THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL IN A CREATIVE PERSON'S LIFE…
Do you want to be a writer? A musician? An artist? A maker of any sort or variety whatsoever?
Do you long to express yourself, to create, to innovate, to (as Kurt Vonnegut taught us yesterday) "experience becoming"?
Well, then. Today I introduce you to the most important tool in your arsenal: The humble kitchen timer.
Do you own one of these? If you don't own one, can you afford to go out and buy one? Do you maybe have a more modern interpretation of this device already on your smartphone?
Now here is what you do. At some point today, you sit down and set that timer for 30 minutes. Work on your craft or your project without interruption or distraction. Doesn't have to be major work — just has to be focused work. Don't get up from your seat until the timer dings. Then do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day…
The immortal John Updike once said, "Some of the best books in the world were written in an hour a day."
I disagree. You can do it in 30 minutes.
And I'm telling you — you HAVE 30 minutes a day. For some reason, an hour seems impossible to most of us, but 30 minutes is in reach.
You don't need to quit your job to be an artist. You don't need to take out a heart-stopping loan in order to get an advance degree in creativity. You don't need to move to Paris. You don't need to change your life.
You just need to bow down before the humble kitchen timer, every single day.
I bring this up because this week somebody asked me how to learn discipline, and I remembered the way my mom taught it to me. My whole life as a child was determined by her little white kitchen timer. And I seem to remember that it was always set to 30 minutes.
30 minutes for piano practice. 30 minutes for math homework. 30 minutes to study French verbs. 30 minutes to write thank you notes after Christmas. 30 minutes to finish that goddamn diorama for 5th grade social studies class of Hannibal crossing the alps in a shoebox. 30 minutes to practice hitting balls around in the backyard in preparation for softball season. 30 minutes to clean your bedroom.
Do you have any idea how much you can get done when you focus your attention on something for 30 minutes a day?
Can you imagine the shape you would be in, if you exercised seriously for 30 minutes a day? Can you imagine the languages you could learn in that little block of time, if you kept it up? How much your drawing would improve? How much better your garden would be? Your guitar playing? How much ANYTHING improves, in 30 minutes a day, honored consistently?
Is it glamorous? Nope. Is it dramatic? Nope. Is it effective? THE MOST.
I am 44 years old and I am working on my seventh book right now. I am busy with other things. I don't have the hours I long for to devote myself completely to researching and writing this story. I may have those hours at some point in 2015, but I don't have them now. My inbox is filled with emails. My desk is covered with mail. I am behind on a hundred promises. I have not unpacked my suitcase this whole year. But fuck it. I'm not waiting around for life to be perfect before I work on my vocation. And 30 minutes isn't going to make or break anything.
So I set the timer on my iPhone for a half hour every single day and I work on that novel. I've been doing this for months now. I do it in airports, in hotel rooms, in taxis, between interviews, backstage at the TED conference, whenever I can find that little humble block of time. It is not the ideal working environment. It is not the ideal block of time. And you know what? It doesn't matter. My new book is GROWING LIKE A WEED.
Don't wait for the world to clear out time and space for your dreams and your art. It doesn't happen that way. The world rushes in, and always will. Wait for things to be perfect and you'll die waiting. Push back a bit. You go get yourself a kitchen timer and clear out your own little space. You'll be amazed what happens.
Every single day. 30 minutes. I'm serious.