The Biggest Hindrance to Creativity Isn’t Time

Originally posted April 1, 2016.

Before I had kids, I got a master’s degree in creative writing at San Diego State. I had quit my job as a technical writer not long before, and my husband earned enough that I didn’t need to work. So throughout my degree program, I had all day to write.

You would think having that much time motivated and blessed me. Instead, it felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a gigantic lake and told to tread water, indefinitely, for three years.

I knew, of course, that my anxiety about this abundance was just the teensiest bit ungrateful and whiny. That didn’t boost my productivity.

I’d get up in the morning and wander around in my pajamas and robe, increasingly cold, and increasingly loath to don real clothing. I dawdled at dishes and fussed over laundry, and finally brushed my teeth at eleven, telling myself I needed to get serious and actually write something.

Eleven. If that hour doesn’t wake you up to your procrastination, nothing will.

Currently, I have about ninety minutes a day to spend writing. I occasionally wonder if I should just spend my allotment inventing time travel. Why settle for meager minutes when, with a little research, I could hop in a DeLorean and get back unlimited hours?

I would be rich with that time I frittered away.

Except. Except looking back, I’m not sure I frittered it. No: Productive or not, I did my very best.

It’s so tempting to be impatient with my old self. Impatient that I did not use abundant time more wisely or efficiently. Impatient that I wasn’t braver back then, or a bigger risk-taker.

Easier still to be frustrated right now: that I am not as versatile a writer as I wish, that I’m not braver about submitting my work to bigger markets, or networking more intentionally, that I haven’t published a book, or even gotten a contract with an agent.

So easy to look at the opportunities that pass by, the hours, the skills, the chances—and tell myself a better writer would seize them. A better human. Shame.

That’s how I thought of myself back when I was frittering away my time. Shamefully.

I have no scientific proof (should I poll myself?) but I suspect that shame-filled attitude was exactly why I struggled to get anything done.

If you’re a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad person, there’s no hope things will get better. If you’re a procrastinator, a hapless schmuck, then good luck becoming someone worth respecting.

So often people ask me if I struggle to get something done with kids at home. And look, I do, a little. But the biggest hurdle to creative work is never time.


The biggest hurdle to creativity is thinking you’re a piece of shit.

Something about having kids birthed creative contentment for me. I think it’s this: I expected I would not be able to keep writing in any serious way. When I proved myself wrong, I was thrilled with my creativity for the first time ever.

I became content with the little my creativity could offer, and learned that contentment is a creativity factory.

If you read any good creativity books—Anne Lamott, Anne Patchett, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, they say this over and over. Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.

Not try hard. Not aim high. Not compare yourself to other people.

Stop thinking so much. Stop worrying. Stop shaming yourself. Just sit down and do the damn work.

Doggedly doing your work frees up a ton of energy you once spent shaming and judging and comparing your sorry self with other people. The energy released will breathe freedom into you. Will make your brittle creativity resilient. Will straighten your shoulders and spine.

Doing the work doggedly, with gratitude, gives you kindness towards your fitful—and then improving—efforts. Doing the work teaches you that making things is a wonderful way to live. It stops you dancing around your own fragile ego, and breathes into you a spirit of faithfulness and gratitude.

It teachs you that the only joy given to any creative person is the joy of showing up and getting started—over and over and over again.

Heather Caliri
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