My general process with these essays is that I write the essay on Monday morning, then edit, format and send it out Tuesday morning. Recently, that schedule has been a bit difficult to stick with for two reasons. One: I now have a 4-month baby in the house. And two: I’ve been feeling pressure to write a “great” essay every week.
The Pressure to Create Something Great
I used to write these essays relatively quickly, in a few hours. But over time, they’ve been getting more and more complicated and I’ve been expanding their scope to cover more complex ideas. I love thinking about these complex ideas, but the extra pressure I’m putting on myself to make each essay “amazing” is not helpful.
The best essays I’ve written (measured by both how I feel about them and your responses) have typically been the ones that were written more spur of the moment. Those essays were written completely in the present moment. They weren’t based on what I thought you wanted or needed to hear. They came from what I needed to hear.
Those essays may be a little less polished and ground-breaking than the big, complex ones. But they have their own quiet wisdom because they’re written straight from my heart. They’re a direct reflection of what I was truly thinking about and struggling with in that moment.
The Failure to Create Something Great
So here we go, this is where I’m at right now. I wrote a big, long, complicated essay yesterday that’s still a jumbled up mess. There are pieces of gold in there, I can see them trying to shine through, but I just wasn’t able to stitch them all together into something coherent. And because I couldn’t get it figured out by the end of the day, I felt like a failure.
To make matters worse, we now have a nanny coming to care for Butterbean a couple days a week to give us more time to work. She was here yesterday, which did give me more time, but also dumps more pressure on my shoulders. I feel even more pressure to be super productive the whole time she’s here, otherwise it’s a waste of not only my time, but also my money.
At some point yesterday, I gave in and gave up. There are times in the creative process where you have to persevere and there are times when you have to just step away and take a break. So after hours of frustrated finagling of words and sentences, I shut my computer and took a nap.
The Permission to Create Whatever Comes Out
Then, this morning, I sat back down at my computer, and with a clear head, thought about my essay again. I realized that I had been trying to write something yesterday that would be “great”. I was writing about something I felt was important and I had needed it to sound important. It’s a topic I feel is worth writing about, but in that moment, it wasn’t what I was experiencing. It didn’t feel authentic to be writing about it in the state of mind I was in at that moment.
So today, here I am, going back to my roots. Going back to what I know deep down is how I need to be writing these essays. I need to give myself permission to write about how I’m feeling in this moment and what I’m struggling with in this moment.
Because I’m not perfect. Not every one of my essays can be great. And it’s unrealistic for me to expect that of myself. But sticking to writing an essay every week is bound to leave behind a few gems every now and then. And at the very least, it helps me to clear my mind and crystallize some of the threads of thought knotting up.
Time Well Spent
So how did I get untangled and release the pressure? This morning I read a few interviews from Creative Morning‘s series Time Well Spent. This series is about how we often “fall into the cycle of feeling like we’re never doing enough and never have enough time” and what it means to “spend your time well.”
So far they have 3 interviews with more coming. A common thread between the interviews is that time well spent isn’t just having an optimized schedule. It’s not about just being in peak performance mode all the time.
Time well spent is about “reminding ourselves about what really matters each day and letting the other details fall into place. It’s about practicing how to spend our days in a way we’re proud of and in a way that we won’t regret.”
And this morning that really spoke to me. Because that’s the opposite of what I was doing yesterday. I felt like I had wasted my day, my time, and my money, and I regretted both how I had spent my time and how I felt. Which what-do-ya-know, is not exactly helpful and just made me feel worse.
But the interview series helped me to reflect on what had really happened yesterday, and to remind myself of what’s really important to my day-to-day life. It’s so easy to let the pressure of time, money, and expectations get in the way of making our art and feeling satisfied with what we’ve done.
I was particularly inspired by Keith Yamashita’s answer to the question: What makes you feel you’ve spent your time well?
“Did I pursue a beautiful question? Did I get time with my kids? Did I see the world through the eyes of inspiration?
Sometimes we think that time well spent is only about being in our highest sense of success and happiness. I remind each of us that nourishment comes in many forms — not just accomplishment, bliss, and joy.
Time well spent can be sitting in the darkness of our days, our suffering, and the things that make us avert our eyes. That’s where the light gets in. You don’t realize that unless you’re willing to spend some time in the dark parts of your life.”–Keith Yamashita, photographer
I love his way of reflecting on how time is spent. And when I think about my day yesterday in this way, I did spend my time well. I pursued a beautiful question (even if I didn’t find the answer yet). I got to spend time with Butterbean (even if I had a nanny help out for a bit). And I allowed myself to rest so that this morning, I was able to be rejuvenated with inspiration.
Yesterday I was trying to create with the belief that I had to be at peak performance all day long, on demand. But that wasn’t what the day had in store for me. I wasn’t being present with how I truly felt and I was trying to force something to happen that just wasn’t right for that moment.
Eventually, the day won and I spent an hour under the covers in the dark. At the time I thought that hour was a complete waste of time and a failure to be productive. But as Yamashita points out, those low moments are just part of life, and we have to be willing to spend time there sometimes. Sometimes essays don’t work out. Sometimes drawings get messed up. And sometimes we just need a nap.
Darkness yesterday can lead to lightness today. A frustrating, messed-up essay yesterday can lead to an illuminating, fulfilling essay today. Sometimes we have to go through those periods of struggle to create what we need to create, and that’s ok.
It’s all part of the process, and sometimes I just need to remind myself of that.