Daydreaming on Paper
December 2007
Path to Greater Creativity: Uncovering Time

I recently polled Purple Ink members to find out the top five obstacles that prevented individuals from working in their journals as much as they wanted to. Almost to a person, the number one obstacle each respondent listed was "lack of time".

Life in the 21st century seems to move at break-neck speed and seems to get faster with each passing moment. Most of us are juggling jobs, family and community responsibilities, a social life, a spiritual life, household duties, physical and mental improvement, and much, much more. In a given 24-hour period, it sometimes seems impossible to squeeze in extra time for our creative projects, yet our creative projects add an extra level of depth, enrichment, and meaning to all of the above.

This month, I propose that we all stop trying to make time for our creative work. We all know that trying to carve another slice out of the time pie is a losing proposition. It doesn't work, and it only serves to frustrate us or to make us feel guilty about whatever it is that we are still not doing. Instead, allow me to let you in on a little secret:

You already have plenty of time to write in your journal.

You already have plenty of time to write, draw, sketch, paint, and stamp in your notebook right now - even with your 10-hour shifts, your five children, your demanding travel schedule, and your regular volunteer committments. Read on to find a few ideas to help you uncover and use the time you already have.


Readiness is first key to making use of the hidden time that you already have. Make it easy and convenient to work in your journal. There are three primary ways to do this:

  1. Keep your diary in a portable format.

    My personal notebook is a half-sized, three ring binder that I carry with me at all times. It contains my calendar, address book, notes for work, and several different kinds of blank pages that I can draw or write on whenever I get a chance. Filled pages are removed from the active notebook on a regular basis and stored in an archive notebook.

    No matter what format you keep your journal in, there is a way to make it portable. You can carry only loose, individual sheets and paste them into the notebook at a later date. You can use watercolor postcards or cut large sheets of watercolor or drawing paper down to a more convenient size. If you make your own books, you can make and fill up the individual signatures first and then bind them all together in one archival volume.

  2. Have a dedicated space for creative work.

    In her latest book, Refuse to Choose (which I highly recommend), Barbara Sher advocates the use of what she calls "Avocation Stations". These are rooms, desks, boxes, rolling carts, or some other contained spaces that are dedicated to a specific project - everything needed to work on the project can be kept there, ready for you to jump right into it whenever the mood strikes. The concept of the Avocation Station can be beneficial for those of us who are perpetually pressed for time. If you have a place where you can leave your notebook, papers, pencils, paints, inks, etc. out and ready, you can take advantage of any small block of time that comes your way.

  3. Whenever you can, do prep work when you have larger blocks of time.

    Take advantage of any significant stretch of down time to do things like create page backgrounds, prep canvases, cut paper to size, make templates, etc. Weekends, holidays, vacation days, and inclement weather days are all perfect for this. Keep the prepped materials ready and available for the days when you can only spare five or ten minutes for creative expression.

Although it can seem that our busy, fast-paced lives are the result of external pressures and obligations, the truth is that we alone make active or passive choices - day by day, minute by minute, moment to moment - about what to do with our time. The way to have more time for creative work is to make it a priority in your life - choose to create. Most of us have certain non-negotiable obligations that must be tended to each day, but there are also many time expenditures that are entirely within our control. When we eliminate or modify the amount of time spent on these discretionary expenditures, we free up more time for our creative projects.

  • Unplug.

    Turn it off - the TV, the computer, the XBox - whichever is your techno-vice of choice. I do not believe that any of these devices are bad or that enjoying them is somehow wrong; on the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy my Netflix subscription, and I belong to several online communities to which I contribute regularly. That said, there are many reasons why I believe that these Digital Age wonders are detrimental to personal creativity, the primary one being that:

    They eat up massive quantities of time.

    How often have you sat down to watch one TV show and ended up watching the entire prime time lineup? How many times have you logged on just to check e-mail and found yourself, hours later, engaged in a heated debate at your favorite online forum? There is something about entertainment technology that makes it very easy to get sucked into a time void. Sure, everyone enjoys the occasional drama-filled "reality" show or formulaic sitcom, but here's the thing: time spent staring at the TV (or computer) screen is time not spent being creative. Think about that the next time you catch yourself saying that you don't have time to work in your journal.

  • Write instead of read.

    Like many of you, I am a voracious reader. At the moment, I am working my way through five books simultaneously. Even I, however, recognize the unassailable truth of the matter:

    If you have time to read, then you have time to write.

    I am not in the least suggesting that anyone eliminate reading altogether; what I am suggesting is that, even when our schedules feel the tightest, we usually still have some moments to spare, and we make choices about how to use those moments. How many of us carry a book or magazine around with us throughout the course of our day just in case we have to wait or have an extra-long commute? How much writing, sketching, or collage work could be done during those unexpected minutes instead? Trade the mystery novel or latest bestseller for a notebook, a pen, and a streamlined set of colored pencils or watercolor pencils. Make your own books; write your own story.

  • Simplify daily habits, routines, and procedures.

    Almost all of our daily routines can be easily streamlined without sacrificing effectiveness (of chores like housework or grocery shopping) or enjoyment (of things like personal grooming or beauty rituals, food preparation, or even socializing). Examine your various processes and procedures to find ways to make them a little more efficient or elegant. One of the best ways to have a dramatic impact on the amount of time that you spend on daily routines is to eliminate clutter from your life. Clutter takes many forms, from expired food in the fridge or clothes that are never worn to participation in organizations that no longer serve us and relationships that we have outgrown. All of these things cost us time in one way or another, and when we eliminate them, we automatically and effortlessly simplify our lives and uncover more time for creative expression. For a more in-depth guide to identifying and eliminating clutter, I highly recommend Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett. You can probably find it at your local library and, although the tone can be a bit smug or preachy at times, it is well worth the read.

Once we become ready and truly willing to create, we suddenly realize that creative expression and journal-keeping can be a completely integrated part of our lives. We are no longer limited by the idea of having a regularly scheduled, set block of time in which to write; We look around and discover that there are dozens of previously hidden moments in any given day that can be used for our art:

  • While waiting for the water to boil, for the bread dough to rise, or for the frozen entr馥 to heat up in the microwave
  • During solitary mealtimes
  • When the computer system is down at work
  • While minding the children (they are great at making backgrounds for your journal pages)
  • During the commercial break
  • First thing in the morning (I often go straight from bed to my art table)
  • While getting a hot oil hair treatment or a pedicure
  • While waiting for everyone else to get dressed to go to a family or social function
  • During the flight or the layover
  • While hanging out with friends (get them to write or draw something in your notebook)
  • While sitting with a sick friend or relative
  • During boring seminars and meetings (write down your impressions about what is being said) or while waiting for them to start
  • While waiting for the freshly mopped floor to dry
  • As part of your spiritual practice
  • While you chat on the phone (this is a good time for prep work)

With creativity, as with most everything else, remember that there is no time like the present. If you really want to work in your journal more often, just do it. Let go of the "time crunch" mentality. You always have "now", and that is all the time in the world.


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