Sometimes priorities don't appear as priorities
I’m back at work today, and going through my Trello board with all of my to-dos on it to get my business properly on track. I have been researching platforms for teaching online classes, writing my Dear Writer letters, planning for the recording of In The Gutter (new comics podcast with superhero scholar Joshua Unruh), my reading for the Dear Writer Book Group, and a host of other things.
But you know what didn’t get scheduled?
Time to write.
I mean, yes. I have a business to get off the ground and I’m excited about all the things I want to do. I need to narrow the number of things I want to do and focus if I want to make this work and not have to go back to a full-time job next year, but the biggest reason why I want to do this is so I can have time/energy to write.
But I’m clearly not making that time or feeding that energy.
I recently listened to an episode of Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, which featured James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. During the discussion, Clear said something which sits with me to this day:
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
After listening to the entire two-episode discussion, this is the idea that I keep coming back to.
My systems don’t accommodate for all of my goals. I want to build my business, but I’m not making time or energy in my life or on my Trello board for writing.
I started doing 25-minute writing/working sprints with Ian at the start of the pandemic. He needed someone there to keep him working, and I was working anyway, so we’d fire up a Zoom chat and hang out while we got work done. I was coaching him through a novel he was working on (which I hope he’ll get back to; it’s unsurprisingly really good) so we’d talk about his work in the five-minute breaks in between the 25s and it got us both through the work. Occasionally, especially now that I’m not on someone else’s clock, we’ll still do some 25s together to get through whatever it is we don’t really feel excited about doing.
I went to see Neil Gaiman’s live show in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and when someone asked for writing advice, that’s basically what he said: Set time aside to write every day. Your job is to sit in front of the work. You don’t have to write. You just need to not do anything other than writing. If you spend the entire specified time just staring at the screen or sheet of paper, that’s a fair cop.
As I recall, I think Elizabeth Gilbert had the same advice in Big Magic (which Dr. Kelly Jones and I discussed on Big Strong Yes if you want to read along) and it’s good advice. It’s the advice I’ve been giving for years.
I just haven’t been taking that advice. And fair enough; I wasn’t able to write for a long time.
But now I am. And I’m going to spend 25 minutes every day staring at the book I’ve got in progress until I figure out if I can finish it or not. If I can’t finish it, then I’ll start something else.
Twenty-five minutes a day is a doable system for me, so I’m going to do it.
How are your systems serving your writing or creative projects? Are they serving your goals? How might you create the space, time and energy for the things that are truly important to you?
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