Controlling Creativity: Timeblocking My Way to Success

  • Someday Lesson: Creativity and chaos are not synonyms.

Third1 on Flickr.comWhen we think of a typical artist, we picture a person living in chaos, papers or paint everywhere, abandoned food rotting on the table (or floor), appointments forgotten, and sleep patterns only a chaos scientist could understand.

Ask many writers about their writing process (or watch movies about writing such as Stranger Than Fiction or I Capture the Castle) and you’ll get an impression that this chaos does nothing for getting writing done (contrary to popular belief). In fact, many writers (myself included) will often do anything other than write (so indulge the chaos). You see, as much as we love the creative process, it overwhelms us.

I don’t know about other writers but for me, when I write I feel all the emotions of my characters often all at once and this avalanche of feeling plugs my ability to get the words down on paper. In her fantastic course, How to Think Sideways (now off the market), Holly Lisle says:

We want and need feelings. We will die inside without them. But sometimes, sometimes…sometimes, dammit, we need to think. You cannot plan a career with the thinking half of your brain tied behind your back.

NaNoWriMo as Motivator

Many writers use National Novel Writing Month (which started November 1st) as a way to apply discipline and get themselves thinking as well as feeling. A writer “wins” NaNoWriMo if he or she can get 50,000 words written in the month.

Although I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo, I did it once (but didn’t “win”) in 2007. I credit the month with giving me the drive and the habit to write regularly and push through to the end of long projects.

With everything else going on in my life, I don’t have the time to commit to the NaNoWriMo schedule, but the idea of corralling creativity through structure gave me a different idea.

Extreme Structure

This month I plan to take structure to an extreme. I’ve set up my Google Calendar to ring an alarm through the day to move me onto the next task in my list regardless of where I am in the task.

I’ve broken my day into sections, anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. I also have marked off breaks where I will purposefully NOT be productive. By being so rigid with m schedule I hope to increase my productivity, focus more on what I really want to get done, and have more time dedicated to non-productive activities (like doing things with the boyfriend).

Throughout the month, I’ll be reporting my progress here on the blog, because of course, an experiment has no worth if no one measures the before and after. And what will I be measuring?

  1. Amount of writing done (word count / progress on an outline)
  2. Guest posts written
  3. Blogs commented on
  4. Various Someday Syndrome visitor statistics
  5. And various other actions that should draw in more readers and clients.

Someday-Busting Contest

Now it’s your turn. I’m sure there’s some way that right now you could put just a little more structure in your life and in turn be more creative with your time.

Either email me or leave a comment here below with your structured-creativity intention and at the end of the month I’ll pick one person to win a month of Someday-Busting Email Coaching.

Speaking of which, I’d like to congratulate Emma for winning the October contest. At the end of the month maybe we’ll get her to do an update to her Someday Syndrome Interview and see how the month has changed her situation.

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5 thoughts on “Controlling Creativity: Timeblocking My Way to Success

  1. Cathy says:

    I have signed up to NaNoWriMo month as I saw it as the only way to get started writing my book because I keep proscrastinating about what I want to write. Last week I started writing a to-do list and that has been so beneficial. I see this month as being busy, but hopefully I don’t believe it will be frantic. I also need to start to prepare as we will be moving house soon, that I am not looking forward to.
    .-= Cathy´s last blog ..I must be completely insane =-.

  2. I am interested to hear how the alarm works to move you along. I usually suggest that people finish what they start, but sometimes you linger on a task longer than you need to.

    Having the alarm move you to another project can get you to tie up the loose ends and return to the original project if you need to.

    Sometimes it also helps to take a break from something and return to it with more enthusiasm and creativity.

    Congratulations on scheduling “unproductive” time! Those breaks often turn out to be just the rejunvenation you need to get yourself back on track.

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    @Cath
    I love moving house! I always see it as an opportunity to get rid of things I don’t need, love or use anymore. Good luck with NaNoWriMo! I look forward to hearing about your progress.

    @Marcie
    I’m a little bit flexible with myself. For example, yesterday at 11am when I was supposed to stop writing on the novel and move on to the next thing, I gave myself 5 minutes to finish the thought.

    But yeah, scheduling the unproductive time was very important to me because if I don’t I end up thinking I’m working when I’m not and I putter horribly.

  4. Vicki says:

    hello Alex and everyone,

    Last year I did the NaNoWriMo which I discovered with the Red Room site where I love to blog. I had a fabulous time. When I wrote down to write what I thought I was going to write about didn’t come out at all. Instead something lovely and funny about family flowed from my pen. I was absolutely stunned that I could write so much like that!

    This year I twittered Alex that I had gotten a space organized and piled all my notes and and ‘almost’ finished essays and blog posts, etc. on top of my desk. For the next three days I explained to him my intent; to try to sit down and input my handwritten work into the computer and finishing up what I could, improving what I could and organizing them as best I could.

    Day number four is here and I promised to let Alex know what has happened so far. First of all, my family did not like the fact that I was off in other room rather than the dining room. They started congregating in my office space, but I was able to discourage that (I said if your going to stay in the room, open that closet door and start sorting). I also had a problem because in the past I have been very flexible for everyone and willing to stop what I was doing to help my family out. But I have drawn a line in the sand – if they can do it alone they should do it alone or else I am spoiling them. This turned out to be more shocking to them than I thought, since my daughters are 17 and 20 and my my husband, well, when he’s at home you would never know he’s an internationally famous engineer.

    So Alex and all, I ended up dealing with family dyamics the first day rather than my dream of productivity with my writing. Yet I feel good about it. I realize this is a hurdle I had been procratinating and not tackling. Thank goodness, it is out of the way.

    The second and third days I did a lot more thinking than I thought I would be doing. I had pictured myself like a robot or a very excellent secretary perhaps. I have been very hard on myself about not meeting my own expectations. Yet I have figured out some complex issues I needed to understand about my characters and about some political pieces I am working on.

    So . . . all in all . . . I just realized the exact thing happened to me as last November. I kept focused but my expectation of what I was going to accomplish was much different than what really happened.

    Here I go though to imput some of those notes, I was telling you about!
    :-0
    .-= Vicki´s last blog ..Red Room author Lawrence Wright on panel discussing Afghanistan. =-.

  5. Alex Fayle says:

    @Vicki
    Wow, good for you for sticking to your guns and changing the “rules” even though the rest of the family tried to rebel. That’s really hard to do and I hope it sticks! Don’t worry about not accomplishing too much right away – it’ll take time for the changes to really show their full effect.

    Good luck!

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