I wake to the sound of pouring rain, falling rhythmically onto the various items on my patio, creating a cacophony of sound, a random orchestra of high and low tones. It is early Sunday morning, before dawn, the time I best like to wake.
I can barely remember the time when I didn’t rise before dawn. It began in art school, when I was working three jobs, being a full-time student, and realizing that if I wanted to be a painter, I was going to have to find some time to paint. I did not have the type of life that afforded long stretches of time in the studio. I still don’t. Then, just like now, my days were often planned down to the minute. Working all day at the frame shop, then evening classes and weekends spent teaching or hostessing at a local restaurant afforded little extra time back then. But being in the studio was important to me, so I began rising at 5am and painting, writing, or just doing something creative until 7:30am, when it was time to start getting ready for work.
Most of my friends thought I was insane to give up sleep, and yes, it took some time for my body to adjust to the early hour. I figured out pretty quickly that if I was going to be waking up at 5am, then I’d better get to bed before midnight. And I gave myself a break on the few mornings that I just couldn’t do it, when I was too exhausted from all I had to do to survive to pull myself out of bed before the sun rose and be creative. But in time, with nothing but my own determination not to be undone, waking up early and going into the studio became a habit…such a habit, in fact, that more than a decade later, I’m still rising before the dawn, even on weekends.
According to Julia Cameron, author of the acclaimed Artist’s Way book series, it takes approximately 12 weeks for a new routine to become a habit. That’s three months, which seems like an interminably long time at first, but as we all know, tends to pass in the blink of an eye. That’s one thing about time, it doesn’t hang around. We lay claim to it while it is slipping through our fingers like sands in an hourglass. It was Benjamin Franklin that stated “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.” For years, I had that quote taped onto my bathroom mirror. Every morning I’d read it and remember that no matter how I chose to spend my day, free time was a precious commodity that I did not have in abundance. I still don’t have free time in abundance, but I have learned how to give creativity a high priority in my life by managing what time I do have.
I don’t need to see Franklin’s quote every morning now to remind me not to waste time…my life is certainly fuller these days than it was a decade ago. With a teaching career and a few side pursuits, along with raising a child on my own, it takes more strategy than ever to find time to be creative. But it is there. A comment I often hear from others is, “I don’t know how you have time to do all the things that you do.” I don’t understand this, because few people, least of all me, ‘have’ time to do things. That’s not at all how it works. When something is important to you, you must make time for it. It’s really that simple. Because the time is hiding behind hours spent in front of television or idled away looking for bargains in a shopping center. It hides behind social engagements we feel we must take on, and voluntary commitments that we impose on ourselves and often, our children. (How many family schedules revolve around the kids’ extracurricular activities?) Creative time hides because, sadly, we are often taught that the arts are a frivolous luxury that only people with an abundance of time can afford to pursue.
To put a value on creative time is to take a stand that many of us aren’t ready to take.
It’s much easier to tell ourselves we don’t have time for things than it is to tell others that we value creativity in our lives, and that making time for it is important. But the truth is, there are many ways to incorporate creativity into daily routines. The first, and simplest, is by waking up a little earlier each morning and spending that time in some creative pursuit, just as I did when I was pinched for time in college. Journaling is a favorite early morning practice, because so much comes from this simple exercise. Not only clarity and a release of negativity, for we often ‘vent’ when we write, but also for the occasional poem or essay that will suddenly burst forth from a journal’s pages.
Finding a creative activity that can be done ‘on the go’ is also very rewarding. I have an ‘on-the-go bag’ that accompanies me almost everywhere. It’s filled with a variety of projects that I can pull out and work on when I find I’ve got a few minutes to spare. And as our lives become busier, we often have to adjust our creative goals. I used to paint on huge canvases that were typically 3’ x 4’. Now, as my life has gotten busier, I usually work on canvases no larger than 16” x 20”. It simply makes more sense to work smaller, and it allows me to complete more projects.
If you have children, don’t use them as an excuse for not being creative. Be creative with them! Children love the chance to explore artistic mediums. When my son’s friends are over, and I pull out the clay or the collage box, there’s no Wii or Playstation in the world that can compete. Most children delight in being creative with their parents, even if it’s as simple a project as making a cake from a box mix and decorating it. And there’s not enough that can be said regarding the memories you’ll give them during this time.
If you are persistent enough with finding a way to fit creativity into your life, it will eventually become a habit. You’ll find yourself cutting off the television, which might mean missing GLEE, but finally finishing the painting you started back in college. You might find that it isn’t so big a deal you don’t spend this Saturday afternoon in Greenville shopping, because instead you’ll spend that time creating a collage with your children. You might miss a night out at the pub with your friends, but complete the poem you’ve struggled with for a month. At the end of a year, because of your ‘on-the-go’ bag, you might knit a sweater during the time you spent waiting to pick the kids up from school or for soccer practice to be over. Or maybe, by waking up a little earlier each day, you’ll find you’ve written an entire book or series of poems in those wee morning hours you spent scribbling away in your journal.
Time is there…hiding, lurking around behind the reasons we give ourselves for not having it. If you’ve got the desire for more creativity in your life, then take a close look at how you spend the time that you do have. We all squander a little…take the initiative and salvage what you can today. Create some new routines to allow more creativity into your life. In twelve weeks, your routines will have become habits…and you’ll find yourself somewhere along the way.