On daily time
When I started my job at The Creative Independent, my only real worry was how it would feel to go into an office everyday. Having spent the past decade of my life drifting in the schedule-free haze of freelance journalism, I wasn’t sure what a regimented schedule might mean for my mental health, not to mention how a full-time pursuit would weigh on my creative life, which involves writing poems. In the end, being tasked with accounting for my time—breaking down my daily work life into packable, plannable units has made me more productive, both personally and professionally. I consider my time differently now. And while I can’t force creativity to happen according to a schedule, I’ve found that actively making a space for my own creative practice has let me appreciate my own practice in a way I never have before.
At least at the beginning of the process, sometimes doing the research and hard work isn’t enchanting. A lot of poets will say the same thing. Look, it’s my job, I do it every day. Sometimes I’m inspired, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes in order to get inspired you just have to sit there for an hour and plug away at it, but I think that’s what you have to do with basically any job, any work, regardless of what your passion is. You just have to work to get to that point in which you’re taken over by it, and then you’re free. Then comes life. Other than that, you’re just a dead person walking around. At least I am.
Sometimes, I think you just have to sit there. That’s what writers say. Sit there for five hours a day and then leave. If you didn’t write anything, sit there for five hours the next day. That’s what Phil Glass said about practicing and learning to compose. He just sat there with an alarm clock on the piano. Sometimes he would just sit there, looking at the clock. He’s somebody that really puts in the time.
As an artist, I don’t have a boss. I spend all of my time alone. This could be crazy making. The studio doesn’t have the structure of a desk job. It doesn’t have a time I go to work, or a time I come home. It doesn’t have other people. It doesn’t have days off. And it doesn’t have success markers like when a boss comes in to tell you “Good job Cindy.” For some people, like myself, that’s a highly uncomfortable space. I needed strategies to break up the time, benchmarks. Those kind of larger works are one of those strategies. There’s something really beautiful about going to the studio everyday and taking a little at a time. About seeing the story of my entire life reflected in the iterations of the daily. If I looked at the trajectory of my paintings, all produced one day at a time, in a myriad of moods, I could see the course of my entire life. I have a lot of conceptual reasons why I work with repetition: it expands painting outside of the singular frame, it references time, it allows works to be modular, it engages the architecture, it creates a narrative experience, etc. Yet beyond those formal reasons, there’s also deep psychological reasons. To be honest, when I was a student, I found working on a single canvas to be incredibly difficult emotionally. I couldn’t do it. Everything was make or break on that one piece of fabric; it could never be good enough. Yet, there’s something psychologically forgiving for me about a work being made up of 360 paintings. Some of them will be great, some of them will suck. Just like days in your life. That’s humanism.
Some days I got stuff, some days I don’t, and some days I write about the fact I got nothing to write about. But, I do try to write 1,000 words a day. It’s just like going to the gym. Some workouts are better than others. I think the less pressure you put on yourself, the better. In my opinion, it’d be hard to sit in a room and go, “Okay, damnit. Be creative.” … a lot of writer types that are kind of angry, itchy people. That’s because they’re playing chess with their psyche all the time. You have to be ready to grapple with the fact that some days there will be nothing. You’ve got to trust and remember that on other days there’ll be too much and it’ll make you crazy in a different way. So, I don’t really put that much pressure on myself to be like: “Okay, it’s Tuesday, I must be creative.” I’m gonna see if there’s anything there first.
If I know that something’s due in a month, I will force myself just to get a few sentences down. I’ve never been one of those writers who got up and always wrote, but I do like to start in the late morning, like 11. I don’t wake up early anymore. I sleep longer and longer. I’ve become a bear, hibernating even during even the summer. … People always want to know about the writing practice, particularly those who are starting out. It’s as if people think that if they just had this little bit of information, then they will automatically achieve something “That’s how you do it. If I follow that, I’ll do it too.” It’s just not the way I work. I admire people who have that kind of regimented routine that works for them. I just set small goals for myself. For instance, today I was thinking, “I have to get this column done because I’m going to do that interview later and if I don’t get this done, I can’t go.
T. COLE RACHEL is a writer, teacher and ceramic cat collector who lives in Brooklyn. He creates poems, essays, and all manner of culture-related journalism. His work has appeared in Interview, The FADER, Pitchfork, V Magazine, Interview, and The New York Times Magazine among others. He teaches a recurring poetry workshop, Poetry & Photography, via the Camera Club of NYC. His books include Surviving the Moment of Impact and Bend Don’t Shatter. He is currently Senior Editor at The Creative Independent.