“There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.”
– C.S. Lewis (the ultimate bae)
I intended for this post to be about developing creative self-discipline.
I intended to write about how I so often procrastinate, how my heart whispers and my words repeat, “I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer,” but my actions don’t follow through. I intended to write about how writing is the activity I can lose myself most completely and joyfully within, and yet I find ways to avoid it. I intended to write about how I clean and I scroll and I find all sorts of ways to put off doing what I love. I intended to write about how, like C.S. Lewis said, I am always waiting for some distraction to end before I get down to my work. And I intended to write about how in September, I had finally become serious about my writing, how I had committed myself to a sacred pre-dawn hour of creativity before the sun rose and my “real job” beckoned, just me and a candle and coffee.
And then I was on the ground on a Friday morning in early October, calling a friend. “Can you take me to the ER?”
September had been a month of nonstop to-do: a full-time and part-time job, freelance social media work for a nonprofit, running my own blog, That First Year, and on top of that, setting my alarm at 5 am so I could commit to that morning writing hour.
And I thought I was doing okay. I thought I was remembering to breathe. But clearly my body disagreed, as I sat in the ER receiving much-needed fluids after being severely dehydrated from an intestinal infection that I thought had only been the flu or a bad stomach virus.
I’m okay; saying that I went to the ER sounds a lot more dramatic than my experience. Antibiotics are a godsend and I was back on my couch by Friday afternoon, still sick but with a pharmaceutical remedy in hand.
But in those two weeks of illness and recovery, I wrote nothing. I did nothing. My Morning Pages stayed empty, my pen went untouched, and the notes in my phone remained as just threads of unconnected thought. Forced into rest, I was forced into what felt like an abandoning of my newly-developed creative self-discipline.
I felt shame.
You had been doing so well! Shame chided. You had finally developed a writing routine, finally committed yourself to pursuing this soul-deep desire. And now?
Nothing. That daily writing routine I had finally created for myself, now all seemingly for naught.
“I haven’t written a word in 7 months,” author Liz Gilbert admitted in one recent episode of her podcast, Magic Lessons. There were other soul matters that needed her attention, other priorities that took precedence over writing, she explained.
That sounds like grace to me—grace to know when it’s okay to put the pen down, to tend to matters other than creating. Because how can we bear fruit without first nurturing ourselves mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally?
Developing creative self-discipline doesn’t mean writing without waiver or creating without pause, I now realize. While it does mean showing up to the page or the canvas or the instrument regularly, it also includes knowing when to take a break from it. It means allowing grace into the fold, leaving space for rest and recovery and Life, trusting that you will return to your routine with stories to tell and art to pour forth.
As I ease back into my mornings, I’m learning to offer myself grace in my creative self-discipline. I’m still writing every day, but being gentler to myself in it—allowing for an extra hour of sleep, more time for prayer, and flagging as lies the shameful thoughts that tell me I haven’t been productive enough in my writing that day.
The irony of it? I have written four pieces in October so far, despite that two-week break. How many did I write in September? One.
Ally Willis is a 2014 public relations graduate who buys way too many concert and plane tickets and then writes about it. She puts all things British on a pedestal. She runs a blog about post-grad life and also writes about music and travel on her own personal blog, www.mapsandmochas.com.