Your art doesn’t need more time, your time needs more art

I’ve occasionally written about the experience of writing within small amounts of time. In Big Ideas, Small Papers, I write:

One of the most painful things about writing in small amounts of time is the lack of time for re-working. It feels like writing on a scrap of paper that’s way too small. I would wish that I hadn’t spent so much space on that first sentence or doodle. Upon realizing I don’t have enough paper, I’d start to really smush my writing together in the last few lines. (This happens sometimes when I’m taking notes.)

For years, an idea resonated with me on an intuitive level (i.e., I felt it in my stomach); I want to write every day. This pain constantly got in the way though—I never seemed to have enough time. It also didn’t make strategic sense for me to make posts that I didn’t know what I would do with

After another attempt—when I joined #the100dayproject in February 2022, and finally created a habit that stuck for longer than a few weeks—I realized:

Looking back now, I realize a lot of what went wrong: I was trying to do too much with each post (e.g., coin a new term, try to make money at Medium, etc.). More importantly though, I was trying to finish a new thought process every day, which is naturally impossible.

There were also a lot of benefits that came with writing every day, including a practice of writing to think:

Where I’d previously thought writing was a finishing point—a final presentation of a thought, like my book—blogging made it so that writing also worked as a starting point. Through blogging every day, I could add more depth and inquiry to my observations. Blogging provides an intrinsic source of motivation, which creates energy.

I don’t think to write, I now write to think. By extension, that means I can afford to be less precious about my writing, and I don’t have to make sure I’m right or perfect all the time. If I was wrong, I could update the post, or write another post about it the next day. The goal is to improve understanding.

Coach Mandy Brown writes:

Here’s a concrete example, and perhaps a familiar one: someone is so busy with work and caretaking that they don’t make time for their art. At the end of the day they’re too tired to write or paint or make music or whathaveyou. So they don’t. Days, then weeks go by. They are more and more tired. They are getting less and less done. They take a mental health day and catch up on sleep but the exhaustion persists. Their overwhelm grows larger, becomes intolerable. The usual tactics don’t work. The catapult trundles closer.

Then one day they say fuck it all. They eat leftover pasta over the sink, drop mom off at her mahjongg game, and go sit in the park to draw. They draw for hours, until the sun goes down and they’re squinting under the street lights. And, lo and behold, the next day they plow through all those lingering to-dos. They see clearly that half of them were unnecessary when before they all seemed critical. They recognize a few others as things better handed off to their peers. They suddenly find time for attending to that one project they’d been procrastinating on for weeks. They sleep better. Their skin looks great. (Okay I might be exaggerating on that last one, but only mildly.)

It turns out, not doing their art was costing them time, was draining it away, little by little, like a slow but steady leak. They had assumed, wrongly, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to do their art, because they assumed (because we’re conditioned to assume) that every thing we do costs time. But that math doesn’t take energy into account, doesn’t grok that doing things that energize you gives you time back. By doing their art, a whole lot of time suddenly returned. Their art didn’t need more time; their time needed their art.

The final words in that excerpt ring incredibly true; I found writing every day to actually feed my life. It infused energy into every other minute of it, created an experience that I could look forward to every day, and enabled me to develop thoughts that would draw in like-minded people. There are tangible strategic benefits too—it feels very agile, for example—though at the end of it, the strongest benefit is still the energy it adds into my life. 

Writing every day energizes me, and that makes everything else better.

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