Whether you’re a writer, artist, or other creative-type person, it’s important that you protect your “creative day.” This is the part of your day when you get your creative work done. But it’s not only the time you need to protect. (That’s actually the easy part. Carving out some extra hours in the day is something a lot of people complain about, but it’s not that difficult if you’re motivated enough to say, “No” to unimportant things.)
What you really need to protect is the mental space your creativity needs to function.
Think about it: Once your brain gets cluttered with the bad news of the day, family drama, work-related problems, and all the other crap that goes along with life, there’s little mental space or energy left for creating. Even if you manage to carve out two hours to work, will it be quality time if you’re thinking of all that other stuff? Probably not.
This is why I try to divide my day into two parts. The “creative day” and the “all the other stuff day.” For me, this means getting up in the morning and not even checking email or social media until the creative work is done. I don’t turn on the TV or check the headlines. I get up, eat, shower, get dressed and go to work. My brain is fresh and clean, uncluttered by useless junk, problems I can’t fix, and unnecessary drama.
After the work is done (or when I feel the creativity starting to peter out), that’s when I join the rest of the world. I’ll spend the rest of the day dealing with email, social media, and other work related tasks that aren’t creative. (Think billing, taxes, setting up giveaways, research, etc.) That’s all stuff I can do even with a head filled up with the junk of the day.
Of course, sometimes I’ll go full-on analog and avoid news and screens for days at a time, just to reset and rejuvenate. Not everyone has that luxury, but if you do I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to fire up the creative juices and preserve your sanity at the same time.
What if you can’t start early in the morning? What if your creative time has to come at night, after you’ve been exposed to “life?” Try to recreate that early morning fresh brain, anyway. Meditate for a few minutes before starting to work. Well before your work time, set aside the phone and stop surfing the internet. Turn off the news. Eat a nice meal, play with the kids, or do some other hobby to relax your mind and clear it of the day’s junk. Once you’ve settled down, then tackle your creative work.
Yeah, this might be difficult in practice. Some people have to stay on call for their day jobs. And some people have to tackle chores or pay bills when they get home. As much as possible, though, start to tune out as soon as you leave your day job. (If you have one.) Listen to good music or a fun podcast/audiobook on the way home. Do what you can to clear out your mental space so that you can get the most out of your creative day.
No matter when you do your creative work, set everything else aside while you work. Turn off the phone. (Unless you have to leave it on for emergencies, but don’t check it unless it rings.) Resist the urge to check the internet “really quick for just one thing.” It’s never just one thing and before you know it, poof, your creative energy is gone, lost in a sea of news stories and social media foolishness. Don’t have the TV or news on in the background. If you need music, listen to your own collection or an ad-free streaming service. Avoid the radio or other services with ads and news breaks, as these will only fill up your brain with stuff you aren’t ready to deal with.
It’s hard to be creative when you’re angry at politics, or saddened by some human rights violation. If you’re worrying about work problems, or frustrated that your sister can’t get her life together, your work will suffer. The best thing you can do is avoid that stuff altogether prior to beginning work so you start fresh. If you can’t avoid it, at least do your best to block it out for a time while you work. All the problems will still be there after you’ve created your masterpiece. (And the ones you can’t do anything about will still be unfixable, so there’s really no point in worrying about those!)