The Myth of the Full-Time Creative Artist
You don’t need 8 hours a day to be a creative artist
“I just don’t have enough time to be creative.”
This is something people tell me all the time. They feel as if they never have enough time to really focus on their creative projects, which is certainly something I understand. Although, I have a feeling that even if we had all the time in the world, most of us probably couldn’t handle it anyway.
After all, not too many people can be creative 8 hours a day, every day.
Stephen King, the author of over 65 books only writes 4-5 hours before calling it a day. The prolific composer Igor Stravinsky also believed that three hours of focused composition was about the most he could handle in a single day.
Anthony Trollope managed to write 47 novels but rarely wrote for more than 3-4 hours a day. Trollope once said that, “three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then, he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours.”
The writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre supported this idea of working in short creative bursts. Sartre believed that, “one can be very fertile without having to work too much. Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.”
Please keep in mind that these are just examples and are not some secret recipe for creative success. There is nothing magical about working for three hours. The point I’m trying to make here, is simply that because of the level of focus and concentration that creative work requires, most of us can only truly be productive for a few hours a day before we are drained both mentally and emotionally.
While there are certainly those rare exceptions, even those who are able to work full-time, typically split up their day between creative work and more routine tasks such as editing, marketing, or research.
We refuse to compromise our creative ideals
The real problem here is not that we can only work for a few hours at a time, but that we end up using not having enough time as an excuse.
It become our get-out-of-working-for-free card that we play whenever anyone asks us how our latest creative project is going. We say that it’s because we refuse to compromise. We convince ourselves that either we need to work full-time on our art, or we should forget about ever becoming a professional artist.
So we end up waiting and promising ourselves (and others) that someday we’ll have the time. Of course every day that we put it off, the thought of actually sitting down and doing anything becomes so overwhelming that we try not to think about it.
For whatever reason we tend to dismiss small efforts when it comes to our creative work.
If we only have 20 minutes to pull out the paintbrushes or sit down and write, we assume that it’s not enough time to make a difference. We have this need to make some type of grand commitment so we refuse to compromise until we can find the time to completely dedicate ourselves to our art.
We long for an uninterrupted block of time in which we can immerse ourselves in our art. A six-month sabbatical, a two week retreat, or even just a long weekend to get the ball rolling. We believe that if we could just get started, we would continue working on our project amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily life.
So we wait…and wait…and wait, but our life never seems to slow down enough to give us an opening.
But what if there was another way?
What if instead of waiting around for that perfect opportunity to get started, we were able to find a way to sit down and write, paint, or practice our instrument for just a few minutes each day?
Reclaiming our creative mojo in 10 minutes a day
I know this may sound like the title of just another stupid hype-y blog post, but what if we really could change our creative life just by sitting down and doing something for 10 minutes a day?
Here’s the thing, if you’re already working as a full-time artist or you find yourself with more time than you know what to do with, this probably doesn’t apply to you. This is for the rest of us, who often have trouble squeezing meals and sleep into our schedule that is already jam packed with work and family obligations.
Question: How much can you really get done in 10 minutes a day?
Answer: Not much (but that’s not the point)
This is usually what people ask me when I suggest they try something like this: What’s the point of working 10 minutes a day on my art? After all, what can anyone really accomplish in this amount of time? … and the answer, of course, is not much.
But then again they’re missing the point because they are looking at it from the wrong perspective.
When it comes to doing pretty much anything, most of us have been trained to look at things from a productivity standpoint. How many pages did we write, or how far were we able to get on that drawing? This is how we’ve been told to measure our success or failure, but what if seeing how much we can get done each day really isn’t the point of this exercise?
What if the real secret is just sitting down and doing something?
Getting started is the hardest part
What if instead of coming up with any more excuses, we just sat down for 10 minutes and did something to remind ourselves that creativity is a priority in our life.
Sometimes the hardest part of being creative is simply finding the energy and courage to get started.
That’s why only asking yourself to sit down and work for just a few minutes a day can be so beneficial. Not only can most of us find a spare 10 minutes somewhere in our busy day to do something, but it also removes that I-should-really-be-working-on-my-creative-project guilty feeling that seems to grow every day we end up putting it off.
It turns out that creativity has a way of feeding on itself just like procrastination.
Many people discover that once they’re able to get started, a lot of the fear and frustration goes away. They find out that it’s not so much the act of creating, as much as it is the idea of having to sit down and be creative that scares the crap out of us — which is why we subconsciously avoid it.
So the moment we sit down and get to work, we no longer have to fear the unknown.
This is the real reason that sitting down for 10 minutes a day is worth your time.
10 minutes is only the beginning
Also keep in mind that 10 minutes is only a starting point.
At some point we have to stop thinking about punching a time clock when it comes to our creativity. The point is not the amount of time we spend, it’s that we are sitting down and giving ourselves the opportunity to create every day. Whether we end up working for 10 minutes or 10 hours, it doesn’t really matter.
Somedays we’ll only be able to squeeze in 10 minutes and that’s okay. Other days, we may find ourselves being swept up in the creative current and may end up working an hour or more.
As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Our job is to simply show up and see what happens.
About the Author
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.