When Life Gets in the Way of Art

Neil Gaiman Writing Gazebo

In a perfect world, I would have a little writing bungalow nestled in the trees like Neil Gaiman (and 1/50 of his talent)

In a perfect world, I would never have to stay up late or get up insanely early to get anything done.

In a perfect world, I would never get sick, the coffee would always be fresh, and creative inspiration would fall from the sky like tiny milk chocolate raindrops.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to live there. Instead, I live in a place that’s filled with ringing phones, irritable teenagers, and a dog that barfs on the living room carpet like clockwork.

If only…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live and work in the creative utopia that we once imagined?

Instead, we are forced to create in spite of the craziness of life that often surrounds us, and it can sometimes feel like our life is getting in the way of our art — but is that really true, or is it simply another excuse?

I think we’ve all got things going on in our life that can make creating our art more difficult.

Maybe it’s a lack of time, money, or emotional support. Maybe you have a physical illness or handicap, or maybe things aren’t just going well for you at the moment. It’s okay because the conditions to create art will never be perfect.

Creative work can be a refuge from life

Sometimes we fall into the trap of seeing our creative work as one more nagging responsibility. While our art is a part of our life, it can be an escape from it as well.  When we immerse ourselves into our art/writing/music we can leave the world behind.  We can let go of our current circumstances and be swept away by our imagination.

In that moment of creation, we are allowed to forget what is, and dream of what could be.

People sometimes forget that before she was a successful author,  J.K. Rowling was a divorced and severely depressed single mother who was living on welfare and trying to raise a child on her own while still attending school. All the while she continued to write this children’s book about a boy wizard that no one else seemed interested in reading at the time.

But she wrote it anyway.

Not just because she had a story to tell, but also because it gave her a temporary escape from her current situation. Her writing became a type of refuge for her during some of those quiet lonely hours.

Just showing up is a small victory

Most of us don’t have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for our life to turn around.

We can’t wait until things slow down or we have more time and money, we just have to get to work.

Stephen King wrote his first novel sitting alone in his basement late at night after grading papers, teaching classes, and putting his kids to bed.  He didn’t have the luxury of quitting his job or waiting for the ideal situation to write — he simply did what he could with the time he had.

In fact, just showing up is half 80% of the battle

Woody Allen once said that “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”  It’s not always about talent, sometimes it’s more about showing up and putting in the work while the rest of the world is busy making excuses. So maybe the moral of the story here is to show up and do something.

Do whatever you can to sit down and do your creative work, even if it’s only for 15-30 minutes a day.

Just find a way to get started and then keep the creative momentum going by showing up day after day.  It doesn’t matter if you do it at night after work or after you put the kids to bed, or if you wake up 30 minutes earlier each morning. Just show up and make your creative time a priority.

Successful creative artists learn to play “hurt”

Let’s face it, as creative artists, we can sometimes be a little….. fragile.

We feel the need to pamper our creative muse lest we scare it away.  So we do whatever we can to avoid working under any type of unpleasantness.  It’s too early, it’s too late, it’s too noisy, it’s too quiet, I’m too tired, I’m too wired, I’m too sad, I’m too angry, I’m too sick, I’m not good enough, yadda, yadda, yadda… This list goes on and on.

Sometimes we even go so far as to enlist the help of our enablers friends with our laundry lists of complaints and they dutifully nod their heads and agree that nothing more could possibly be done.

So we continue to make excuses for our inaction when what we may really need, is a nice big can of suck-it-up.

None of us have the ideal situation to create our art, but the most successful artists show up and play “hurt”

So whenever I start fretting that my coffee is not hot enough or my internet connection is not fast enough, I try to remind myself that Beethoven was completely deaf by the time he wrote his 9th symphony and couldn’t even hear the notes — but he wrote it anyway.

We all have issues, but we have to continue to show up despite these issues. And it’s not because we are doing such a good job keeping our creative muse comfortable, but simply because it’s who we are.

We suck it up, we show up, and we create something.

After all, we are artists.

What do you think?

  • What has been getting in the way of your art and how are you dealing with it?
  • What helps you to keep showing up day after day to create your art?
  • Do you know anyone who can build me a sweet writing gazebo like Gaiman’s in a subdivision?
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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.

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