From 7th grade through the end of college, I wrote in a journal every day. Literally, every single day — my journal came with me to sleepovers and family vacations, and if I ever missed a day, I’d recap it in my next entry.
Throughout my school years, I cherished the time I spent each night before bed, connecting pen to paper and documenting my thoughts and experiences from the day. I’d even write the occasional poem or short story in my journal. It was a different kind of writing than my term papers and homework assignments; I was writing to express myself, in my own voice, for no one’s eyes but my own.
Then I got my first full-time job as a writer. I was thrilled to spend my days crafting articles and social media posts. I loved exercising my creativity and having my voice heard and appreciated.
But at night, all I wanted to do was watch TV. Read. Listen to music. Anything passive that allowed me to consume rather than create.
My once-sacred “journaling” time became my decompression time. My brain was so fried from a long day of generating words for other people that I no longer had the energy to do that for myself. Tens of thousands of words a day flowed from my keyboard to my screen, but when I picked up my pen, the words were suddenly gone.
My journal entries became more and more sporadic, and by Year 2 of my professional writing career, I only wrote when extremely notable or emotionally-charged things were happening in my life. I tried shifting gears and launching a food blog, just to keep some semblance of “personal” writing in my life, but even that became tiring and tedious, especially when I started picking up more freelance writing work.
monetizing your creativity: A blessing and a curse
Today, I’m probably writing more words per day than I ever have in my life. As the co-owner and operator of a marketing agency, I’m writing articles, press releases, social media captions/comments, press releases, emails, proposals, contracts, Slack messages, and texts for most of my waking hours — and that’s just for business.
While I am incredibly grateful to be earning a living doing the thing I love most, I’ve largely neglected my personal writing projects, because quite frankly, that’s not what pays the bills.
I imagine many of us who offer creative services for a living — photographers, choreographers, graphic designers, cake decorators, painters, calligraphers, writers, etc. — feel this way, especially if that business grew out of a hobby.
When we monetize our creative talents, we always prioritize the work we’re commissioned to do. We feel uninspired (or perhaps just guilty) when it comes time to turn inward and practice our craft in a way that feeds our souls; in a way that’s solely for our own personal satisfaction and development. It doesn’t come as easily as it used to when it was “just a hobby” or a passion project. Now it’s work.
Breaking the ‘curse’
So how do you switch gears and rediscover the personal joy in your craft again? I’m still working on that one, to be honest. I’ve tried adding personal writing projects to my daily to-do list. I’ve tried telling myself I’ll “take a break” from client writing at some point during the day to write for me. I’ve tried designating specific “personal writing” times at night, like I did as a student. Sometimes it works; most times it doesn’t.
I find that the best thing to do is pay attention to your own mindset. Tune in to your inner creative drive and let it guide you when the moment strikes. For me, I find that I’m most often inspired to write for myself late at night (like, 2 a.m. when I wake up and can’t fall back asleep) or 5 to 6 a.m., well before I “have” to be up and starting my day.
I take those quiet moments, when my brain has no other pressing thoughts or obligations, and I just get the words out on the page while they’re there. I never try to force it; I wait until that creative spark is burning in me and simply has to escape.
That’s what I used to feel every night when I journaled. And yes, my “spark” is far less frequent these days. But that’s okay. Because when I’m just writing for me, I don’t need to operate on anyone’s deadline. I’d much rather write a piece I’m truly passionate about once a quarter than spit out a generic piece every week out of some sense of obligation to a consistent publishing schedule.
That’s how creativity operates. It can’t be planned in advance or squeezed in when you happen to have a block of free time.
Sometimes, it barges in unannounced when you’re in the middle of something else. Pay attention to those moments — and when you’re in a good stopping place, switch gears and feed your creative spark, because if you wait until you’re “not busy” you might lose that inspiration.
Maybe I’m not being disciplined enough. Maybe I could write more if I really committed to it as a daily practice, like I did as a teenager. But that doesn’t feel quite right.
For now, this is what works for me. And as long as I’m still finding that time to explore my personal writing — infrequent as it is — I’ll call it a win.
Image credit: Jan Kahánek / Unsplash