Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finding the Time

We're all desperately busy nowadays.  What, with work, family, friends, children, it's a wonder we have any time to do anything short of schedule our self-imposed commitments in between our necessary commitments.  Where does one find a shred of--I'm about to go full-on-new-age here--me time?  The answer is really quite simple: you have to make it.

I know, I know.  You're probably saying, "No kidding, brainiac.  Care to expand on that statement, and no I do not want to buy a timeshare after the seminar."  No on the timeshare and I will gladly explain some changes that I have taken in my life to make writing and creating a priority.

For us creative types, the problem of finding the time is compounded by the fact that fatigue is a constant enemy.  Fatigue is perseverant.  Fatigue is crushing.  Fatigue is...tireless, actually.  More importantly, fatigue is compounded by the steady stream of obligations that we fulfill throughout the day.  Here is an example of my weekdays from a year and a half ago: the alarm goes off, I curse the rising sun and everything in existence with the exception of my wife, I snooze until the last possible moment, I shower, shave, get dressed, wolf down some food, rush to the car, rush to work, become increasingly angry with other drivers, drink loads of coffee while at work, curse to myself at how much I hate work and how things will never change, take a lunch break where I wander around for an hour, give myself a high-five when the work day ends, exercise, go home, shower, make dinner, eat and watch TV.  After all of this it's at least 9:00 PM and I would already be mad at the workday that looms tomorrow.  I do not even have children to contend with and this is a full day. The last thing I can physically/mentally/emotionally do is sit at the computer and write my minimum of two pages per day as I mentioned in my earlier post.

For the first two drafts of my novel, I would write on lunch breaks and at night after my wife had gone to sleep, but the nighttime writing proved difficult and I oftentimes found myself facedown on the desk with gibberish lining the page.  The lunchtime writing was working, but that had to end when we got the puppy, who I then had to take out during lunch.  I would not trade my dog for the world, but with the exhaustion I felt at night, writing was becoming more difficult.  Luckily, I came across an article from that detailed something I believe was called time-shifting.

Essentially, the author of the article found himself in the same position that I was in, with no time or energy to work on his own important and meaningful projects.  He eventually became frustrated enough to adjust the way he lived his life.  Instead of getting up late and going to bed late, he began to awaken at 6:00 AM and shortly after that 5:00 AM and he went to sleep earlier every night.  His day involved rising, going for a run, showering, getting dressed, eating and by that point it was a little after 6:00 AM and he had a couple of hours and, more importantly, a fresh mind to work on the the projects that he cared about.  By 8:45 AM he was off to earn the rent and deal with the necessities of life, but he did so with a sense of accomplishment.  I loved this idea.

So, for the past year and a half, I wake up early in the morning and hit the computer to work on my books, comic books, coloring and lettering, and blog.  It...was...not...easy.  Not in the slightest.  I was a mess for the first two weeks, but now I am so used to rising early and getting things done, that I can't imagine sleeping in late.  I honestly want to get up and work on the creative projects that fulfill me and not waste my important time lounging around in bed.  After the morning, my day is the same as before, with work and exercise, but the night is spent talking with my wife, playing with the dog and reading until I can't keep my eyes open, then off early to bed.

I still curse the moment I have to hop in the car to head to work, but I do so with thoughts and ideas of what my writing will bring tomorrow, and for the first time in a very long time, I go to sleep excited for the morning to come.

If you have a method that works for you and allows you to effectively work on your projects, please let me know; I would love to hear what you have to say.

UPDATE:  I found the original article.  You can read it here.


