Your most important appointment–always

If you’re a gifted creative, an emerging creative or a professional creative–my sense of the three stages of the creative journey–your most important appointment might surprise you. It’s the appointment you make with yourself, whether it’s for creative work, marketing or the self-care that allows you to be at your best the rest of the day.

The ability to keep an appointment with yourself is one of the important steps toward creative success.

If you are enjoying the first stage, what matters most is enjoying your work and exploring it. Two simple daily appointments with yourself and one weekly appointment will suffice: Fifteen to twenty minutes of flow writing in the morning allows your inner creativity to express itself, exploring ideas or telling you about things that need to be changed for its good. The weekly appointment is what Julia Cameron calls the artist’s date: an hour by yourself exploring whatever will “fill the well” with material for your creative work. Julia Cameron talks about both processes in a youtube video. The third appointment, a daily session, is time for your own writing or other creative work. Arts Anonymous, a 12-step organization for people who are finding it difficult to do sustained creative work, recommends taking at least five minutes a day for creative work to maintain a consistent flow.

At the middle stage, additional appointments come into play. Dorothea Brande describes them in “Becoming a Writer”, and this step is part of Natalie Goldberg’s brilliance described in her book “Writing Down the Bones”. After you establish the habit of morning pages, you start making sacred appointments with yourself to write. Somerset Maugham is said to have left the company of royal guests to maintain his inflexible afternoon writing habit. The ability to make and keep this creative appointment is the key to satisfaction in the second stage and to the capacity to move forward to the professional third stage.

At the professional level, additional appointments come into play. You may need more than one artist’s date a week if you are writing full-time. If you are published, you may need an hour a day for marketing; Kathleen Gage, a coach whose work I admire, refers to the hour of marketing time as an “hour of power”. In addition, you may need time to do research, appointments for practicing your writing skills, time for meditation and strategic planning. If it’s essential to your creative business, it will need time on your schedule that’s as important to you as any other appointment.

There are emergencies. And opportunities. Willow trees that bend in the wind can teach us an important lesson–but remember that bending willow has deep roots that aren’t torn up by the storm. So those self-care appointments (whether they’re for time with family and loved ones, meditation moments, or a deep tissue massage) provide the roots that allow you to be flexible when it matters.

Here’s a tip: Put the time you need for the stage on which you’re working in your calendar. Begin by being as inflexible as possible while you grow deep roots. Over time, you may shift to a plan similar to mine: The appointments are on my calendar, and I will move them around, but not eliminate them. When I travel or there’s a family emergency, I may give each one less time. I might do five minutes in my journal, put the artist’s date off for another day during the week, work for five minutes on a current project and take fifteen minutes for meditation (my roots practice).

I plan my day every night before I sleep. Other writers plan theirs in the morning after morning pages. My appointment calendar allows clients to find open time and move appointments around until 24 hours before an appointment; after that changes have to be cleared with me personally. Your plan has to fit you and your family.

This plan is organic and it grows from its roots to its trunk and then its leaves. In the first stage, we put down our roots. In the second, we reach for the sky. And in the third, we develop the strong practices that show our beauty and nurture our work, as the leaves take in the sun to nurture the life of the tree. One important stage of growth at a time. One important appointment at a time.