As much as I would enjoy having an oasis I could retreat to for accomplishing my creative goals, I don’t. My world is one of constant, questionably-controlled chaos.
I work in an open office where communication is important and encouraged. It’s necessary for the kinds of collaborative projects we work on, but it also means a near-constant buzz of conversation and movement.
At home, it’s easier to avoid getting pulled into meetings and work conversations, but I have a husband who works from home full-time and two young children whose favorite two words seem to be, “Hey, Mommy!” My neighbor is going to mow her lawn four times a week regardless, and dinner still needs to get cooked. Until very recently, I could count on a dog nose in the ear at least twice a day.
By the time the kids go to bed, I’m exhausted myself, and the very last thing I want to do is, well, anything.
I certainly don’t feel like writing.
And yet, somehow, I still manage to do it. Not because I’m particularly special or amazingly good at it, but because I simply refuse to not-write.
I don’t do it at night after things are finally quiet, but in the midst of the madness. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun. I’m rarely writing because I caught sight of a spark of inspiration I’m compelled to chase. The blank page is still as aggravating as it ever was. I still churn out garbage first drafts.
But writing is better, easier, and more fun than not-writing will ever be.
Creating art is a lot like creating anything. If you wait until the circumstances are exactly perfect, it will almost certainly never happen. The best you can hope for is good enough. More realistically, what you generally end up working with is now or never. Case in point, at the very moment I’m writing this, I’m in the living room while one kid is watching TV, the other is playing a video game, and my husband is clattering around in the garage.
Is this the set-up I dreamed of when I decided that writing was what I wanted to do with my life? No, of course not. But it’s the reality and it’s what I have to work with. At this point, I’ve been writing under less-than-ideal circumstances for so long that I’d have to relearn how to do the work if I did suddenly find myself with a calm and quiet workspace.
I’ve written while covered up with children. I’ve written in hospital beds. I’ve written in pain. I’ve written with the blare of cartoons in the background. I’ve written while dinner cooks. I’ve written when I could have been out with my friends. And yes, I’ve written while deeply inspired and all is right with my world.
The thing of it is: if you genuinely want to do the work—and I assure you, it is work—you will.
The circumstances become secondary. Distractions will fade away. You’ll get better at time management and task prioritization so you can get everything done. The writing, or the painting, or the composing will cease to be an indulgence or a luxury in your mind and simply become one of those daily tasks that you must accomplish.
Not very romantic, is it? But that’s the reality of creative work.
It isn’t about the flashes of genius or the inspiration whispered directly into your ear by beautiful Greek Muses. It’s about the grind. The more you do a thing, any thing, the easier it becomes and the faster the good ideas arrive. That’s the real way to greatness. But you have to actually, you know, do the work.
If you really want to create, you’ll find a way. You’ll overcome the hesitations. You’ll push past the fear. You’ll refine and polish until whatever-it-is gleams like a gem. But you can’t perfect what you haven’t roughed out.
So stop saying, “One day…” “One day” is an excuse, a cop-out, a lie.
No one ever considers all of their circumstances ideal. Creative work is always a struggle. By all means, try to find that creative oasis. But until then, do it anyway.
Sage Advice From a Master Writer
The overarching theme for all of Neil Gaiman’s advice is simply: do the work. Like many worthwhile things in life, writing—or any creative process—isn’t always, or even often, fun while you’re doing it. It’s work and hard work, at that. But it is rewarding.