Sitting on virtual “hold” in a computer chatroom with the Verizon/Fios account rep Tuesday morning, I was reminded of the way certain phrases worm their way into our collective vocabulary, and also it made me think of how easy it is to allow our writing or creative time to slip away from us.

I had been billed for a pay-per-view comedy show had had not ordered nor watched. (Who is up at 6 a.m. to watch a one-hour comedy routine? Not me!)

When the billing issue had been settled, the customer service rep did what she was trained to do: she attempted to up-sell me into a higher range of services.

I inquired about adding some programming (the basic cable service we have does not include MLBTV, a great source of baseball news and programming) and she responded that if I went to the next level up, I would receive MLBTV plus “around 80 other channels you don’t currently have” for $20 more per month.

When I responded that I didn’t want to add $20 more dollars to my bill, she said, “I understand, but maybe if you think of it this way: that’s just about sixty cents a day…less than the price of a cup of coffee.”

Some Words are Everywhere

I was immediately reminded how often I’ve heard that comparison. “For less than the price of a cup of coffee you can…” Save the children. Provide water for a whole village in Africa. Join a gym. Support PBS/your church/the library’s “friends” fund. Get a death-benefit life insurance policy.

You know the drill.

All of this flashed through my mind and I responded to the sales rep, “I don’t drink enough coffee to cut back on cups of coffee and fund everything that is sold to me as ‘less than the cost of a cup of coffee.’ And I drink a lot of coffee!”

Just like in our fiscal budget, we can nickel and dime ourselves into a debt of creative energy.
Just like in our fiscal budget, we can nickel and dime ourselves into a debt of creative energy.

It’s Not Just Sixty Pennies

After the conversation, I realized this exchange was a metaphor for something even bigger in my creative life.

How many “cups of coffee” do I sacrifice when it comes to the amount of cognitive energy I have in a given day?

We only have so much energy to give to our waking hours. We have work, relationships, duties. And our artistic pursuits.

If you are like me, the writing (or other art) often comes near the end of the allotted energy in a given week, and any time we add another duty or responsibility or, even, enjoyable activity to our list of things to do, we have less and less residual energy for our creative work.

Most of us lead lives with full schedules, and all of us are really good at finding ways to squander our energy, if we aren’t careful.

But every new “ask” is another cup of coffee. And like my fiscal budget, I often don’t have enough cups of coffee to donate to make it all work.

Ideally, Drink Your Artistic Coffee First

That’s right. You can’t be asked to give up the cup of coffee you’ve already consumed.

Sure. That’s the ideal situation. If you want your writing life to improve and you want to take your creative output to the next level, the absolute best way to make that happen is to use an old budgeting term: Pay yourself first. The best way to make sure the writing gets done is to get it done before the other obligations pop up and before new opportunities to divert your intellectual and emotional energy present themselves.

But that isn’t always an option, so the other thing to keep in mind is this simple, but elusive, idea: You only have so many cups of coffee to give; be aware of where you are spending them. I recommend daily, weekly, and monthly reviews of where you spend your time and energy, and active engagement in the concept of re-structuring your life to allow for more time and energy for the creative pursuit you are longing to accomplish.
(I’m guilty of it too! When I recently set up the option for recurring, monthly sponsorship of this website, blog, and podcast, the lowest level is “buy me a Mocha at Starbucks”…)

Everything’s The Price of a Cup of Coffee