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When is the best time to create?

opinion  Paul Jarvis · Sep 1, 2013

This post was originally published on my now-defunct personal site. It’s been republished here on Fathom as the ideas found within it have informed and inspired our approach to business, privacy and philosophy.

The dishwasher is running noisily and probably should be replaced. There are at least 3 dogs barking outside (from the sounds of it, 2 large ones and one tiny one). As well, there’s a child screaming on the street — she doesn’t want to get in the car with her parents. Dinner, a vegan “meat” loaf, is cooking and since there’s not a working timer on the oven, I’m winging it.

Why am I telling you this?

Because this is when I am sitting down to work/write. I didn’t choose to write now, this is just the time I had today to do it. If I could, I would have picked a better (see: quieter) time. But if I don’t do it now, it won’t happen.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a quiet and empty cabin in the woods (where dishes are magically and quietly cleaned) with the only distractions being the ones we choose to indulge in (or chopping wood, which seems like it’d probably be a necessity and part of the creative process somehow).

Most of these noises/distractions are out of my control so I choose to ignore them, since they don’t serve me.

What is in my control though, are notifications on my computer/phone, having a browser with Twitter open in the background or a ridiculous “productivity timer” ticking down, telling me how long I should be productive for. What I can remove as distractions, I do.

Too many of us see our creative work, our works of art, as precious. So precious that we need to set the mood, like wooing a lover with flowers and candles, in order to get things started. The smallest piece of the plan that falls apart (like a dog barking) can make it seem like not the right time to dive in. Ruining the mood, as it were.

The right time to start working though is right now.

Mood and inspiration be damned. If small things help, like a moment of meditation, a word of thanks to the Muse, or a cup of coffee at your desk before you start, by all means: indulge. But if any tool or device becomes necessary for work to happen, it’s become a crutch and needs to be cut out immediately.

As artists/creatives, our highest and grandest reward is the work itself. Once we realize that, and set it as our intention, we cannot falter. All we need to do is keep working, and we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. It’s crazy simple.

When our craft becomes a daily practice instead of a route to take to a goal, it’s more rewarding internally. We feel accomplished not because we’ve been externally validated with praise, but because we showed up and did something. And we can’t feel defeated by the ridicule of others, because their words can’t disagree with the fact that we put in the work. We showed up and our part was accomplished. It’s not our fault if they don’t like it (or us).

Honest art is made from this place of art for the sake of art. It comes from our hearts or from a place we can’t put into words (other than a vague mumbling about “inspiration”). If we knew exactly where it came from, we’d channel it at will.

Creating great work is a numbers game. The more time we spend creating, the more likely we are to create something great. Even if we aren’t the best creators, we still increase our odds of brilliance with a routine daily practice of it.

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written. Neil Gaiman

That’s why I’m writing right now. That’s why I wrote yesterday and that’s why there is no question whether or not I’ll write tomorrow.

I’m writing to create more blog posts, books or guest posts, but mostly, I’m writing so I write better. Most of the writing is utter crap that no other person will ever read. But sometimes it’s not, and every single time it’s better than if I hadn’t written anything.

As Steven Pressfield puts it, an amateur lets himself use fear as procrastination. He never says “I won’t write that book”, instead he says, “I’ll start writing that book tomorrow, when the time is right”. Whereas a professional knows that the best way to create art is for her to put in the work. Day in, day out, without fail and definitely not just waiting to be inspired. Because inspiration is more likely to come while she’s already working, since those channels are already open and receptive.

This is how I approach everything I do. I may not be the best at anything, but I make sure I’m the hardest worker. I’ve done the same with graphic design work for years. I don’t work hard seeking some external badge of honour, I just don’t know any other way to explore my work than by doing it as often as possible, every single day, without fail.

So screw tomorrow. By then my dishwasher could be even LOUDER or the dogs may have somehow acquired megaphones. Now is the absolute best time to get down to creating art.

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Paul Jarvis

Paul Jarvis, author + designer

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