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From the Muse

Schedule Yourself

Carving out time to create.

Ever wake up with very little on your calendar and find yourself savoring the idea that you’ll finally get to finish something you started the week before?

Then midnight comes around and you realize you didn’t get anything done.

How can all those hours have slipped by?

Maybe there’s a danger in having too much time on our hands. After all, the more time there is, the more opportunity we have to waste it.

As a creative creature, I revel in a structure-free day, tending to tasks at my whim. I’d rather make art when inspiration strikes than force my muse to dance. But I’ve come to realize that even if I’m working on something solo, I might have to block out the time to do it — make an appointment with myself, just as I would if I were scheduling a co-write or a session with a collaborator. Even though making music is my joy, it’s also something I often resist. There’s that voice in my head: What if I sit at the piano for an hour and nothing comes out? And so the procrastination begins. The dawdling.

There are other thoughts that curb my enthusiasm, too, though they are really ones of pure arrogance. For instance: I don’t need to practice, I’ll be fine. Ridiculous. How can I expect to be on my game at my next performance if I let two weeks go by without picking up my guitar? How will my voice reach the high notes if I don’t do daily vocal warm-ups?

So I’ve been trying this new thing. It’s called scheduling myself.

Duh.

First things first. Wake up. Have coffee. (That’s non-negotiable.) Next, I ask myself: What are my commitments today, and what else do I (realistically) want to accomplish in the next 16 hours? And then I write it all down. With a pen on paper. (Why? Because we are more invested in that which we have written by hand. But that’s another blog for another day.)

Then I make a timeline blocking out my day down to the hour. No, to the minute. And I stick to it! It’s my personal AA meeting — the sponsor I must account to.

There’s little margin for error. Even folding two loads of laundry can make me late, so I account for that too. I know exactly how long it takes to do the stuff I’ve been doing for years. Work out: one hour. Drive to yoga class: 15 minutes. Social media: one hour. (OK, two.) 🙂 Calls, emails, that long overdue task of getting those extraneous papers off my desk. Ugh. They always come back too soon.

If my GPS says it will take 26 minutes to get to my meeting across town, I leave the house 26 minutes prior to that meeting and pray for no traffic and good parking karma.

This system has been working out so well that I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to keep it up. As regimented as it sounds, the alternative is having the most unproductive day ever.

You see, regardless of my resistance, when I’m finally sitting at the piano (or writing this column, for that matter) I’m back in my zone. In familiar territory. My happy place. Even if I felt empty when I first sat down, it doesn’t take long before I’m smiling and tapping away (at the laptop or keyboard) because I’ve found something interesting to say. Or sing. Or play.

Female songwriter, Shelly Peiken, resting her elbow on the piano keyboard while smiling into camera.

I may not finish the lyric but I’ve most likely loosened the lid. After all, you never know when that magic song is going to fall from the sky, completely by accident. So we have to make time for the accidents and trust that they will happen. I want to be available for my muse to find me. Because if I’m not there, she may go somewhere else.

Have a happy and productive New Year, everyone. If you have a resolution of your own, you might want to put it in your calendar and make it happen instead of hoping it will.

 

Photo courtesy of the author.

 

You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings:

Don’t Disturb This Groove

Good Morning, Good Morning

Lyrics 101

Long May You Run

Blocking Writer’s Block

Songwriting Without a Safety Net

Creativity at Christmastime



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelly Peiken has been a behind-the-scenes force in the music business for more than two decades. She is best known for penning female-empowerment anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s Number One hit “What a Girl Wants” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” Her book “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter,” a memoir that chronicles her journey from a young girl falling under the spell of magical songs to writing hits of her own, earned her a second GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Shelly is a fierce advocate of creators’ rights with her grassroots organization, SONA (Songwriters of North America). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and two cats.

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