A question I’ve come to ask myself in my journal every night is: What’s the most important thing I can work on tomorrow?
But there’s a crying-wolf problem here: the answer is too often the same, and when repeated to excess loses its force. My journal entries usually say something along the lines of “keep writing”.
Maybe this is particular to the way that I work. I have big projects like books that even when broken into drafts take months or longer to complete. A freelance gig will surface and for a while that will be the main gig, and there is only one main gig. A single priority. There is always one most important thing.
Except when there isn’t. Except at that moment of simultaneous relief and confusion when I’ve finished a draft of a story and sent it out to early readers. I have completed something, yes, but I have also lost my main gig, and nothing yet has stepped up to replace it. The exact moment when I need to be asking myself the what’s-important question.
I’ve learned that a better version of the question is: What’s the most important thing I can work on this month? The time scale matters. It has to be large enough for a meaty deadline, but it also can’t be too big. It’s not, What’s the most important thing period, because the answers there (“love”, “family”, “living in the moment”) have the same crying-wolf problem. What I’m really trying to do here is figure out the thing that aligns with what I’m excited about at the moment but also feeds into some longer-term goals or dreams. In other words, the next main gig.
Not long ago I finished the second draft of my new novel. I asked myself the question and the answer smacked me in the face. It said to devote the month of March to serious ceramics study. To treat it like a main gig. The past two weeks I’ve been devouring books and videos, and going into the studio almost every day. My goal for the month is to finish a set of mugs. And when those are done, well, I’ll ask myself again, and see.