Writer’s Journal: The Quality vs Time Equation.

working study, jake jacksonWriting brings joy and pain. Any creative effort is a conflict between these two elements. Sometimes you can work all night but end up with ashes in your hands. Lawyers bill their time but a writer / artist / musician can spend hours getting absolutely nowhere. 

Obviously there are strategies to narrow in on this, routines that can be developed, but ultimately the productive, creative spark can abandon us to the painful frustration of time fleeing past at great speed.

Throughout my adult life I’ve made things. Something drives me on. I describe myself as a writer, musician and artist; the truth is it’s very difficult to do more than one of these at time. Over the last thirty years I’ve written non-fiction, fiction, poetry, songs, instrumentals, painted and illustrated, played in bands, arranged music, recorded overnight, written musical notation and much more. Wherever possible I’ve tried to find syntheses between these various expressions of that creative scratch within.

Frustratingly I’ve found it impossible to find a consistent quality. Of the various music books I’ve written or contributed to (over 20), I’m genuinely pleased with three. Of the 120 songs I think probably 15 are good. In terms of painting and illustration, perhaps only 10 of many hundreds of pieces of work are really excellent.

My view on this is that if I really think it’s good I don’t care what anyone else thinks. It will have taken a life of its own beyond my part in its origin. I used to have a three month rule where I would put something out of sight for that period of time. When I pulled it out again I would know instantly: a good piece of writing, art or music would be effortless, not appear to be mine at all. In something awkward or unsuccessful I would remember the torture of the crafting, bristle at the compromises, wince at the unresolved passages.

Perhaps the real problem is the brute force of daily life: pay the mortgage, grocery bills, bring up our children to be good, responsible and free-thinking individuals. It’s hard to be creative with all of this going on.


Well, for last couple of years this is how I’ve made progress on the writing front at least:

  • Set time aside to work creatively, and stick to it.
  • Give yourself a word target. Don’t be too ambitious. You can always step it up at a later stage.
  • Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Enjoy what you write / illustrate / play. It shows if you don’t.
  • The world is a very large place. There are people out there who will like what you do. You just haven’t met them yet.
  • When you’ve finished the creative work, be prepared to craft it (editing, finishing, tweaking), then leave it for at least a month before you look at it again.

One final point: talk to your family and friends about what you do so they understand how important it is to you. They won’t necessarily be enthusiastic about exactly what you do but it will give you a subtle form of pressure when they ask you how it’s going. I have a jazz trumpeter son who isn’t particularly fond of my flamenco playing, but accepts it as part of who I am. We all need this simple acceptance.

By the way, the image at the head of this post is the immediate view above my computer while I’m writing. I made the lamp-stand years ago and the starting sketch was for a wizard in a children’s jigsaw book. Whenever I look up from my writing, these two objects make me smile!

Writing Tips

Here are some writing and book marketing links that have helped me this week:

Do you have any strategies to keep yourself going? I’d love to hear.