Creative Output: The 365 Challenge
Last year, I took the 365K challenge from the Facebook group 10 Minute Novelists. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I missed official signups for the challenge, so I completed it on my own, committing to writing an average of 1000 words a day for the entire year. I knew I would miss some days, so I tried to bank extra whenever I could. Between the extra-words push to finish SINGLE PLAYER by March 2016 and the annual sprint of NaNoWriMo in November, I was able to take off pretty much the entire month of December and still reach my goal. I wrote over 415,000 words in 2016.
As the year drew to a close, the 365 challenge came around again, this time with a looser “choose your own” goal option, and I decided to participate one more time and keep the same 1k/day goal. The year of continuous writing had taught me a lot about my habits, good and bad, and my ability to persevere, and I wanted to continue those habits.
I realized, though, that I wasn’t nearly as good at maintaining my creative input as I was about creative output, and that had left me feeling drained and dry at certain emotional points during the year. In fact, I spent a great deal of time feeling wrung-out. I attributed it to a demanding schedule: a full-time career as a high school teacher, the demands of a Master’s degree program, social and sexual adventures with my husband and new bedmates, and, yes, the pressure of a continuous outflow of words.
I hesitated before signing up for 365 again, because I wasn’t sure that I could continue to produce so many words with such regularity, day in and day out, through whatever challenges I faced. A daily writing habit demanded that I write regardless of my feelings, and therefore writing only when it felt good or when I was inspired no longer remained an option. I signed up anyway, because I knew I needed to keep my writing habit in order to reach my goals, but I knew I was draining the well.
The well is one of many metaphors used to describe the source from which one draws creative inspiration. If the well is empty, whatever the “well” is, there’s no resource left. There are lots of adages that describe the same situation, the gist of all of them being that if you aren’t replenishing yourself, you can’t produce. You run dry. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
The Oatmeal, one of my favorite comics, did a post called “Creativity is like breathing.” It resonated with me because The Oatmeal is one of the most consistently funny people I read, and to have him acknowledge this dilemma helped me realize all the ways in which I drain my well without replenishing it.
Filling the Well: Creative Intake and Output
There are different ways for me to fill the well. The biggest one is deliberate intake of new media. I tend to re-watch a lot of shows and reread a lot of books, enjoying the familiarity that comes from a story I already know, but that doesn’t give me the same kind of fulfilment that I get from new content.
As a result, I’m deliberately consuming new media this year. I’m setting time aside to read every day, both nonfiction and fiction, and I’m watching new shows and listening to podcasts.
A sampling of shows on the “To-Watch” list, in no particular order
- BBC’s Robin Hood
- Man in the High Castle
- Dirk Gently and the Holistic Detective Agency
- Sherlock (We’re 2 seasons behind)
- OITNB (We’re 2 seasons behind)
- The Magicians
- Gilmore Girls (I’m slowly working my way through)
There are more. That’s just a few.
As for podcasts, I was already listening to Hello From the Magic Tavern and Welcome to Night Vale, but I needed some more. Here are the ones I’m trying out.
Podcasts I’ve started listening to
- Anna Faris is Unqualified
- 99% Invisible
- Snap Judgment
- Guys We Fucked
- The Dildorks
- You Must Remember This
- Call Your Girlfriend
- Comedy Bang Bang
- Terrible, Thanks for Asking
I haven’t listened to all of these yet, but I’ve listened to most of them, and I’m keeping them all on the list for now. Not all of them will survive the cut, but in the meantime, it’s giving me plenty to listen to on the large amounts of driving I do.
Other Creative Output
In addition to consuming new media, I’m also trying to create something other than writing every day. Even though it’s creative output, it’s a different kind of creative output than making words, and it stimulates different parts of my brain.
- Coloring. I hate colored pencils and crayons, but I do like coloring with markers. I bought myself a giant pack of markers and this Lost Ocean coloring book and now I actually enjoy coloring.
- Baking. I love baking, and I haven’t been doing much of it lately. I made some cinnamon buns from scratch, though, and the whole process of measuring, mixing, and kneading reminded me how satisfying baking can be. It’s a whole different type of creative output, but it’s still creative. I’m still making something.
- Puzzles. I love making puzzles. It’s the kind of activity that manages to use my brain a bit while simultaneously leaving me capable of carrying on other conversations or listening to a show or a podcast. It can also be collaborative. I just built the puzzle below with a friend over the weekend, and it was fun… but also 500% more difficult than we expected. It’s a thousand pieces and every superhero is duplicated! Whose fucking idea was this?
- Knitting or crochet. I don’t know how to crochet, but I’d like to learn. Knitting is fun! I can knit and purl. That’s it. Straight lines only. Since I’m knitting just to give my brain a break, then my straight line “this will be a scarf someday in the far future” knitting is just fine.
- Sewing. I am actually a pretty good seamstress. Many, many years ago, I decided to make garb for an upcoming Renaissance Faire. I entered into this Herculean endeavor with the philosophy, “Old grandmas sew, so how hard can it be?” The answer turned out to be, “Really hard,” but I learned to read a pattern and thread the bobbin and that launched me into a lifetime of “build your own cosplay.” I make corsets quite frequently, now, and I can modify clothes to a certain degree, and I can indeed follow patterns, so yup. Sewing. A good crafty craft.
- Drawing. I made some drawings for a loved one for Christmas, and it reminded me how much I do enjoy drawing, especially when I have new stuff to draw with. New pens, new paper, charcoals… this is good shit, people.
- Playing Guitar. I’m not a good guitar player, but I do have a musical background. I took nine years of piano lessons and took home lots of awards in music competitions back in my younger years. Now, though, I don’t have a piano, but I do have a guitar and I can play passably well. Playing guitar makes me happy even though I don’t do it too much.
In addition to the creative intake and output mentioned above, I am also deliberate about my self-care. I like to take baths with all my amazing bath products, sitting by candlelight with a glass of wine and the Gilmore Girls set up on my iPad (on the toilet lid, away from potential water damage). That actually sounds really good right now.
Sometimes self-care takes different forms. It might be taking myself to the mall for some walking around, or sitting outside if the weather is nice. Perhaps it’s eating a tasty treat. Sometimes it’s chatting with a friend. Self-care might even just be mindlessly playing a computer game. The important thing is that I’m engaging in an activity that makes me feel good.
I want to keep producing a ton of content in 2017. I want to publish new books and some shorter works, blog here regularly, keep reviewing sex toys, build my social media presence, and maintain my weekly podcast Come and Play. If I’m going to do this, though, I have to keep breathing in. I have to keep filling the well. If i’m diligent about taking care of myself emotionally and creatively, then I can maintain the balance I need to for a healthy and rewarding creative-based career.
What about you, readers? What are some ways in which you keep the well filled?