Time For Creativity in Our Busy World.
Read the article and then work with the prompts.
When I tell people I’m a writer, one of the most common responses I get is: Oh, that’s so great! I’d love to be a writer. I used to write, but I don’t have the time now. I’ve heard that response so often that it got me wondering: Why is it that so many people feel they don’t have they don’t have time for creativity? What does it mean that people “don’t have time?”
Even my professional writer friends often complain about never having enough time for their “real” writing, for what they most want to be doing. I get it.
There’s no denying that many of us feel overwhelmed by the world we live in; everything feels like it’s a bit too much. And we often experience this too-muchness in our contemporary world as a scarcity of our own time and of our own creativity.
Several years ago, the New York Times published an interesting article that helped me shift my own relationship to time. The article cited a Gallup poll which found that 61 percent of working Americans reported not having time to do the things they want.
61 percent. That’s a high percent of people reporting they don’t have time to do the things they want to do.
I understand that some people need to work three jobs to feed their kids; I understand that single moms have too much on their plates; I understand the great stress of economic insecurity, of heavy responsibility, of not quite keeping up. I understand, too, that everyone goes through periods of too muchness: periods of illness in the family, of crises, of the intensity of transitions.
But even for those people who live with the biggest stresses of our economic system and our individual lifestyles—the stresses of living in a world in which the community does not come together to support those in need—there is still, over the course of a life, time for creativity.
Think of the great songs that came out of enslavement, out of sailors working long hours on boats. Often when people’s spirits are most in danger of being crushed by oppression, great creative expression finds a way out. Our creativity, after all, is our life-force, and to keep it in is like trying to keep water in a narrow tube: after a while, it will find a way out.
Yes, it is true that some people have the luxury of great amounts of creative time. How can we compare a college student to a child laborer? And didn’t Virginia Woolf say that for a woman to write, she must have a room of her own–and time to be in that room?
And yet, when most people say they don’t have time for their creativity, for their writing, what I hear is that they believe they don’t have time; what I hear is that they believe that their other “work” is more important than their “creativity”; that they believe what people are told to do is more important than what people tell themselves to do; that what people are supposed to do is more important than what people want to do.
If we step back, this makes sense:
Our schooling, our upbringing, our society have subtly told us in 1,000 ways that our personal expression is not really valued; it is better to do as we are told. We’ve been made to believe that some people’s voices are more important than others and that we need certain conditions for creativity.
We have somehow subtly been sold the idea that our creativity, our personal expression, is a luxury, a privilege. But “poetry,” as Audre Lorde famously said, “is not a luxury.”
Is it a privilege or act of self-indulgence for the tree to put out new leaves and flowers in the spring? Or to grow fruit?
When we keep ourselves small, we are not honoring those around us who do not have a voice, we are not honoring our ancestors who may also have felt thwarted; rather we are perpetuating the idea that only some people get to bear fruit.
But, on the other hand, when we give space and time for our creativity, we are not only making space for our sweetness, but also for our truth, which also carries suffering and pain and has the power to open new doors not only for ourselves, but for others as well–across time and space. We need this creative time to process, to grow, to be who we really are: human, creative beings.
Time For Creativity: A Human Need
Just as birds sing, so, too, humans, in every single culture around the world, make time for creativity. It is how we know ourselves.
Our creativity also has an incredible power to disrupt our habitual lives, to unsettle old habits, to question ingrained beliefs, to push systems toward change.
It’s no wonder, then, that the institutions of our society—which after all are conservative forces, interested in perpetuating their own existence—do not foster our creativity.
But our individual, human birthright is to be a creative being.
So instead of wondering whether we have the time for creative, I want to ask another question: what happens if you don’t make the time for creativity?
What happens to your sense of self, to your full potential, if you buy into the idea that you don’t have the time to do what you really want to be doing?
At the end of your life will you regret not having given voice to yourself?
When we don't express ourselves, we shrink inside ourselves; our mood and even our physical health can be damaged if we don't give voice to our visions and dreams.
To be creative, you don’t need to write a novel. You don’t need to direct a play.
Writing a poem can take only five or ten minutes. Singing in the shower takes no time and all and can develop into a great song.
Can you find that five or ten minutes?
What makes a poem happen is not primarily more time. It is the author’s openness to and belief in the value of his or her own creativity.
If you walk around closed to your creativity, you will never write a poem. But if you are open to your creativity and open to the world around you, you might find yourself suddenly available to a poem that is being written by—and maybe through—you. And five minutes later, you may have a poem.
Keats famously is said to have scribbled his “Ode to A Nightingale,” on a napkin in a café.
Of course, his reading and living and writing prior to those five minutes went into the composition of that poem. But if we open our attention to our creative lives, we will find that more and more doors keep opening. We will find inspiration when we are walking or overhearing a conversation. We will look at the world around us and read as writers and creative beings. We will always be feeding that creative spark.
Much of finding time for creativity depends upon our attention: if we give attention to our creativity, then we will find the time we need for it.
The punch line of the New York Times article was that even though most Americans consider themselves too busy to do what they want, too busy to have time for creativity, when people keep track of time, they usually find they have more free time than they realize. It’s common to spend hours scrolling through social media, watching the news, and consuming other people’s media; this comes to act as an imperfect and not very satisfying substitute for one’s own creativity. Too often, other people’s visions and voices come to take over our inner lives.
But if you prioritize your creativity and put that first, you just may be surprised to find that you have plenty of time for it!
And when people do take time for creativity, most people are amazed to see that this makes the rest of their lives feel not more crowded, but more spacious.
7 Tips/Prompts for Creatives and Writers of Any Level to Help You Take Time for Creativity:
Whether you’re an experienced writer or a complete beginner, most writers (and creatives) struggle with making time for what they most love. These questions will help. Get a pen and paper and find 30 minutes to work with these prompts.
- Get clear on your time. For one week, keep a time chart. What do you actually spend your time doing? In particular, pay attention to media consumption. Is there anything that you could do less of?
- Get clear on your priorities. Why do you value creativity in general (not only for yourself)? Set a timer for ten minutes and write. Don’t judge yourself. Stay focused on the positive (the next question will get at the negative.)
- Get clear on what beliefs/ fears are getting in your way. Look at why you personally might NOT want to take time for creativity. Set a timer for ten minutes and just write. Don’t judge yourself.
- Get clear on your relationship with your own, personal creativity. Too often, we value creativity in general, but when it comes to ourselves, we have different, often much harsher standards. For this prompt, I invite you to consider why might you personally want to take time for creativity. Set a timer for ten minutes again. After having answered questions number 2 and 3, how do you feel about taking time in your own life for your creative work and writing?
- Be clear about your schedule. Look at your calendar and schedule at least two writing/ creative dates with yourself. Make these dates and show up for them. Put your phone away and do the work that you are longing to do.
- Give yourself supports. What other supports can you give to your creative life? Choose one other thing that will support you. For example, if you want to write, read books or pieces that feed and encourage your life as a writer.
- Don’t judge your product. Give your voice/ creative self time to come out of hiding and develop. Even Keats wrote some pretty bad poems, after all. Keep going, and enjoy the process!
I love to hear from you. What is your experience? Do you have questions, insights? Leave a comment below and let us know how it goes. Also see my recent post about the importance of scheduling your writing time: My Number One Tip for Writers.