I have a close friend who’s been going through a very tough time. The kind of tough time that would reduce most other people to a quivering pulp. He’s under pressures I can barely imagine, and is still such a fantastic guy that he takes the time to sit down and listen to my problems.
So when I told him that I’d been having a hard time getting any writing done, he asked me: “what are your emergency minimums?”
He went on to explain that long ago, when his free time suddenly diminished dramatically, he decided on a few “emergency minimums” for his daily routine — things that were important to him that he would do every day / week / month, no matter what. It might be something as simple as a daily meditation, or a bit of reading, or an exercise routine.
He wouldn’t make excuses for himself, or put these things off indefinitely and then feel bad about putting them off. He wouldn’t mourn that he wasn’t able to put as much time as he wanted into his projects. He didn’t concoct elaborate schemes with catchy code names. He’d plan, and then put a little time in, wherever he could, without fail.
And at that point, I had to confess — I didn’t have any emergency minimums. I didn’t have any minimums at all. I had planned to fail by failing to plan, as the platitude goes.
I have clinical depression. I’m on medication for it. My therapist once classified me as “high-functioning” and in general, that’s true — I have it a lot better than a lot of people who struggle with depression on a daily basis. Thanks to medication and therapy, I get through most days just fine.
But there are bleak days when I don’t feel “high-functioning” at all. I’m not talking about feeling a little grouchy, or in need of coffee. That’s a daily occurrence I’m well-equipped to handle (hint: the solution is coffee.) I’m talking about a gray fog being drawn across all of reality, where your own psyche becomes a schoolyard bully who has singled you out for an extended ass-kicking.
I’m not mentioning this to throw a miniature pity-party, complete with kazoos of despair, but rather to give some context. I’m just saying, there are days when even writing the crappiest blog post imaginable might as well be the twelve labors of Hercules. My fiction all starts looking like the worst dross a rabid chimp ever typed by accident. In short, the thought of neglecting one’s work, of just letting it go until things brighten up, becomes downright seductive.
This is not uncommon among writers. Ours is not a special snowflake of pain. Sometimes it’s life, or depression, or fear, or good old-fashioned laziness.
Any writer will tell you that writing daily is essential. Hell, I’ve said it, probably with a lot of pomposity and finger-wagging, too. I talk a big game (like many a blogger), but my money and my mouth often occupy different space-time continua. Balancing writing with our daily lives is something we all contend with, to some degree or another. We all have our excuses, legitimate or not.
This is where emergency minimums come in.
So I’m going to start setting some modest goals. Not sweeping, punch-out-the-universe goals, but manageable tasks that I can reliably complete. I may not be able to spare four hours a day for writing, but I sure as hell can spare thirty to sixty minutes.
A person can get a lot of work done in that time. Or not. But the point is to do the work.
So what are your emergency minimums?