Write What You Like

Instead of writing what you know, Austin Kleon advocates writing what you like. As someone who has always started with creating from my expertise, it's a revelation. It's simple, but profound advice for anyone who wants to be creative.
 

Draw the art you want to see, 
start the business you want to run, 
play the music you want to hear, 
write the book you want to read, 
build the products you want to use—
do the work you want to see done. 
 

- Austin Kleon

A Rare Moment

I played hooky today. I never play hooky. 

I’ve always put work first. If there’s a meeting on the calendar, I’ll schedule around it. Work for others has always been non-negotiable, especially meetings. I will manipulate my schedule tighter than a contortionist balled into a knot in order not to miss a meeting. Your needs are more important than mine, my actions silently intoned, over and over each time I twisted myself to fit another. Self-care has never been a talent, or even a priority. I'm not sure I really grasped what self-care meant until sometime in my thirties.

Then...

Without looking at a calendar with US holidays listed, I scheduled a call with the UK…for September 1. The morning of Labor Day. For most workers, a day of rest.  It's true that I was available. But I haven’t had a true holiday in many months. After a brutal month on social media, where I spent most days for work, I was fried deeper than a piece of chicken. I longed to take a long weekend without feeling any responsibility. My role on the call was auxiliary, rather than necessary. But still, I felt obligated. It was Work.

In the Bond family, you always put work first. It’s just always been our way. But something was different this time. Realizing my error, I fretted, felt guilty, decided to take the call anyway, felt anxious, then begged off at the last minute. The call proceeded without me. No one called me out on it. The world didn’t stop spinning. My heart didn’t stop beating. 

Something has shifted. 

Before the experiment with putting my creativity first, I rarely put my personal work or needs ahead of Work. But today I did.

Damn did it feel good. 
 

30 Days of Creativity

Stop playing around. Be serious. It’s time to grow up.

Do you remember hearing these words when you were 16, 18 or perhaps 23? At 18 I was hopeful about a future of writing and making music. By 19 I’d given it up in favor of being a responsible adult.

I spent most of my early career in the corporate world, mired in spreadsheets, trying to look the part of a professional, trying to fit in. It was awful. I hardly think I’m alone. The stories in magazines touting mid-life career changes & books on the quarter life crisis tell me I’m not.

I was lucky. I got out. Working for myself gave me control over my work, allowing me to work on projects I found more enjoyable. It was good, really good. For a while. Then I went into auto-pilot mode. As a friend likes to say, I lit the stove, put the burner on medium and began coasting through my career.I was so focused on paying work that I was building other people’s businesses at the cost of building one for myself. After a 10 or 12 hour day, my creative projects languished, sitting on a dusty digital shelf in favor of a drink in hand and a bag of chips. Most nights I’d find myself watching moving pictures on a screen to help me escape from my troubles. My own projects slipped from second place, then to third, then to the bottom of my to-do list. A few months ago, while searching for a piece of writing I wanted to work on, I realized it had been six months since I’d touched it.

At first I wanted to burn it all down. Then I remembered that I have to pay rent and oh, I owe some money to the government. I couldn’t quit my day job. And I didn’t really want to leave my clients. I loved working with them.

So I started with simple fixes. I immediately stopped working on a book about marketing that had been long planned. I said no to new projects that weren't an automatic yes. I thought I’d puke the day I put a message on my site that I was being selective about future projects. It was the first time I’d publicly limited projects in 10 years of business. 

Next, I taught myself enough code to create a little program I’d been thinking about for two years. Things started to feel better. It still wasn’t enough. I wanted more time for creative expression. Finally I had an idea. If I couldn’t completely reinvent my life, I could at least reinvent my day.

The Birth of 30 Days of Creativity

I’d found it so easy to put paying work ahead of long-term goals or work that is more satisfying but offers little financial compensation. In a small act of defiance, I decided to take the first two hours of my day to work on creative projects. Just as an experiment. The goal wasn’t to produce anything. It was just a place, free from rules, expectation or money.

I gave myself only two guidelines:

- Spend the first 2 hours of the day focused on creative projects that are just for me.

- No client work (or housework) allowed.

During creative time I could read an inspiring book, write, code, write tweet storms. I started by restricting creative time from 8 AM to 10 AM, but I’ve loosened it to the first two hours after I get up. I don’t even have to have my butt in a chair. The goal isn’t output; the goal is to exercise my creativity muscle by putting it (and me) first above any other work, be it client work, email or even housework. The only chore I do before creative time is walk my dog; I use that time to plan, scheme and dream about what I will focus on that day.

I wrote this on Day 10 of this experiment. I suppose if I were a proper marketer wanting to capitalize on this, I would have had a hashtag and started using it on Day 1. But I’m not doing this for marketing. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing this for 19-year-old me who let go of creativity in favor of strait-laced adulthood. She deserves to exist too; to have freedom to roam, and play, and create in my head. I feel like I'm doing this experiment for everyone who worried they weren't good enough to pursue their creativity. 

Want to join me?

I'd love to have company. Tweet me with your intention and use the hashtag #30DaysOfCreativity so we can share your journey.