  1. I'm a total night person. I literally CAN NOT function before 8 a.m., unless I'm supposed to be playing the part of a zombie, vegetable, or Forest Gump (before he knew what love was). It is my downfall as a member of the 'nine to five' society that has built itself around me. However... I come to life at night. I can't explain it, but I get a second wind of energy every night at 11 p.m. I have tried desperately to conform to a 'go to bed early/wake up early' schedule, but it just doesn't work out, for me. SO... I've maximized on the whole 'I stay up late' thing. You see, when I get home from work, I typically still have an entire evening of laundry, cooking, ironing, etc., to do. I also am at my most creative right after my commute home, where my brain has had a chance to decompress as I sing along with Lady Gaga, at the top of my lungs in the exit 105 toll booth worker's face. (BABY, I WAS BORN THIS WAY, DAMMIT!) I also know, from just basically being alive, that when my second wind comes, it is a quasi-lucid 'physical' second wind, not a mental one. So, (i say 'So' a lot, don't I?) I do this: I try cook most of the meals for the week on the weekend so when I get home from work, I can create comics. (Yes, creating comics also includes day dreaming. Day dreaming is essential to my creative process. If i can't see my idea in my mind, I can't write it.) My husband gets home from work/the gym a few hours after I do, so I literally have about two hours of uninterrupted time, in a quiet house to myself. (But the laundry isn't done and dinner isn't hot!!!) Dinner, if not tacos or a quick-to-cook steak on the grill, is whatever massive concoction I made a few days prior, thrown into the toaster oven 20 minutes before we eat. The laundry, ironing, misc. cleaning, dishes, bill paying, construction of an Abrams tank, etc. all take place after 11 p.m. when my brain is gone and I am merely a ball of kinetic energy. So, for any other late-birds, insomniacs, or general schizophrenics out there, this is what I do... this may work for you, too. (PS: This was a first draft, Paul) Thanks for allowing comments and not restricting how long they can be! ;)

  2. That's funny, J9...I was a night owl at one time. Now I've shifted to a bit more of a morning person. But I was so inspired by Don's post above that here at the Panda Dog household, we're starting to sloooowly try the time shift morning thing...

  3. Thanks for letting us know what works for you, J9. I know what you are saying, I used to be a night owl and actually never really got much sleep--sleep, what a pain in the butt--but now that I am getting on in years, that has kind of changed. Plus I found that friends were always trying to get me to do things (drink a lot of booze at the bar), phone calls interupted me throughout the night, and I found the process of creating pretty difficult after receiving a long day of mental smackdowns at the day job. At the ridiculous hour of 5:30 AM most people are sound asleep, and I can have my tea, listen to some jazz, and get some uninterupted writing done. I use the night for doing the more mundane stuff: bills, bank balancing, returning calls,exercise, cooking, etc.
    What works, works, so if the late-night madness hits you, then that is the time to hammer out your next great project. I did not want to give myself any excuses for not creating and working toward my goals.
    On a side note, I know a guy who, along with his wife, spend one weekend day a month cooking. They cook the entire day and freeze everything that they then eat for the rest of the month. That's kind of crazy to me, but whatever does the trick...

  4. I really loved this post, Don. The heart of the matter is simple and we so often tell ourselves that there is no time for this or that. We are our own worst enemies, in a way. :) The first step, like you have laid out in your process as well, is to find what chunk of the day you will be at your peak creatively, while still being able to quietly focus, and seizing that opportunity - even if it requires a little sacrifice. Bravisimo!

    Another thing I have read (i forget exactly where, but it was one of those 'university medical science' websites) said that the steady consumption of caffeine (all day) can lead to a diminished ability to concentrate even when you have not had any coffee or soda for several hours or even days. Coffee and soda are OK, but more than two or three 8-oz cups a day can actually give you a mild case of adult ADD. That is definitely something to keep in mind when you only have a few hours to devote to focused creativity, each day. Apparently, when doing anything mentally intensive, the best thing to drink is water. I drink a lot of coffee, so I try to make sure that my last bit is consumed several hours before I get home to write... and I am living proof about the adult ADD thing. HAHA! Just food (or drink) for thought! :)

  5. Great article - I've long been a fan of waking early to get things done. I've just focused on exercise and grad school work with the creative left to the end of the day. I like the reversal of going to work after having spent time creating. I'm going to try to switch my activities around - a decade in the service took care of the waking up early thing. Thanks for the insight!

  6. Thanks, Ian. After too many nights of fighting to stay awake and getting nowhere at night--I wish I still had J9's stamina--this system worked for me. Plus, giving my art precedence over everything else (day job work, chores, exercise) gave me a nice sense of accomplishment to help carry me through the day. After ten years in the service, getting up early should be cake walk for you. I look forward to seeing what you create. All the best.

  7. Great article. A simple shift in some ways, gotta have the perseverance to make it a habit!!!

  8. Thanks, Luke. I've been sick for the past week, so it has not been an easy thing to get up at 5:15 AM during the week. Honestly though, the time spent writing, revising, critiquing first thing in the morning leaves me with a huge sense of accomplishment that carries me through the day job.