I received an email recently from a reader who said, “I want my writing to be a way of crystallizing reality, not making a new one.”
It reminded me of something Sir Ken Robinson said, something I've found to be true of my own experience: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you're present in the current moment, when you're fully alive.”
When You Are Too Busy To See
The ever-present enemy of this is busyness.
Today is a busy day. I have to wash and iron my white shirt. I need to make an emergency run to the cleaners to get my suit pressed for an event tonight (yes, I realize I should have done this earlier).
My wife is stressed. I'm stressed. We'll be running around like busy fools today.
A trip to the dry cleaner is not the stuff of literature, and it's impossible to create anything interesting in a rushed state of mind.
However, it's often these busy days that have the most potential for stories to spawn from them, and if you're paying attention, you can capture them no matter how busy you are.
Here are a few tricks I use to write when I'm busy:
1. Carry writing tools with you (or steal them).
On the day of my wedding, I found a napkin, stole a pen, and while my groomsmen were carrying in the keg, I sat on a couch to write out my thoughts and a few key images (like the half-dozen bees circling these beautiful purple flowers right next to the chairs where our guests would sit).
Everyone says their wedding day was a blur, that they don't remember any of it. I, on the other hand, wrote everything down, and so I remember almost all of it.
2. If completely rushed, use your phone as a notepad.
If you have a fancy phone, it probably has an app that you can use to jot down a few notes. However, my phone is stupid, so when I have an idea for my novel or for my other writing projects, I just send a text to myself.
3. Find moments to escape.
No matter how rushed the day is, there are always a few minutes here or there. I have excused myself for a long trip to the “bathroom” to get some notes on paper.
Don't apologize or feel guilty for being sneaky. It will be worth it later.
4. Choose to take advantage of downtime.
Most busy days are of the “hurry up and wait” variety.
Once I ran through Budapest to catch a train, only to find out it didn't leave for six hours. So what did I do? I sat down on the gum-stained cement ground inside Budapest's beautifully run-down train station and wrote.
There are always moments to write. You just have to be disciplined enough to find them.
5. Wake up to the day.
To be an artist of any kind you must make a commitment to consistently “wake up” to the present throughout the day.
You have a busy day ahead of you. Tomorrow will be busy. The next day will be busy. There is no alternative but to wake up, to write right now, to recreate your crazy busy life and the crazy busy lives of others into art.
Of course, this is why we do art in the first place, to be more present, more awake, more fully alive.
Have you been present today? What do you do to “wake up”?
Reflect on your busy day and on the present moment.
Write about it.
You have fifteen minutes (everyone has fifteen minutes to be present). Go.
(And when you're finished, as always, post your practice in the comments.)