You don’t just show up on race day and run a full marathon without training.
You’re not likely to be able to finish, and it would be both painful and unhealthy. Rather than reaping the health benefits of regular running, you end up sore muscles, blisters, and maybe even stress fractures. We all know how it’s done: When preparing for a marathon, you start small and train over time, building to where you can take on hose 26.1 miles.
Likewise, it’s not healthy to go on large creative binges, either. The work of writing a novel is often compared to running a marathon: it’s not something you sprint through. You plug away at a steady pace, and keep your eye on the prize. This metaphor works for other creative endeavors, too.
Letting a whim of inspiration take you out of commission for a few days while you chase an idea may be exhilarating, but it will drain you, and can leave you neglecting other parts of your life. Because they’re created on a whim, they’re rarely too carefully planned out, and often are left unfinished.
Instead, train for long-term creative fitness. Here’s how to do it, in three easy steps:
1. It starts with just 5 minutes. To start, you’re just training to get your butt in the seat. Set at timer if you have to, just get in front of your creative work for five minutes a day. Don’t worry if the inspiration doesn’t come, or even if you can’t stay focused. Just get in front of it and stick it out for the full five minutes. This works best if you take your five minutes at the same time each day (use a marker such as before work, on your lunch break, or after your evening workout).
2. Once you get used to it, expand your time. Long-term, you’ll accomplish more if you spend more time with your work. Much as you would add time or distance to your regular run, slowly add to the time you spend with your work as it becomes comfortable until you reach your desired commitment level. I’ve expanded my time frame a number of times over a few years, and now spend over an hour with my work most mornings.
3. Set a goal for yourself. How helpful is a training regimen if you can’t decide if you want to run a marathon or sprint the 100 meter? The final step to good long-term creative fitness is to identify a goal to work toward. Mine right now is to complete my manuscript. Maybe you want to write a poem a day, or complete a painting each week, or to develop a album’s worth of songs. A goal gives your work focus, which empowers you to actually reach the finish line.
The secret to why this process works is that your muse will start to show up when you do. By running yourself through the physical motions, you’re establishing a habit that will lead to daily progress on your creative work. Staring at the blank page will turn into little seeds of ideas, and then with daily training, you’ll be amazed at how your muse whips into shape to help you create.