Tangible Steps

As a follow up to last week’s long post I thought I would post the basic steps I follow in order to make time and space for writing and art in the midst of my energy drain.

These are the steps I mentioned last week:

  1. Productive means something different to me now. It means that I wake up and assess my physical capacity and then make plans.
  2.  On a bad day, productive means self care and only what has to get done that day.
  3.  On a good day, productive means a short to do list (1-3 items) that are easy to accomplish (journal or write with no minimum).
  4.  At the end of every day, write a bullet list of what I’ve done no matter how small

The contrast still feels unreal. My weekly word count is often my previous daily word count. But, when I fall into negative traps they drain my energy like nothing else. So I have learned to celebrate the small things that no one else would laud because they do in fact result in progress toward my goals. I stopped trying to play catchup on the good days. Each day is separate. If I have a bad day I do not try to make up for lost time because there is no such thing. I only have the energy to draw from that I have. Keeping that in mind has helped to conserve what I have for what is important to me.

Expanding on those:

1.  I give everything it’s own time and space. No more. No less.

Every thought takes energy and effort. In the past I could get away with worrying, procrastinating and being anxious while also getting things done. Now it is truly a choice. If I fall into those traps I often find that I am too exhausted to do anything else. Where I’m at now with my depleted energy I have the choice between thinking about the things I want to do or doing them. It’s a mixed blessing. If I find myself thinking about writing or making art then I assess if I have materials handy and if I do then I work. If I don’t have the materials handy or I’m in the middle of something else then I put the thoughts aside (maybe make a note for later) and focus on what I’m doing. When I have fallen into my old patterns of worry, procrastination or anxiety I end up becoming too exhausted and depleted to actually do anything else. I was surprised at how easy it was to stop those patterns.

2.  To-do lists should bolster my sense of accomplishment.

I used to be all about goal setting. It is often touted as the only way to succeed because if you can’t visualize what you need to do to get where you’re dreaming about going then you’ll never get there. That’s a half truth. Everything that happens in life is the result of action. The degree to which those actions are intentional varies and the degree to which intentional actions produce the expected results is also fairly variable. You can be the safest driver in the world but if a reckless driver approaches from your blind spot there are limited results and most involve a lot of great timing. I have found that the best use of the to-do list is to provide opportunities to succeed because that success boosts my mood which boosts my energy and provides me with more opportunities to succeed. My better mood also improves my awareness by giving me that added energy.

3. Journaling is for brain dumping.

To-do lists used to be more like brain dumps. A list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in a day, a list of everything that needed to happen in order for me to succeed at my goals and ultimately the half completed to-do list was essentially the whip I used to flog myself. It could also become that easy to access account of my failures because I could only see what I had not yet done. When I started being really honest in my journal it was freeing and was easy to fill page after page with the most random information you can imagine. It’s pretty crap to slog through in an effort to find the gems but it also protects me from picking at the scabs. Some people need the discipline of perfectionism and feel innervated by it. If that’s you and you are energized by critical self reflection in the raw moments then follow what works for you. My energy comes from other places. I love knowing that I can return to my journals at a later date for that critical self reflection but it’s also great knowing that I can put my negativity on a page away from my brain to gain the energy I need to really create and grow.

4. Writing sessions don’t have to accomplish anything. Art sessions don’t have to produce anything.

This echoes a lot of what I’ve already said. I have often tortured myself to met deadlines and I took a lot of pride in the sense of completion that deadlines produce. Deadlines are also a big part of our world and there is always pressure and necessity to perform under these conditions. It probably is not a coincidence that after every period of time in which I neglected my health to perform in this fashion I also had a variety of illnesses and medical issues that were frustrating at best and alarming at worst. Again, some people can thrive in pressure cooker environments and I admire them for finding what works for them. Now I find that the best motivation is to treat every creative session as an opportunity to just do the thing. If my art time is a swatching session where I explore colors there is no need for it to be anything more. When I’m working on art for the Starchild series I’m also approaching it as an opportunity to explore themes visually and see what happens. During writing sessions, even though I’m in a rewriting phase with an eye toward a final draft, I sit down with some music on loop and simply explore whatever section I’m working on. Whether that’s 50 words or 5k doesn’t matter.

This one is actually the hardest one to sit with. This is largely why every day I have to assess my energy levels and not plan anything that will take more than 50% of my available energy. I can always chose to do more. If I get in flow then I’ll often complete projects with ease but it requires a willingness to be humble and grateful.

5. What I put into my work is unique to me.

The desire to rush towards my goals is based on my sense of urgency to find my niche and to be successful in it. When I look toward my inspirations and want to succeed in my work I can get very caught up in everything that needs to line up and then I get obsessed with time. It passes very quickly and it is difficult to assess how much is available to pull from. The trap is that whatever I’m making can only be made by me no matter how fast or slow I make it. My life, my experiences and my inspirations will create my work. The time isn’t something I can control any more than my energy stores are created by me. I have found that the only thing that really helps me to push away the ticking clock and the sense of urgency is to fixate on my own path. Whatever happens, my path is my path and I can be confident that my work will be the result of that. It is challenging to find the confidence when the work is incomplete, which is arguably all creative work, but it becomes easier when I realize that I am the part of the work that is unique. The stories and visuals may be common themes, the skill level may be nothing special and the audience may be relatively small but it will always be mine no matter how long I take to get there.

This one helps me to get my butt in the seat. Perfection is an easy excuse not to try. The gentle daily reminders that my work is waiting for me, that it needs me and that these two things will always be true does more than the sense that the opportunity will slip away ever did.

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