“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain attempting to quote Confucius.
What do people do when they don’t have a specific task to work on?
Typically, based primarily on observation and conversations I’ve had throughout my entire life, they’ll do nothing. That is, if they’re adults. Kids might try to play. Teens and young adults might find a restlessness and/or a drive to do something. This isn’t true for all adults, but most adults, especially those that have been, to some extent, out in the world, they want to do nothing, even if only for a moment. At some point we find ourselves desiring, craving this freedom to not have to do. I get it. I really do. I’m the same way.
Currently, I have no assigned projects, with exception to what they give me at work, and those are neither creative nor writing assignments. Occasionally, a free-lance gig might fall into my lap, but those are rare and often non-paying. I’m less inclined to take those on top of my preexisting, paying job. With that, nine out of ten times I am tired. Or nine out of ten times, I find myself without motivation to do much of anything. Despite the relatively arbitrary percentages, it’s still a serious thing.
We’re not all fortunate enough to get any jobs. Some of us have to find a way to persevere on our own. It’s difficult but doable.
You may be wondering or yelling, What do you do? I’m getting there, I swear.
I used to ask myself that, what I should do.
On top of everything I just mentioned, as I touched upon in my MFA piece, I also have a lack of structure to deal with. Getting out of school, it’s a shock to the system. Surprise! Life doesn’t have as much structure as we like to think it does or might. There is a good chance that this will be what gets you, what defeats you. It’s more than just the burn out you might experience from being in school. The real issue occurs in the contemplation of How do I keep going? The simple answer is: It’s structure. Why would I mention it if it wasn’t? You’ll have to create a structure to your life, in your life. It may seem obvious, but it’s anything but easy.
It’s also important to find motivation, even if that motivation is derived from pure stubbornness. Although, I won’t explicitly recommend that either, regardless of my own hypocrisy. I digress.
People will compliment me on my drive to write. I find it strange but flattering. As previously mentioned, I’d prefer to do nothing. Of course, it wasn’t always like this.
There was a time, when I didn’t have to work every single day like a normal person in the US, I would take four hours a day to write. Just write. Whatever I had at the end, I would review. Anything I liked, I kept. Whatever I didn’t, I discarded. My writing had effectively become a part time job. I think what’s most impressive, to me at least, is that I was keeping this routine throughout college and grad school too. Well, maybe not as consistently as I’d like, but better than you might think.
Now, I can’t do that. I work an eight hour day job, not including breaks and the time it takes to get to and from work, what with not being able to afford my own car, as well as when I have to get to work, I really don’t have the time to put in four hour days. What I do is schedule a time when I get home, usually after I’ve eaten and finished anything I have to do, and I write.
Normally, I would tell you that this is a form of time management called, “Blocking.” Blocking is where you take chunks of time and devote them to specific tasks. You don’t allow yourself to get distracted. You do the work until either it’s done or the time you’ve set aside ends. It’s important to know that I’m not really Blocking here. I’m setting a chunk of time aside, yes, but it’s whenever I can as opposed to the same time everyday. Still, if you think it is hard, it is. So, how do I do this? It might sound simple…
I do this by telling myself that I have to, that I don’t have a choice. At first it’s difficult, but it gets easier and you’ll find yourself more inclined to doing it than when you started. Eventually, you won’t have to force it. If you do this, don’t forget to forgive yourself when you simply cannot do it. We all get exhausted or distracted. Just don’t allow yourself to take too much time, or else you risk stopping indefinitely. Don’t make up ridiculous excuses. If you want to write, then write. If you want to create, create.
But I don’t write with reckless abandon as I once did. Time is precious, too precious. That’s why some of my time that I blocked for writing gets subverted to reading and taking notes on the material/story, or I use it to brainstorm and map out what I’m going to write. I’ll even set up interviews from time-to-time. This gives me focus and purpose. I know what I’m going after, what I need to do, and, hopefully, I do it.
Sometimes things go awry. My mind will blank despite all my preparations. This is fine. This happens. I don’t stop writing. I write something else, anything else. It’s effective for me because it allows some other part of me to work out what I need to do, and it supplies me with something else to work on later. I try not to spend too much time on this side piece if I can help it. It’s important to continue what you set out to do. If you can’t, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Well, this time it isn’t.
Even if I do stop writing, I’m not actually stopping. I’m taking a break. I always get back to my writing. Don’t give up! You can do it!
You may or may not be wondering if there’s any point to working on something that you probably won’t be seeing income for. I have to say, if you are wondering this, how capitalistic of you. There are several reasons. One of them, the only one I’ll mention, is that you need to keep yourself sharp. Setting up this schedule and actually doing it will help. If you keep up at something, then you’ll most likely get better at it. I mean, you can’t get any worse, right?
My real secret is understanding that it’s not the writing I don’t want to do, it’s the work, the effort that goes into it. This is why it’s important to do something you want to be doing. Being paid is a good motivator, but when you don’t have that, you should have your own enjoyment to lean upon in order to accomplish your writing or creating goals. I do this. I make sure that I’m working on something I like. I’m not just doing it to hone my craft. It makes the whole endeavor easier and provides a feeling of being worthwhile.
The only thing I have to say here, at the end, is do what fits you best. Try out different things, and then decide which works better than anything else. Or don’t just do one thing, do many, if that suits you. If you think my way would work for you, then I say do it. I encourage creating and hard work, and I try to do it too, despite myself, despite everything.
All the best. Keep creating!