I write books and I have children. These things seem to go together, and yet at the same time, they do not.
True, the children are inspiring, they say funny things, they’re occasionally cute, they help me remember my own childhood, but here is the not part—they take up a lot of time.
Because of the above graph I do two things.
1.) Furiously write notes on anything handy so I won’t forget them.
2.) Operate in a constant state of repressed creativity.
This I think is my secret to being productive, because when I finally get to sit down to work—I work. I don’t open emails, I don’t answer the phone, and I don’t shop on Etsy—though I’m very tempted by all those things. My work time is precious and scarce, so I can’t afford to be distracted. On most days I get up at 4:30 a.m. to write. I love my mornings, the house is quiet, dark, and when I start the chore of getting the kids to school, I already have some work done. It feels sneaky and clever, like I’ve cheated the day. It’s not a perfect schedule, but for now it works. And strangely, I’m more productive now, than before I had kids.
I read somewhere that it’s important to take breaks while you’re being creative. I guess I’m lucky—my days are filled with breaks, and each one is a surprise. It could happen mid sentence or mid thought. Suddenly I’m out of my chair and off to deliver a snack, a drink, change the channel on the TV, replace batteries in an electronic game, or play referee. If I can get forty minutes of uninterrupted work done while the kids are home and awake, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
But I’m pretty versatile; I can work in short bursts of twenty minutes, or long luxurious stints of three hours. But I wasn’t always this way, it’s taken years of training, but they did, the kids trained me.
There’s no one secret work pattern that is going to work for everyone, but if you are creative and consistent you can certainly find what’s best for you. If you want to reorganize the way you work, ask yourself some questions, it might help you get started. Here are some questions, and I plugged in my answers.
When am I most creative?
I like my early mornings, and I save these for writing, but I can also work in short bursts when the kids are around. I have illustrated more than one book while listening to SpongeBob and Pokemon cartoons.
Where am I most creative?
Sometimes I like a change of scenery. I’ll go to a coffee shop for a few hours, and then one day a week I really get away—I go into NYC and work at the Bryant Park Library.
Am I motivated by a deadline?
You bet! Nothing motivates me more than a looming deadline, and if I don’t have one, I give myself one.
Am I motivated by rewards?
Yes, who isn’t? In fact there’s a delicious piece of chocolate waiting for me when I finish writing this post. But if I’m not I the mood for sweets, I’ll cuddle with the cat, play with the dog, or go outside for a quick stroll around the yard.
And then at the end of the day, take stock. What worked? What didn’t? And if you had a success, repeat, and if not, try something new.
RECIPE FOR CREATIVITY
- Make notes
- Think some more
- Think while doing something completely different
- Think some more
- Think some more
My kids make fun of me, and they are right.
I am always looking for the next book idea. Eyes open and ears listening—you never know where it is going to come from. About six months ago I was listening to my son and his friend complain about getting their ball stuck in some bushes. They were arguing back and forth about whose fault it was, and who was responsible for getting the ball out. It was cute, and listening to them made me smile. It was just a little moment on a sunny afternoon, but it stuck with me, and later became the basis for a story about two friends. The book is called Bean Dog & Nugget and it comes out this spring.
I want to close with two things. The first is this running tally.
This is how many times my kids interrupted me while I was writing this post.
And this last image is where I end each day, my shower. It’s nothing special, but for some reason I get more ideas in the shower than anywhere else. Maybe it’s because it’s meditative, a calming release from the stress of the day—or it might just be that with the door shut, no one can bug me.
Charise Harper has been making comics and children’s books for many years. She is the creator of FASHION KITTY, the JUST GRACE series, and WEDGIEMAN. Her picture books include CUPCAKE, IMAGINATIVE INVENTIONS, and many others. If you were to ask her which was her favorite; making the book, or holding the finished book in her hands, she would always have the same answer—making the book. She blogs (with pictures!) at Drawing Mom. Find out more about her books at ChariseHarper.com.
Charise is generously giving away THREE signed books from her JUST GRACE series!
JUST GRACE AND THE DOUBLE SURPRISE, JUST GRACE AND THE FLOWER GIRL POWER and JUST GRACE STAR ON STAGE.
Three random winners will be selected in one week. Just leave a comment to enter! Good luck!