We have an expression around our house that we tend to use on everything from solving tricky Algebra problems, to practicing instruments, to eating icky green vegetables — and that is the saying “Some is better than none”.
Sometimes as creative artists we can get locked into this idea that if we can’t do everything we want to do when we want to do it, we may as well not do anything at all.
If we can’t quit our job and write our novel, then what’s the point. If we can’t can’t move to Rome and dedicate ourselves to painting the great cathedrals 24/7, then we might as well just give it up. We somehow convince ourselves that if we can’t dedicate ourselves full-time to our art, then we might as well go back to frothing lattes for a living.
It’s not just creating our art either, but this attitude often extends to the other aspects of our life as well.
If I can’t run everyday, then I might as well not run at all. If I can’t stick to my diet everyday, then I might as well eat whatever the hell I want. If I’m never going to play on stage, then there’s no reason for me to pick up that guitar to practice. Come to think of it, these are all conversations/arguments that I’ve had with myself within the last week.
Fortunately for us, life is not generally an all-or-nothing proposition. As my daughter’s Algebra teacher has pointed out, it is possible to get partial credit…. but only if you’re willing to put in the work and try.
You don’t have to have all of the right answers, but you do have to be willing to put your doubts aside and do what you can with what you have. Maybe you’ll figure out as you go along, or maybe you won’t, it doesn’t really matter because you get credit for the attempt and not the final result. Partial credit is always better than none.
Doing “some” creates movement and momentum that will eventually lead you towards your next work. Doing something has the ability to clear out the cobwebs, break through the creative blocks, and jostle your imagination.
Doing nothing on the other hand creates nothing but more excuses, regret, and perhaps a big stinky pile of self-pity.
In 20 minutes I know from experience that I can write 500 words, practice a dozen scales, or run farther than I probably should be running. In twenty minutes I can create an outline, proofread a blog post, or edit a short video.
Don’t get the wrong idea here — Just because I could be doing all of these things, that doesn’t mean that I am.
In fact, if I find myself with 20 minutes to spare, I am just as likely to be sorting through my email, reading the last 50 tweets on Twitter, flipping through the pages of a magazine, or wandering aimlessly around Facebook.
The point here is not so much the fact that I suck at time management (which I do), but that it’s possible to live your life like a normal person and still have time to create your art. But only if you’re willing to sacrifice your idea of what you thought being an artist/writer/musician would be like.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ―Stephen King
It turns out that life is not always filled with quiet French cafes and spacious (yet reasonably priced) studio loft apartments that we’ve seen in the movies. Real life doesn’t always give us 6 hours of filtered indirect sunlight to paint, or an uninterrupted quiet space in which to write. We often just have to do what we can with what we have.
The trick is to not dismiss these moments as trivial or waste them mindlessly.
While we may not always be able to carry our laptops, sketchbooks, or DSLRs everywhere we go, we can still harvest those singular moments of inspiration by being prepared.
If you’re a writer or a visual artist make it a habit to take a small notebook with you wherever you go, and the next time you are standing in line resist the urge to pull out your phone and check your messages. Instead, take a moment to write or sketch one those characters around you as they pass through your daily life. If you’re a photographer, make sure you have your smartphone nearby so that you’ll be able to capture one of life’s fleeting moments.
Look for inspiration everywhere and you might be surprised at what you’ll find.
Instead it’s about your willingness to share whatever you have with your art.
Maybe your creative process will never be the way you imagined it would be. Maybe you will never have that dedicated painting studio or that really awesome writing gazebo in the woods, but that’s okay because although those things may be nice to have, that doesn’t mean they are necessary.
The world is filled with writers and visual artists who have nothing but time and yet they have very little to show for it. Just as there will always be those who can scrounge together 15 minutes in the morning or an hour after the kids have gone to bed, but they are successful because they’re willing to dedicate those spare moments to their art.
After all, creating some art is always better than none.
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.