Being dedicated to your work as an artist means to fully embrace what you do, taking the good with the bad, and putting in the necessary hours. Yes, being an artist is hard work. However, even doing what you love doesn’t mean dedicating your whole life to your art (business). There’s still space for having a good work-life balance. You can also learn to work smarter, not harder, to get the most out of your hours. And, taking on a side job doesn’t mean that you’ve sold out; on the contrary, it might be what’s needed to pursue your art. It’s about finding the right balance and the right fuel to keep going.
If you really want to make/write/produce something, you need to find the time to do it. It is all too easy to postpone our tasks, since making something creative can be quite a challenge and failure is not a sentiment most of us have learned to embrace. Without a deadline, you may find yourself postponing your work indefinitely. Doing so ensures that your project can’t fail, but it also means that it never gets a chance to succeed.
Without a deadline, there is no urgency.
Without urgency, there is no project.
So, start by setting a deadline. And, even better: chop up your work into small, manageable chunks and set deadlines for each. Leave room for failure and exploration. A great way to hold yourself accountable is to tell others about your deadline, so they will ask how it’s coming along. Critically, you’ll need learn to live by your own deadlines. Take them seriously, and on occasions when you’re truly not able to meet them, don’t throw away your planning, but reschedule. Afterwards, reflect on how you could’ve planned better.
“I’ve figured out three tricks that work for me:
1) In the morning I can work really hard. If I start at 8:00 then I do a lot before 11:00.
2) I have chosen a colour for each project that I’m working on and I use those colours in my digital agenda for each project.
3) Sometimes things come up and you have to change the plan, but then at least I realise that I have to fit those hours somewhere else. It really works. When writing, I put my timer on 40 minutes to just focus. In that time I try to stick to my desk, and not make any calls or grab a coffee.”
Time management isn’t the sexiest subject, but done right it will become second nature. It is about being the master of your time. Nowadays, our lives are filled with ways in which others can distract us and make demands on our time—phone calls, social media messages, emails, etc.—but through time management, you can create blocks of time to focus on your own goals, ensuring that it’s you who determines
what you do with your day.
There are a lot of decisions you take in life that can have a lasting effect on your work. For example, let’s say you’re considering living in your parents’ basement rent-free. It may cost you some street cred, but will earn you the freedom to spend time on your goals. Or, let’s say you’re thinking of starting a family. That will cost you a lot of time for your projects, but may earn for you a sense of belonging that deeply inspires you.
How should you make the big decisions that will have a lasting impact on your time and budget? What is the true cost of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle?
Of course, there is no single “right” way to create your life. Every individual will make choices to find her or his own preferred balance. It might even be the case that what you think will bring balance to your work and life, doesn’t. A great example is the writer Walter van den Berg, who quit his day job once he was successful enough to live off his books, only to find out that he wasn’t able to write without the perspective and distraction that his day job offered to him.
When making the big decisions in life, many will try to offer you advice and wisdom, but ultimately you will have to make the choice work for you. Before taking any big decisions that will be hard to walk away from, be sure to first take an honest look at all the possible ways it may impact your life—both what it gives to you, and what it costs.
Who is more free: A person who has an okay job, no financial worries, and lots of free time, or, a person who has a dream job, with no financial security and no control over their free time?
The answer will probably differ from one person to the next. How much does the first person like the job, how financially insecure is the second? But the point of the question is to demonstrate that life as a creative does not grant you total freedom. At the very least, you will have to find food and shelter, so there are practical and financial obligations. This is a helpful realisation.
In her book “How to Be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind…” JoAnneh Nagler suggests that the perfect solution is to get a day job. Not a bad suggestion, but it’s not necessarily the best one for everybody. Creative people tend to find different ways to cope with their financial responsibilities. Here’s a few options:
No one is inspired all the time. If being creative is your job, though, you can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, you’ve got to get to work even when the tank is empty. The question is, how? If staring at a blank canvas only gets you more frustrated, look elsewhere for the fuel you need. Here’s a few tips that might help you get refuelled, and back on the road.Inspire yourself with other people’s work
To remind yourself why creative work is so worthwhile, it’s not a bad start to experience some of the results. Visit a concert of a band you love or maybe one you hate. Go to the theatre and be surprised, annoyed, triggered or shaken. Be a regular at museums, galleries, and gatherings with other artists. You will find new ideas, new energy and fuel for your creative process and your business. Don’t be scared to see things a little outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s experimental opera, or a local museum you never bothered to visit. You’ll be surprised at all the strange places you find fuel. And, just so we’re clear: Yes, when you’re a creative, going to concerts, plays, movies and exhibitions is actually part of your job. Cool, huh?Console yourself with other people’s struggles
Sometimes, seeing other people’s successful projects can feel demoralising. If it seems like every other artist is succeeding and you’re struggling, it’s time for a little more perspective: all creatives sometimes struggle, and all creatives sometimes fail. The NPR Podcast “How I Built This”, for example, is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who tell the story of how they became successful. Along the way, they always seem to have ‘back against the wall’ and ‘should I quit?’ type moments. It really is part of the process. And though we might think we already know that, it’s good to be reminded. Then there’s the Netflix documentary series “ Abstract”, in which successful artists present their work and how they go about it. There are of course happy endings, but also very real struggles and self-doubt. Car designer Ralph Gilles had to be dragged out of the basement by his brother to achieve the success he has today. Go figure.
The great thing about being a creative entrepreneur is that all the time and effort you invest in your work has a direct benefit for you. The downside is that it all comes down to you, so if you don’t put in the work, there is no progress. It’s hard work.
So, what does it mean to work hard? First and foremost, it’s putting in the hours necessary to build your craft, to constantly learn and improve, to show your work, and to network and meet people. Beyond that, it’s working not only hard but smart: being aware of how to use the time you have wisely, make plans, focus on specific goals and take the time to create quality.
At the beginning of your artistic career, it may seem like success is a finish line. However, achieving some measure of success only raises the stakes for your next project, making it all the more important that you are in a constant process of creating opportunities. It helps to remember that while there are of course moments to celebrate, there are no finish lines. You still have to work and evolve to keep your momentum moving forward.
The American illustrator Christoph Niemann said he came to the a wonderful realisation that being inspired was not something he had to wait for, but that if he worked from 9 to 5, inspiration would come at some point. He just had to start working. Whether you are working on a new design, a new song, or a new sculpture, it pays to just start working.
It’s better to make a shitty thing you can improve on, than to wait for a fully formed idea to pop into your head. That’s not likely to happen.
It is a lot easier to put in the work after you realise that every single second you devote to your work makes it better. With every single thing you make, you improve as an artist and as an entrepreneur.