Week 9 Activity – The Empty Hour

The “hour” here is a metaphor – it might mean an hour, two hours, a day, two days or more. This week in “Slouch to 5k” the invitation is to schedule some time “off” in your diary. Literally mark down some empty space in your calendar when you are not going to be doing any work, or any domestic chores, or undertaking any caring responsibilities, and instead can focus on your creativity. Negotiate with people around you as necessary in order to commit to this – make sure you have their backing.

This “hour” should be as long as you dare to make it – choose a length of time that is practical but also breaks your routine patterns and stretches you out of your comfort zone as you insist upon it this week. Maybe (for some reason) this week is so busy that even scheduling an empty half an hour will feel like a huge stretch? So be it, make it half an hour.

Maybe you are used to long expanses of free time in the midst of your days (lucky you!). In which case the “stretch” for you might be to make two full consecutive days completely empty, for example.

In short, you are picking a length of time that is slightly longer than you’d normally schedule for yourself. Mark it down in your diary or on your calendar – make the plan visible.

This “empty time” is non-negotiable. You are making a sacred commitment to yourself and your creativity not to buckle when the time comes around. See what happens – does a little voice materialize telling you it doesn’t really matter if you skip this hour or nudge it to another day?

When the time comes, are you able to put yourself and your writing first for the duration, no matter what is happening in your week? If you aren’t able to commit, then it’s probably worth having a think about how creativity fits into your life. Are you sabotaging your creativity through the way that you manage your time?

Throughout this time you will be doing whatever creative work you want to do on your project. You’ll want to ensure that you are cocooned from disruptions, so choosing the right location to be in is important. (Plan ahead in this respect.) If you want to take a break, I strongly urge you NOT to resort to Twitter/Facebook/emails etc on this break. Go for a short walk or (if you are at home) do something like washing up or ironing – some automatic activity that lets you daydream and gets your default mode network into action. (What this means is, if you’ve decided your “empty hour” means allowing yourself a full day of creativity, you are off social media and emails throughout that whole day. Yes, it really does!)

So often we live within a kind of “clockwork” understanding of time – our week filled with appointments, meetings, too many work commitments crammed into too little space, and bursts of social media activity squeezed into spare moments between tasks – that we don’t allow our thoughts to expand into a more “bodily” understanding of time, where we listen to ourselves, follow our moods, and lose all track of chronological time.

In his novella-in-flash Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman explores different conceptions of time as if they were different worlds dreamed by Einstein himself. He describes the different social systems that operate according to those various systems of time. In one chapter, he writes:

“In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay.”

He describes the people who live according to “body time”: “They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires…. They know that time struggles forward with a weight on its back when they are rushing an injured child to the hospital or bearing the gaze of a neighbor wronged. And they know too that time darts across the field of vision when they are eating well with friends or receiving praise or lying in the arms of a secret lover.”

What we are doing this week is manufacturing a deliberate space, an empty stretch in which you can dismantle your internal ticking clock and instead access “body time”, which is the best time in which to create. In body time you are more likely to access flow state and really lose yourself in your creativity.

Ideally, during your scheduled “empty hour/afternoon/day” this week, once you settle into giving yourself permission to create over a longer stretch of time, your mind will slip into flow state. You’ll end up forgetting the clock, and you’ll follow your moods as you create in a relaxed way. You’ll be so immersed in your writing that you’ll want to continue writing long past the scheduled time is up.