Surviving a Huge Creative Project

Today I begin a massive creative endeavor; in November, I’m going to write a 50,000+ word novel. The fact that I’ve completed the project twice before does not diminish its challenge, but it does improve my confidence in my ability to finish. Last year I jumped in last minute (actually, a couple days late), and found it even harder, so this year I’ve been conscious about preparing. And preparing not just for the novel itself — plotting and planning characters and inventing 100 years of backstory — but also for the act of writing, and living while writing. My plan to finish this big creative project without my life falling into utter disrepair hinges on preparing for the worst by recognizing the points most likely to fail. (What can I say, I’m a Murphy’s Law kind of gal.)

Choose Your Priorities

Michelle Tuckett, who’s written a novel each month this year, cautions that you must choose which activities to drop, or they will fall aside unconsciously, regardless of priority. If there are activities other than your creative project that you want to maintain, you will have to make a conscious decision that they are still important. Faith Erin Hicks, one of my favorite indie comic artists, explains that creative projects demand sacrifices — sometimes of a favorite activity. She gave up video games, an activity she loved, to focus on writing graphic novels.

Mitigate the Failures of Your Lower Priority Activities

Typically, preparing a healthy vegetarian dinner takes an hour or two of my evening, but I know that I don’t have time for this relaxed schedule if I’m going to achieve my aim this November. While I don’t want to forfeit health, dinner is going to become a much less exciting affair. Last year we ate out a lot, which got expensive. My partner has been warned of the bounty of spaghetti from a jar and burritos to come.

But I also stockpiled healthy food for us. My freezer is feeling the strain. I’ve baked extra squash bread, cooked extra pumpkin pancakes, prepared ready-to-bake twice-baked potatoes, saved leftover soup and chili, dehydrated raw nut-and-fruit snacks, plus I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I bought a lot of easy-to-prepare ingredients and healthy ready-to-eat food. I’ve listed my easiest, quickest recipes so I don’t have to think very hard about what to make for dinner. We’re set up with a week or two buffer of easy, healthy food.

Set Yourself Up for Success by Knowing Your Weaknesses

I know that I have a hard time focusing on creative work once I get home, so this year I’ve made a plan to work at the library before coming home and making dinner. I reality-checked the plan by stopping at the library after work, scoping out where I will sit to write, and checking out and logging on a library laptop for practice. I know exactly how it will go; I will not have decisions to make. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will walk to the library after work, check out a laptop, sit or stand by the window overlooking the bus station, and write for up to two hours. My plan specifically targets my weakness of distraction when I get home, so I’m preventing myself from getting home until I’ve accomplished some real work.

Stay Healthy by Following a Schedule and Committing to Exercise

A demanding creative project is draining enough even at full health, and getting sick in the middle would be catastrophic.

I’m a natural night owl, and have a tendency to stay up late, cutting my sleep hours far too much. On a typical night I only get six hours, so I’m running a permanent shortage already. Taking an active approach, I’ve tested out a new schedule for the past week, based on Chris Brogan’s “Getting More Done” schedule. My new morning routine: up at 6 AM, eat a simple breakfast, lift weights for half an hour, make a lunch or read online, then head to work. (Old routine: snooze alarm on phone from 6:15 to 7:00, drag ass out of bed, eat breakfast, go to work.) My new evening schedule: lights out by 11, with an attempt to end screen time by 10. (Old routine: head to bed at 11 to watch a 45 minute show with my husband.) Every day that I do it, I feel better than a regular day — more alert when I get home from work, and tired at a more reasonable hour. Now if someone could just convince my kittens that they need to let me sleep all the way to 6…

Exercising keeps me healthy and refreshed, but I often get lazy and skip it. To ensure I get at least some exercise, even if I revert to my old poor sleep schedule, I’ve signed up for four relatively expensive kickboxing classes spaced throughout November.

Prepare So the Process of Living is Easy

To survive a big project, make living easy by reducing decisions and targeting your weak points. Determine what’s most important to keep doing as usual, and what you can let slide for a while. Don’t let your creative project prevent you from living well…but don’t let trying to live normally prevent you from accomplishing your creative goals, either. Your creative project is important — this is what we live for!

About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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