This week has been nothing but interruptions. The major hole-blower in my schedule: my ex-husband filed for bankruptcy.
As our business is far from concluded, and there are lingering connections between our financial lives, this has created many complications for me. Lawyer meetings, prep for these meetings, phone calls to and from various financial institutions, brooding, interrupted sleep.
I haven’t gotten into the studio all week. I have gotten a couple of other things done that I could do out of the studio: photographing new pieces — that’s what’s below; setting up my new ecommerce website; writing. But these projects I’ve been doing in fits and starts, squeezing them in the available gaps in time.
This has never been my preferred way to work. Or so I have always believed. If you’d asked me, I would have said that for maximum creativity and productivity, I require silken bolts of uninterrupted time. (I really would have said it like that, drama queen that I am.)
Musing on this on the subway on Tuesday morning (en route to my lawyer, having left my kitchen table photography studio in medias res,so we wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast there the next morning) I wrote in Evernote:
I find it wrenching to leave a project incomplete and switch to another. One of the benefits of freelance creative work is that supposedly that if you get stuck on one project, you can start pushing on another. This is true, but the reality for me is that the project switch doesn’t happen because of stuckness, it always happens because something else encroaches. Another project, a lawyer, a doctor, a freaking Indian chief. A cat throws up. It’s getting late and you want and need to see your beloved or eat or pee. This life business, it’s just so aggravating.
Initially I thought this post would be an old fashioned rant against multitasking — not hard to do because science says it’s terrible— but then I realized I was totally full of shit.
After all, I was writing on the subway, having first moved away from a very large man with wild hair who was growling about angels, then trying not to breathe in the heavy cologne of a bowler hat wearing dandy who sat down next to me. I was writing in the fragments of available time, which I have continued to do this week, and now, as my train crosses the Manhattan Bridge.
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” I posted that Vincent Van Gogh quote over my desk for many years, and I know it to be true about writing.
No one can research or write a book, article, essay. You can only make a list of research and reporting questions, and track down the sources with the answers, one by one. You can only write one word after another. (For anyone who’s ever read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, this is essentially the distinction between what he calls “projects” which can’t really be accomplished in on step, and the “next actions,” or tasks, that lead to a project’s completion.)
I’m not that precious about my writing — I know much of it can be done anywhere, as long I’ve got something to write with. At a certain point, I’ll want to have a long period of time without interruptions to complete a draft. I’ll want to do that on my computer, where I can type quickly and work most efficiently.
But I don’t need to a precisely designated writing time to get going. In fact, it’s better if I don’t. It’s better if I establish a general framework for the piece I want to write, to think about for a while. On an assignment, the editor sets the framework. But for creative writing projects that are amorphous at the start, I like Montaigne’s “On X Topic” formulation.
For this essay you’re now reading, the first framework was”on multitasking,” then it switched to “on interruptions” and now it’s “on creative productivity in fragments of time.” This all has been tumbling around my mind all week, and so I jotted thoughts down as they naturally occurred — waiting on line at the bank, lying in bed, walking down the street, sitting at my kitchen table while the coffee brewed. So when I sat down to pull the whole thing into shape, much of the writing battle was already fought and won.
The struggle for me now is how to translate what I know about one area of creative work to another. Obviously, jewelry making isn’t nearly as portable as writing.(Although I do have a mini-butane torch, it’s not practical to squeeze in a little soldering on the subway.) I’m working on a few thoughts on this, and I’ll share what I come up with next week.