Today, there is another blank page staring at me.
The template for my blog is empty, waiting.
The podcast doesn’t have a title, even.
The essay I need, to complete a project, is only an idea.
Positives and Negative
There have been a number of studies, recently, about the negative impact of multi-tasking. I’ve heard people say things like, “Any time you are distracted from the flow of your work, it can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes for your mind to re-set.” (Of course, I have also found that the Pomodoro method of deep focus followed by precisely planned breaks is a great option for my own rhythm, so I’m not sure how those two things come together…but that is a different blog post.)
If it is true, that multi-tasking causes the brain problems in the area of focus and disrupts forward creative-cognitive momentum, then what happens every time I’m interrupted is a mini-replay of what happens every morning: restoring momentum after a sudden stop can be a real bear.
My own creative engine reminds me of the neighbor I had growing up, who seemed to take twenty minute to a half-hour, early every morning, starting his sputtering car, revving the engine with a plodding drone until the engine would die out and he would repeat the process. Eventually, his car would warm up enough to keep running without the flexing of his accelerator ankle (which was likely at least twice the size of his other ankle) and he could go off to work.
My brain works much the same way, some days, only much slower and with less disruption to the sleep patterns of the neighbors.
In a creative sense, this “slow starting” problem has some consequences. I often feel nearly AS reluctant to start on any given, perfectly mundane morning as I do when I have had little sleep, or when there are legitimate “real life” issues going on, or when I’ve been creatively stagnant.
That’s because every morning is a new blank page, so to speak. A new start. A fresh beginning.
And in the positive state of mind (which does, in fact, happen from time to time) that “fresh start” can seem very positive: “It’s another day!” the optimist me says. “I have another opportunity to write something new! Or improve something I’ve already written! Or write the blog post/podcast/essay that will conquer the world!!!”
Which is all true.
Starting over every day does offer some benefits. If I failed, yesterday, to hit my creative stride, then today’s work can redeem that. Failure is only for one day. Every new day is another chance, every new “little step” gets me closer and closer to realizing the big goal or dream or hope.
But there are days when that attitude is hard to maintain. Starting over can feel like a never-ending rodent wheel of effort. It can seem pointless. I can convince myself that even if I do great work today, that bigger goal is still days, weeks, years away. I can drift into laziness. I can allow the writing to slip to the bottom of the priority list.
Combating the Malaise
These are the things I try to remind myself of, in order to stand up against the negative perspective on starting over (and over and over). Maybe some of these will help you, too.
- Begin where you are, today, and embrace each new beginning. Every page, sentence, or word that you write today carries you at least marginally closer to the fulfillment of a dream or achievement of the artistic vision, and even “marginally closer” is a kind of victory. The only real failure, is complete refusal to do the work. And even that refusal of the work I made yesterday can be overcome with my writing today. So, the only final failure is death, and I’m not dead yet, so let’s write!
- You can make room for the writing work in any life. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, how busy or chaotic life is, you can find time to write, even just a few words. One word. Two. Something. Anything. Find time. Steal time. Whatever it takes. Write on your arm. A napkin. The single-ply toilet paper in the work toilet. (That stuff is more like newspaper than toilet tissue, anyway…)
- You can’t have written for an hour until you write for ten minutes. Or one. So start with one minute today, and add another one tomorrow. Build up your creative muscles just like you would train your body. Start with a low number of reps, and build up from there. Idealizing yourself out of writing by saying, “Well, I can only spare ten minutes, so I might as well not start. I can only write if I have hours and hours to myself,” will steal your soul, just when it is being offered a jailbreak.
- Tomorrow, begin again. And again the day after. Dream about the end result, if you want to. Plan, if you must. But only AFTER you’ve done at least some of the work, today. The actual work. And planning to write is not writing any more than reading a map is traveling. You aren’t traveling until you take a step. Sure, one step in a thousand mile journey can seem like a frustrating pace, but it is infinitely better than standing still. Your creative work is worthy of you taking at least one step. And who knows. You might just find the second step is easier once your creative soul is in motion.
What do you think? Is there some other perspective you can add to how you condition yourself to starting over, everyday? I’d love to hear your suggestions…really. I would.