I’m working faster, focusing my concentration and feeling the rewards of working on a creative project, so despite the fact that I’m working for longer hours, I’m not as tired.
In quickness is truth. The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
For over a month now I have turned up at my little writing table every weekday morning and just written. In so doing I am clocking up at least five thousand words a week. I admit that they’re not very good words but that’s not what I’m striving for at this stage. I’m finding my way, instinctively feeling about in the dark for the elements of my story and the nature of my characters, letting the themes weave their way through the story and dictate its direction. Later I’ll come back and do more research, layering the story with description, making the setting and the characters authentic. I take heart from the words of Jodi Picoult, ‘You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’
Big projects such as a novel are so easy to put aside. We never quite get around to them because we are swamped with the little tasks, the ones that give us small doses of satisfaction, that clear a short path ahead of us momentarily but defer our dreams, sometimes forever. We are left feeling let down somehow, as if life has got away from us. And it has. As Belsky writes, ‘Ideas are sacred realisations born out of our deepest sense of identity and wonderment.’ But we have to make those ideas happen in order to realize our dreams.
You are welcome to share articles as long as copyright and contact information are always included. Thank you for your courtesy. Rosie Dub