Creative people love to hear about the routines of other creative people. They hear that Hemingway often wrote at a standing desk, so they buy a standing desk. Or that Austin Kleon uses a Pilot G2 Gel Pen, and so they buy a Pilot G2 Gel Pen. Walter Mosley says that you should write two hours a day, Sunday through Saturday, 52 weeks a year, for the rest of your life. Julia Cameron says that the secret is three handwritten pages a day. Stephen King writes in the morning and reads in the afternoon.
I belong to a book club made up of creative people, and we read and discuss books about creativity. Quickly you see that they all have some sort of recipe or prescription. They also don’t seem to recognize that there is a degree of privilege in even the best of them.
Take Walter Mosley and his two hours a day of writing. When we had infants living with us, I didn’t sleep for more than 3 hours at a time. I didn’t shower every day, let alone write every day. My writing output was zero. But Mr. Mosley would say I was just not serious about your work. In his book This Year You Write Your Novel, he mentions time constraints, and his advice is basically that you have to figure out how to do it. “Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls,” he says.
That it is easier to neglect walls and lawns than children’s feeding schedules goes unmentioned. Also, we creative people tend to be a thin-skinned lot, and once you realize the impossibility of the average working person being able to take Mosley’s advice, it is easy to be filled with despair. It is a recipe for failure if success is defined as following Mosley’s prescription.
Yesterday, I wrote 1200 words. Thus far today, I have written over 300 words and will most likely write another thousand more before I am done. I don’t write every day, but I do write most days. Because I am OK with writing most days, I have written more than 200,000 words in the last 12 months. If I were only a success if I wrote every day, I would have 200,000 words and be a failure.
Yesterday I walked 2.5 miles. Today I walked 2.5 miles. But Saturday, I didn’t. But it doesn’t matter, because most days, I do. That has been enough, over the last year, for me to lower my blood pressure, lose weight I needed to lose, and feel more connected to my neighborhood.
I think 24 hours as the default unit of time is a mistake – I try to take a more seasonal approach these days. It doesn’t matter what you do every day. It matters what you do most of the time.
Over this season, did I write most days? Did I meditate or pray most days? Did I walk most days? Did I eat in ways that respect my body most days? Was I kind to other people most days? Was I a good partner most days? Was I the sort of person I wanted to be most days?
When I focus on doing the thing, say, 70% of the time rather than doing it perfectly 100% of the time, I get a lot more done, and I feel like I do better work. And honestly, I feel better about myself.