Finding time to be creative (when life gets in the way)

Most of us are so busy we’re merely skimming the surface of life. Here’s why we should get in touch with our creative sides – and how I’m planning to do it

autumnal leaves on a sunny day to illustrate a post about finding time to be creativePhotograph by Tomasz Bazylinski

First off, an apology and confession: it’s been eight weeks – EIGHT WEEKS! – since my last post. And while I’m hardly labouring under the delusion that my silence has cast a terrible pall over anyone’s life, it is a bit, well, rubbish.

My excuse is the summer holidays – an actual holiday, followed by several weeks of 24/7 childcare that made writing virtually impossible. Constant interruptions, distractions and desertions make it very hard to sustain a train of thought and, let’s face it, children bring all those things to the party.

So I gave up even thinking about the blog (aside from the huge pangs of guilt and frustration that is), and promised myself I would get straight back into it when the holidays were over.

Except… I didn’t. I tend to convince myself that I can only write – only become absorbed in the “creative process” – when I’ve totally cleared the decks. If housework and admin are hanging over me then I just can’t get into it. I said something similar about finding time to read in this post and I’m beginning to think I might have a teensy problem with procrastination…

But while that may be true, I’m also sure that modern life is near fatal to certain types of creativity. While the internet and social media have, on the one hand, proved incredibly effective channels for self-expression and the celebration of individuality, the opportunity to spend time just being and thinking has been fast eroded. One minute we gained washing machines and microwaves to free up our time, the next our leisure hours became hijacked by the internet, social media, 24-hour news, must-watch TV, and the consequent impulse to create interesting content for our feeds – we must be doing stuff all the time, exciting stuff, lest anyone should think our lives dull and boring.

Plus: kids, work, chores, admin. I’m sure my mother would say that paying bills online is a lot quicker than queuing at the post office, but I’m also pretty sure she never had to make a Gruffalo costume out of egg boxes for World Book Day, or help us revise for exams while we were still at primary school. And she certainly wasn’t comparing her seasonal displays to something she’d seen on Pinterest, or attempting to make a Bake Off worthy cake. (In fairness nor am I, but you get the idea.) Our standards and expectations of life are so much higher than they used to be – and that’s a good thing, mostly. But it also creates So. Much. Work.

The result is that we’re no longer granted the swathes of time and space that might allow our imaginations to run free, and our thoughts and ideas to coalesce into something new and original. Would the Brontës have written such remarkable, radical novels if they hadn’t spent all that time rambling about the Yorkshire moors? If Netflix and Facebook and Twitter had been available in 19th-century Howarth?

Have you ever noticed how your best ideas come to you in those few precious idle moments we still have? In the shower, in a queue, on a crowded bus. It’s usually when we let our minds wander and be free and open that the maelstrom of thoughts, opinions, sights, sounds and stories we constantly encounter can really be processed and shaken down into something meaningful. Only in that loose-minded state do we start to join the dots between the things we really care about – allowing what truly grabs our attention to bubble to the surface and then, perhaps, exploring it further. But most of the time we are too busy – watching TV while surfing our iPads, cooking tea while supervising homework – to sit there and just think. We skim the surface of life, never really plumbing its depths.

Well, obviously some people do. There are those who have an obsession, a creative need, and make time for it. But we all need to make time for some kind of creative outlet – even if that means reading other people’s books or looking at other people’s art and then thinking about it, processing it and working out what it means to us and how it touches upon our life or beliefs. Creativity comes in all shapes and forms and everyone needs something that fully absorbs their attention and allows them to produce something, make something, create something – even if it’s just a new idea, a plan, heck, a spreadsheet. Whatever does it for you.

I never thought of myself as particularly creative – I wasn’t good at art, or making things. I put my obsession with rearranging shelves down to some kind of OCD-like tendency – but now I realise I was doing something creative. I was – am – experimenting with the proportions, shapes, colours and contrasts around me, creating a sense of balance and making my surroundings feel calmer, cosier, more characterful. Who knew? And although this blog started out as a work thing, writing it has turned out to be so much fun and has taught me so much about so many things – from coding to content to the sheer joy of just creating something, good or bad. I have a LOT more to learn, let’s face it, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

So my resolution for the new term is to keep the creative spark alive – to spend more time on my blog (famous last words), less time on social media, and less time doing mind-numbing household chores. It’s going to be a fight – a constant battle against the detritus of everyday life – but I’m in! And I hope you can join me.

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