Problem-Solving Series

On Peak (the book) and Creative Peaks

Nicole Dieker has already reconfigured and improved the schedule she writes about below. Go read this update.

I’m writing this post a little later than usual.

About eleven hours later, give or take — because when I look at the clock in the corner of my laptop, it reads 9:08 p.m., and I generally write my blog posts between 11 and noon on weekdays.

(I mean, it’s still a weekday.)

The reason I’m writing this so late in the evening is — and part of me wonders if you even care, if it even matters, if I even ought to tell you, and the other part of me knows that I have to tell you because it’s going to be a huge part of what L and I do next — the reason I’m writing this so late in the evening is because musicians work evenings.

So do writers, although they don’t have to. Plenty of writers are early-morning types, and when writing was the only thing I was doing I trained myself to be up at dawn and at my desk at 7:30, with a full hour of personal writing done before I started my freelance work.

It was a schedule much like the one that Valerie Reed Hickman wrote about, yesterday — except I didn’t read poetry before I started writing, and I probably should have.

I’m not reading poetry per se at the moment, though L and I have been reading Shakespeare aloud to each other. In fact, I had a whole thing on Shakespeare and specificity that I was planning to share with you today (by which I mean tomorrow, when you’re reading this) but I’m sharing this instead.

Because I’ve also been reading Peak.

As in Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

This is my second time reading Peak, and it’s a completely different read after you’ve spent half a year putting its principles into action.

The principle that I am currently putting into action — well, there are two of them, and one of them comes up every time I teach my How to Develop a Writing Practice class (btw, I teach writing classes, you should take them).

It’s time your creative work to your creative energy peaks.

If you’re a morning lark, see if you can get in an hour of writing before you start work. If you’re a night owl, see if you can get in an hour of writing after you finish everything else that needs to be done. If you’re one of those rare birds who is most creative in the late afternoons, see if you can squeeze in some writing between your workday and everything that comes after.

It’s interesting that so many of us are at our most creative precisely when so many others of us might want to be sleeping — which brings me to the second principle I’m putting into action.

The one that never comes up during my How to Develop a Writing Practice class.

It’s musicians take naps.

Technically, it’s the best musicians take naps. Ericsson and Pool have data on this.

There are two reasons why musicians take naps. The first is that musicians work evenings; often very late into the evening. The reason why the best musicians take naps, however, is because sleep helps to move knowledge from local storage into long-term storage.

And if you sleep twice in a 24-hour period, you get two chances to store what you’ve learned.

You also get two chances to practice and learn something new.

You can, obviously, practice twice without taking a nap in between. It’s better with the nap. But since your choices limit your choices (which is still one of my favorite blog posts, go read it) taking a nap means reconfiguring your schedule to accommodate the nap.

In my case, it means practicing first-thing-in-the-morning, then completing all of my freelance work, then napping, then practicing again.

Then going for a walk and/or lifting weights.

Then having dinner with L.

Then doing something relaxing and restorative with L, like watching YouTube videos or reading Shakespeare to each other.

Then sitting down with L and having a third practice session, this time the two of us together, because we’re learning an eleven-minute piano duet and so far we only really know about thirty seconds of it. (We still have a lot of work to do before the entire piece goes from guessing to knowing, starting with learning and memorizing the entire piece.)

Then writing this, which is what I’m doing now.

I know that it seems like I change my schedule all the time, because I do in fact change my schedule all the time. If you went and read that piece I wrote about how your choices limit your choices, you might notice that two years ago I went to bed at 9:30 p.m., earlier than it is right now, so I could get in a creative writing session before my freelance workday started.

But musicians work evenings, and writers (thank heavens) can do their best work in the morning or the evening as it suits them.

And it suits me just fine to write at 9:30 p.m.; I mean, I wrote nearly all of The Biographies of Ordinary People during that time slot, and of the three novels I’ve written in the past five years, Biographies was the only one that got published.

The other two, the ones that were written at 7:30 in the morning, got trunked.

That’s a data point worth considering — perhaps my true creative peak wasn’t when I thought it was — but it’s late, and I’m going to go kiss L goodnight, and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

By which I mean today. ❤️

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