It was one of those scattered mornings where day-job deadlines loomed and my mind rebelled against the idea of staying in one place and doing The Work first — you know, The Work, not the stuff that brings home the bacon but the other stuff, the stories and the blog posts and the magical music of words — the fun.
I have been trying to take The Work as seriously as I’ve always taken the day job, and so I sat, a little tense and unfocused but determined to robot my way through the morning writing routine if I had to. In the back of my mind, I kept hearing all the clocks in the house tick and thinking about photographs I had to process and news stories I had to write and edit, even though I had set this special sacred time aside to write things like, I don’t know, soaring over the bay chasing a pelican to ask how the view is up here and if you ever grow weary of bringing home the carp or the perch or whatever it is that pelicans dine on.
It was always “Maybe if I buckle down and get the work-work done, then I’ll have time for the fun stuff later,” but it always became later later later, and then the day was over and the fun stuff didn’t happen, so I committed to sitting down to attempt to do The Work now, not later, but instead I’m moping instead of doing fun stuff —
And then, just like that, my fingers raced across the page and gave me some insight into the main adversary in the novel I’m writing, more than a page of wild fantastic spunk. For a few minutes the day job vanished and I was inside the mind of a Venusian prince mansplaining his evil sister’s motivations.
How did that happen?
Pay attention here, friends: I wrote a handful of paragraphs about how distracted I was because I had so much work to do and I didn’t really have time to do any of the creative stuff I wanted to do …
And then, BAM! For a few precious moments I created something cool, something I can fold into the Big Project I’m Working On When I Can.
But see what I did there?
I wrote! I didn’t think I had time, I kept thinking about all the other stuff I had to do, and the first few things I wrote were about woe-is-me-I-wish-I-had-time-to-concentrate.
But I wrote! I didn’t think, “Crap, I don’t have time for this today,” and blow it off. I sat down and wrote, and it was junk and whining and worthless until it wasn’t, until I was writing a page about why the villain in my story is so villainous and how she learned to mistreat people the way she does, and oh my goodness I didn’t have time for this but I forced myself to take a little time anyway and a little corner of my novel suddenly blossomed.
Because I wrote. I had less than 15 minutes to spare, and I couldn’t concentrate, but I sat down to write. And that’s the moral of the story.
They say that 90 percent of art is just showing up. I got an illustration of that basic fact right there. Wow, says I. Just wow.
You do art, right? That’s what brought you here. I’m here to tell you because I just relearned it: Even if you have only a couple of minutes to spare, sit down and spare those minutes. Your art will honor your commitment and gift you.
Because I refused to skip my morning writing session that morning, my evil princess is that much eviler. (And by the way, I made my day-job deadlines. Bonus.)
Honor your art. Practice your art. Seize your minutes. Just show up and do your art.