Prairie Center: The Four-Fifteen

A few years ago, TRACHODON Magazine published an essay by metalsmith artist Amy Tavern titled “Part of the Process.” In it, Tavern discusses a practice she called “The Four-Fifteen.” Ever since reading her essay (which can be viewed free, here) I’ve incorporated The Four-Fifteen into my repertoire of writing rituals.

In a nutshell, this practice involves 1 hour of your time, divided into four 15-minute chunks. Though the commitment is short, the benefits are long-lasting. Whether done on a whim as needed, every day, or once a week, I’ve found that whenever I set aside time for The Four-Fifteen, my creativity either deepens or takes a positively surprising turn. Being on the road for nearly three years, the sense of ritual I get when practicing The Four-Fifteen provides a stabilizing force in my life, even when I don’t know what’s next or where to call “home.”

The first fifteen minutes is devoted to spiritual reading of any kind. Be it faith-based, self-help, or spirituality and growth–find some kind of book along those lines that piques your interest and read for 15 minutes.

The second chunk of time naturally follows from this: meditate for 15 minutes. No matter what religion you are (atheist, Buddhist, Christian, too busy), meditation is a basic skill that everyone can practice. It does not have to be about a higher calling or perfecting a technique (though it can be). Whatever works for you, just do it.

The third fifteen minutes is for free-writing. I focus on keeping my mind open and my pen moving, even if that means I have to repeat a line or two or interrupt one sentence in order to follow a different thought. It’s writing that no one else will see and that you likely may never come back to again. The point is flow, not force.

The final fifteen minutes is spent “filling the well,” so to speak, by reading a book or looking at photos/pictures of something that inspires the creative work you do in whatever medium you work in. Since I often critique books as I’m reading them (it’s a nearly impossible skill to turn off if you’re a writer), I usually turn to coffee table photo books that I can flip through, old issues of National Geographic, or a book of poetry. Whatever book you choose, try to approach your time with it lightly and playfully. The idea here is not to memorize or even necessarily finish whatever text you choose, rather, to just fill up and enjoy it. If you live in a city and a gallery is walkable, spending 15 minutes looking at artwork would likewise suffice–just don’t stop to get a latte along the way and get distracted!

Of course, the final step is to turn to your work as an artist and see what happens. Whether you are sitting down at the desk (don’t check email first) to a blank page, working on an in-progress painting, re-reading part of your novel that you wrote the day before, or designing a poster for the letterpress, move into this final step with the foundation of The Four-Fifteen beneath you. The results never fail to be intriguing!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.