Why making time for myself is more important than my clients

Danika I feel like I’m suffocating.

I took another sip of coffee, gave up on my Word doc that contained all of two paragraphs, and switched to iMessages.

I just feel like I have so much work in front of me, I typed, and it just causes this crazy panic that chokes the air out of me.

My butt started vibrating. I looked down as my phone slide a centimeter across the bench beneath me, Danika’s number printed across the screen.

I slid my thumb to the right, put the phone to my ear and said, “Hold up. Let me go upstairs and grab my coat.”

I felt overwhelmed and scatter-brained since summer. This week, I cracked.

Ten minutes later I walked down 15th Street—my go-to for any walk—talking to Danika via headphones. It wasn’t much of a conversation. It was more me talking at her, wanting to rip any sense of anxiety out of me. It felt like I could slice my own chest open and pull out the overwhelm that consumed me since summer, the feeling of always being behind and never closing this gap on where I am and where I’m supposed to be.

I had really good intentions for today. I woke up with a blog post transcribing itself in my own head, something that once happened daily but now I rarely feel.

I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I meant to write about my friend Derrick, one of the first two friends I made in this city. I wanted to write about this awesome day we had two Saturdays ago, when I texted him off-handedly and made him walk two miles with me to go eat pie (note: Not code for anything. We literally walked to Pie Sisters in Georgetown.). Then he said he wanted deep-dish pizza, and I made him walk another three miles to go eat that. It was the best. It takes a long time to walk five miles, if you never noticed, and when you walk at night you can’t fuck with your phone unless you want to trip on a curb. So we just talked. We retold all our drunken stories over the past seven years of friendship, all the ignorant, embarrassing things I said when we first met; and how I used to go out wearing tube top dresses with no coat in the middle of January.

That’s the story I wanted to tell all of you this morning. But when I sat down in my coffee shop to write about it, I physically couldn’t.

I stared at a blank Word document for forty-five minutes, and when I finally pressed fingers to keyboard, all that came out was a to-do list.

“It’s like, ALL I wanted this morning was to write something for fun. But then I felt so guilty because I have five pieces I get PAID TO WRITE on my to-do list, and I’m like, ‘Kara you have THIRTY HOURS of work here, WHY would you write something FOR FUN,’ and—”

I kept half-yelling my internal debate to Danika in the phone. It’s a debate I have all the fucking time. And I never know the correct answer. Both sides has a winning argument. In marketing-agency land, the golden rule is, “Client work comes first.” Meaning, something I get paid for always takes precedent over something that’s just for fun.

But sometimes I wonder if creative writing is like my time spent at the gym. Translation: Even on my busiest days—days where I can never imagine sacrificing an hour away from my screen—I STILL carve out time to run three miles around the city. Because I know the minutes I sacrifice for my workout are minutes I will earn back in productivity.

“—So I’ve been wondering if I should start viewing my creative writing time like that,” I finished, “Like, carving out that space will make me a more grounded, productive person.”

After a solid fifteen-minute rant, Danika got her first words in.

When you prioritize things you think you don’t have time for, you earn back that time in productivity.

“Dude, yes,” she said, seeing clearly everything so jumbled in my brain. “That is exactly how you need to see this. Like when I’m writing a song—”

Pause. For those of you who know Danika for the many stories I write about her, skip the below paragraph. For those of you who don’t, here’s three sentences of context: Danika is a singer-songwriter in Nashville. We went to college together, but never hung out in the same circles. Now that we both live these freelancer/quasi-hippie lifestyles, we just get each other, and she is one of my first phone calls (clearly) in these times of overwhelm.


“When I write a song, I schedule out those meetings months in advance. Do you think I just WAKE UP THAT DAY and MAGICALLY feel creative? NO! You know how many times that happened to me—in my life? Three times! As in, if I just waited until I ‘felt it,’ I would have exactly three songs written—ever!”

“So, you force it?” I asked. I hated this idea. I love when words just flow out of me on a page, so crisp and clear it’s like I spoke them out loud. I hate writing just for the sake of writing.

“I don’t force creativity,” She corrected, “I force time.”


It is unrealistic to expect yourself to only work on things “when you’re feeling it.”

While both Danika and I work in creative fields, the difference is her writing depends on other people. It takes more than one person to write a song. While I can sit in silence at a coffee shop whenever the mood strikes me, Danika’s requires an in-person meeting with other human beings.

If she doesn’t feel creative at a song-write, what is she going to do? Sit there and waste everyone’s time for two hours? Fuck no. The collaborators put together a beat. Or maybe an outline. Or a few filler lyrics (her version of my lorem ipsum). And eventually, something or someone breaks the dam wide open and a song pours out.

That’s how I feel about writing. Or at least, how I used to feel. Before I became a freelancer, I had less time yet wrote more. I jumped out of bed by 6:15, sat my ass down in a coffee shop by seven with no idea what to write, and after a couple paragraphs of nothingness an idea struck. I wrote a thousand words after that, then circled back to delete the two paragraphs of utter crap it took to get there.

“Yes, exactly!” Danika agreed. “If someone writes a hundred songs in a year, most of them will be crap. But there will be a few hits. And you’ll never get to the hits if you don’t force yourself to write the crap.”

Once, I read this book about the creative process, where different artists, authors, and musicians each contributed a chapter. My favorite chapter was by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.

Gretchen’s chapter made a parallel argument to Danika’s and my conversation. She spoke about writing friends of hers that put so much pressure on themselves to write this perfect, beautiful thing every time they worked, that they never ended up writing. Meanwhile, Gretchen wrote EVERY SINGLE DAY. She might not be pleased with fifty percent of what she wrote, yet STILL had more high-quality posts than friends who barely wrote a thing.

I love Danika’s argument, that it’s not about forcing the creativity, it’s about forcing the time.

And just like most lessons I learn, it’s something I already knew. I just needed someone to throw it back in my face.

Seventy percent of the time, I don’t want to go to the gym. But after I go through the warm-up, or even the first round of circuits, I’m prepared for a bloodbath of a workout. Which isn’t all that different from forcing myself to carve out creative writing time, typing a couple hundred words of something completely unintelligible, then running off with an idea that never would have hit, had I not taken that time.

And just as working out makes me more productive at my job, writing for no apparent reason makes me better at the words I get paid for. The hours I think I can’t afford are hours I will always earn back.

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For All the F Words
You have flaws. You f-up on a daily basis. And that should be ok.