Take Your Time

Consistently scheduling time for creative work can be challenging. I've found this is especially true when there is no known real world application for the work (e.g. a commissioned piece, an upcoming album, etc). And yet it is through consistent practice that creative work evolves, not to mention numerous intrinsic rewards that come from sustained engagement with the process. I want to avoid the personal topic of schedule management to focus more generally on one specific approach that has helped encourage consistency in my practice.

Years ago (a few decades even) I started journaling. The process emerged as a sort of life raft amid a particularly challenging phase of life. Writing provided a way out. For years I wrote from a place of total stream of consciousness. The format was spot on with what I needed. The practice stuck. And yet increasingly over the years an obnoxious dissonance kicked in as I felt conflict around the time spent writing vs. its "real world application" (*). I've never focused on writing as a career path, and I'm a man of relatively meager means, so how could/can I justify the time spent?  

One answer I have come up with is to time writing sessions. Set the stopwatch for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever minutes make sense in your schedule and go until the alarm sounds. Then move on. When establishing consistent practice routines, little inner gripes about wasted time seem ridiculous if we are talking minutes. Those same gripes can feel more substantial when the sense of time spent is ambiguous or seems like a haze of hours. It is of course worth noting that some days I decide to forgo the stopwatch after the first round, or other days inspiration shows up more like a wave to surf and that has very little to do with minutes. 

Because the net gain of timed sessions has been so positive, I now apply this approach in music practice, studio experimentation, writing, reading... it somehow contains process-oriented time, time that is not about making X for the sake of delivering Y. The time limitation has made the practice less in need of schedule justification and thus more sustainable. There is also a side benefit of learning how to streamline focus in a relatively short window. A parallel type time limitation can work wonders for musicians recording in the studio, but more on that later.

*This idea of "real world application" is highly suspect in creative work but it's also an inevitable force to reckon with for we the people operating in an efficiency-driven world. No small feat to overcome.