When I was 28 and had just quit my job as a journalist, got married, and moved to Yemen, I wrote a blog post in which I vowed to never stop with my creative pursuits, and to always live a life of passion. Four years later is probably a good time to revisit my wide-eyed promises and admit to my readers, and myself, that I haven’t adhered to my plan and I that I feel a constant low-grade shame/anger/sadness (shangness) at myself over how short I’ve fallen.
At first, a life of not having a regular 9-5 sounded like a dream come true. I assumed I’d spend all my time pursuing creative things, like making new foods, blogging, writing my novel, and becoming a successful freelance journalist. The cooking side of things: Sure, I’m cooking more than ever, eating and learning about lots of new foods, and I had that stint as an EatWith host, and those things do bring me a lot of happiness. But on the writing side of things, it hasn’t been so easy or fun. Yes, I earned a Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing, which was a freakin’ dream come true. But four years after I started, I still haven’t finished my book, and I’m not even sure that I have the discipline and motivation to do this one huge thing that I know will make me feel really, really good about myself and my creative abilities. As for freelancing: Aside from one article that I was really proud of (about my great-grandmother’s experience aboard the Lusitania) nope, I haven’t accomplished jack in that department.
I’ve come to the realization that I’m not a self-motivated person. This shocked me, because I used to think I was a person motivated by internal forces. I was productive for years as a journalist who mostly worked from home, but turns daily deadlines and my need to pay rent were the real drivers, not any innate sense of accomplishment.
I want to finish my novel, write short stories, engage in the literary sphere, pen interesting articles, and I’m just not doing that. I know this is like the most annoying thing to whine about. “Wah, wah, I have too much free time and I’m a lazy motherfucker.” There is a certain sort of sadness of never really using your talents in the way you feel you should, and it’s doubled when you know you only have yourself to blame (as opposed to the barriers most normal people face like not enough time, money, energy, etc.)
I can make a lot of excuses for why I’m not accomplishing my goals. For one, getting in to the creative mindset often feels so unattainable that most days I don’t even try to get myself there. I often stay in my pajamas, on my glorious sofa, and scroll Facebook more times than is normal or healthy, I read online news, I read the New York Times hard copy, and the local paper, I decide to make a complicated and labor-intensive meal, I mess up the kitchen, I clean up the kitchen, I read all of Facebook again, I do laundry, I pounce on Mr. Em in Jerusalem when he walks through the door, desperate for news of the outside, but not really able to offer him any interesting commentary on my day in return. Sometimes, I force myself to eek out 1,000 words of my book and occasionally I’m happy with it. Rarely, I get an incredible idea that I want to incorporate in my novel and I’m excited to do so. Often, I come up with an interesting idea for an article and promise myself I’ll pitch it to a publication. I never do.
Mr. Em in Jerusalem is the most productive person I know, I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. Probably worse. He doesn’t ever miss a day of doing the things he feels are important to his development as a person (including, but not limited to putting in a solid day at the office, working out, eating healthy, practicing flute, and meditating). He has all these theories about productivity: If only I’d deny myself social media except for a prescribed 30-minute daily window and track all my progress, and take 25 minute breaks every few hours, he’s certain I could achieve everything I want for myself. I’m not so sure.
But, hey, what to I have to lose? So yes, this is a post about my New Year resolutions, which are dedicated, on the surface, to me no longer being so lazy. But it has the deeper purpose of getting me to accomplish some goals that I know will lead to a more fulfilled Em in Jerusalem.
- Make room for creativity. I am not quite sure how to hone my mind to be more receptive to creation (sitting in my office among books with the door shut and my novel open? Walking around town without earphones, writing in a notebook as the mood strikes?) But i know that I am not making room for creativity when I am scrolling the Internets for hours and other mindless shit that I do too often. I will make a good faith effort to eliminate a decent chunk of time-wasting mindlessness from my life.
- Work outside my apartment at least two days a week. There is truly something to be said about the motivating forces of wearing a bra and brushing one’s hair.
- Just do the damn thing. Even if I’m not feeling creative, I will work on my book for ten hours per week. I plan on having it in good shape in March, at which point I will query agents and enter it into a few first-time novel contests.
- Pitch one article a month. Likely food related, possibly essays. I know I want to be published, so what’s stopping me?
Productivity tips and ideas more than welcome.
To a more productive 2017,
Em in Jerusalem