Making Time and (Mental) Space for Creativity

For years, I had creative practices – writing, drawing, taking classes – on my to-do lists but I hardly ever got around to actually doing them. I would start off with a good plan and it would quickly fall by the wayside. Or I would have some external pressure – a collaboration or a deadline – and I’d get in a creative groove for a little while until the pressure passed.

My inability to stick with my creative work was a constant, low-key source of frustration and I ended up feeling a little disconnected from my creativity and being VERY disappointed in myself, over and over again.

I know that part of my problem was ADHD-related but there were a lot more things at play as well and until I recognized those obstacles and took steps to overcome them I couldn’t get much traction in my creative life.

Obviously, everyone faces different obstacles in their lives and what worked for me may not work for you but here’s a process that helps me – and lots of my clients – to keep creativity on our weekly radar.

Try not to guilt yourself about It

Even though lots of people might tell you that if you ‘really’ want to do something, it will get done.

I vote no.

How much you WANT to do something isn’t the most important factor in whether it gets done. You have competing priorities, a busy life, an unpredictable schedule. You might not have a clear plan. You might get interrupted.

Feeling guilty about NOT including your creative practices in your weekly schedule doesn’t actually help you to fit them in, it just makes you feel bad. And you don’t need any extra reasons to do that.

When those guilty feelings arise, start by telling yourself that it’s ok that you haven’t fit your creative practice into your week and then try following the plan below:

Brainstorm the types of things you want to create

Sometimes it’s hard to get into our creative practices because we haven’t decided what they will be.

This might feel like a longing to make *something* but having no ideas about what to actually make. If this is the case, seek out some inspiration online, in books, or in your previous creative activities and brainstorm from there. OR you can look at the supplies you have on hand and either research projects that include those items or pick a time to play with those supplies and see what comes of it.

If you already know what kinds of things you want to do, perhaps you can get more specific.

For example, when I am writing flash fiction and I know that I will only have a short period of time in which to work, I decide exactly what I am going to work on. “I’ll spend 10 minutes describing the clothing the villain is wearing when she walks up the driveway toward the house.”

When I actually sit down to write, I may end up doing something completely different but having that plan in place helps make it easier for me to get to the page.

Determine the smallest possible thing that ‘counts’

One of the major obstacles for most of us is the idea that we have to be either working on a big project or that we have to produce something specific for our creative time to count.

That’s blatantly untrue.

For starters, any time spent with your creative practice is good for you – it helps you relax, it helps you build creative muscles, and it lets you make new connections between your ideas.

Secondly, every minute you spend on your creativity makes it easier to get into the creative zone when you want or need to.


So, if you only have one minute, write a sentence, doodle a turtle, cut a piece of fabric.

It’s all part and parcel of your creative practice and all of those tiny actions will add up over time.

Pick something you want to do and find a small version to try.

There’s no such thing as something being too small to bother with.

Pick Your Time(s) and Pick Your Project(s)

The next step in the ‘Put Creativity on Your Radar’ plan is to pick a time this week when you can be reasonably sure that you spend some time creating.

If you are a very scheduled person, this might be easy. If you are like me and schedules are a bit tricky for you, you may have to do a bit of experimenting.

The key here is to start with a very small window of time, probably much smaller than your original inclination. In fact, a good guideline is to take your initial idea and halve it – i.e. if you think you can spend an hour, plan to spend 30 minutes. If you get into a groove, you can always keep going.

Once you have picked a time, plan exactly what you are going to do.

Now, when I say exactly, I don’t mean that you have to know every line you will draw and every word you will write.

I mean that it would be ideal for you to have a clear picture of what you want to do.

That might look like “I’m going to take a pack of crayons and piece of computer paper and draw coloured squares for 5 minutes.” or it might look like “I am going to pick up my ukulele and play two chords over and over for 3 minutes.”

Or it could be “I am going to work on the first paragraph in chapter 2 where Elsie is looking for the pepper.”

Getting as specific as possible is helpful but the nature of that specificity is up to you.

Prepare in Advance

Let’s image that you are planning to write for 5 minutes during your lunch on Friday.

The best way for you to make that happen is to plan in advance.

Make sure that you have an easy lunch ready for yourself on Friday and that you pack a bag with your notebook, your laptop, or your phone in it. Maybe bring a sweater in case you get chilly.

Plan where and exactly when you will write.

“My lunch is from 12:30-1:00. I’m going to eat my lunch in the armchair with the blue table next to it and at 12:50, I am going to set a timer, open my notes app on my phone and write for 5 minutes about why the little girl hates her green shoes.”

And the, when 12:30 comes, do what you planned.

Or do the closest version of it that you can.

Prepare to revise your plan

Ok, I understand that things may not work out like I described.

What about if you get up on Friday and your kid is sick? What about if your boss calls a meeting? What about if you forgot your lunch and picking up something to eat will take up your whole lunchtime?

Well, if that happens, you revise your plan.

Don’t just say “I’ll do it later.” Get specific again. “I can’t write today so tomorrow at 10:30am, I am going to sit at my kitchen table and work on that shoe scene.”

This is NOT procrastinating, it is responding to new information.

When you made your plan, you had one idea of how the day would play out. Now, you have new information so you need a new plan. There is nothing wrong with that.

If you find that every time you make a plan it has to change, it might be a good idea to adjust your initial approach to planning but that’s a post for another day.

Go on and make stuff

So, there you go! That’s a list of the kind of things that help me and my clients to regularly include creativity in our lives.

I know that it’s largely mundane – no calls for creative genius, no need to throw yourself entirely into a project – but it’s these small, ordinary steps that change your creative practice from an unobtainable goal into something that is just part of your day-to-day life.

So, go on and make some stuff.

You’ll be glad you did.

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