The Myth of the Full-Time Creative Artist – Skinny Artist

The Myth of the Full-Time Creative Artist

Do I need to be a full time 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 becomes 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.

When 1+1=3

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.

 

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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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(23) comments

Completely agree! And if you’re also assuming that what you do has to be perfect, then it also adds an excuse not to start.

I’ve tried painting or drawing every day for the last few weeks. Doesn’t always work but I’m so glad the 75% of the time when I do and when it does! Alice

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    Thanks Alice and I think a lot of people underestimate how much these little bursts of creativity add up over time. Like most creative artists, I would love to have more time to focus solely on my creative projects but that’s not always possible, so we just have to do what we can with what we have :)

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Joan Young

OMG. I think you are in my brain. Another poster added that we believe whatever we create must be “perfect”. Yep, add that to my list of excuses. Thank you for posting this!

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    Thanks Joan and you’re right, I think it’s way too easy to fall in the all-or-nothing trap. In the past, I tended to waste these little chunks of time that popped up throughout the day. I simply dismissed them as not being long enough, so instead of sitting down to write for 10-15 minutes, I would often end up fiddling with my phone, digging up a snack, or just surfing the web mindlessly. What I eventually discovered, however, was that those so-called “perfect” opportunities to create rarely came along, so I spent most of my time waiting instead of writing.

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Lori

So difficult to find time or energy to be creative with two small children to care for. I find the battle to resist being creative more exhausting than actually drawing or painting! Wanting to create but can’t is also very difficult to cope with but looking at it in terms of 10 mins a day is doable.

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    Exhaustion does tend to make creativity (or pretty much anything in life) rather difficult. I know the last thing most of us want to do after spending every waking hour chasing after the kids is sit down and try to be creative. More than anything we just want to sleep…. or at least collapse on the couch with some TV.

    I don’t know about you, but if every day that I don’t sit down and at least make a token effort to write something, I feel like crap. Not so much because I have all this energy and I feel like creating, but because I know that every day that I don’t do it, I’m going to feel guilty, and useless, and eventually resentful and be rather unpleasant to be around (more so than usual).

    So in order to keep the guilt and resentment from building up, I really try to at least find 10 minutes a day even just to free write about random crap that no one else is ever going to see or care about. Just by doing this, I feel like at least I made an effort. If something creatively fantastic was going to come out of my brain that day, at least I gave it an opportunity to be recorded…. hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still hopeful ;)

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I have so much time behind brush, I am able to make the painting I want, in one to two hours.
I also make metal sculpture. and drawings.
I work on a consistent basis and do the other life stuff that needs to be done.
No excuses from me.

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    I really like you’re energy and enthusiasm Bob and I have a feeling that with that type of commitment to your art, you will be very successful!

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You are so right.
I am one of those who (theoretically) has all the time to create. But after 45 minutes standing at the easel I am drooping, creativity flees and I am plodding.
I would say that for painters the 10 minute rule depends on their preferred medium. Some types of paint take 10 minutes to clean brushes and tidy up!
When I had small children and had to be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice I painted in pastel. The only time that failed was on the day my son heard a joke and burst out laughing with his mouth full of cheese sandwich and sprayed the painting. I had to start that one again but the second version was so much better.

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    I think you’re right Jen, as ironic as it might sound, sometimes having all the time in the world to create can be just as discouraging as only having 20 minutes a day. Partly because you expect so much more out of yourself, and partly because a lot of us are actually more productive when we are pushed by a deadline. Don’t get me wrong, we all hate having deadlines, but at the same time, there seems to be something inside of us that craves that structure and sense of urgency.

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anonymouse

This is so true. I do focus my full workday on my art, but break the time up into chunks so I’m not working on the same project for more than two hours at a time (1.5 hours, if the going is extra tough). I believe that the most important thing is creating the habit of putting in your time making each day, and keeping yourself maximally “fed” in between those intense periods of focus.

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    There is definitely something to be said for changing your focus every so often to get a new perspective on things. In fact, I actually wrote an article about this not too long ago on the value of changing your physical location in order to refresh your creative imagination. The director Woody Allen has said that he uses this technique all the time:

    “I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy. So if I’m in this room and then I go into the other room, it helps me. If I go outside to the street, it’s a huge help… It breaks up everything and relaxes me.” ~Woody Allen

    But you’re absolutely right when you said that the most important thing here is that you create the habit of putting in your time each day.

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Latetia Venter

After you completed a presentable art peace, i find it hard to focus again and start a new project.
Very good article.

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    Starting over is never easy, especially after spending so much time and energy on your previous project. I don’t know about you, but I always feel a bit sad and emotionally drained after finishing a longer work. I’m never sure if that is because I hesitate to let the finished project go, or the fact that now I have to start over and face the terrifying blank page again.

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[…] –this article on just starting, even if only for ten minutes, resonated with me. Himself works long hours, we homeschool, we have three kids, and at some point during the day eating and cleaning must also be done, not to mention the myriad of social activities I signed them up for so I don’t feel guilty about the socializing thing, so frequently I only have small snippets of time. It’s encouraging to be reminded that those small snippets matter. […]

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Mariana

This is all very true and I wish I could get myself to just sit down for 10min and create whatever I can during those precious 10min. BUT, waking up everyday at 6.30am, working full time, commuting.. I get home and all I want to do is have some food, switch my brain off and relax. Then I get to the weekend and I do manage to get myself to sit down and write for at least an hour, but then the weekend is the only time I have to grab a drink with friends and socialise. So I often find myself having to chose between neglecting my social life – with all the nasty feelings that come with that – and work on something creative.

Anyway, I’m not saying it is not possible but it is not that easy either. Those few hours after work when you’re not working and you’re not sleeping don’t have the same quality as the ones when you’re brain is fresh and your body isn’t tired.

Mariana

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    You’re absolutely right Mariana it is anything but easy. For me at least, I find those token 10 minute frantic creative sessions to be symbolic more than anything else. More than anything, I hate that feeling when one day of not writing, then three days, then a week, and before I know it—it’s been six months since I’ve done anything productive. If I manage to somehow squeeze in those 10-20 minutes of writing in between everything else going on in my life, I feel as if I at least made the effort. I know it’s not much, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get and understand that things won’t always be like this….hopefully ;)

    Reply

      Just saw this quote and it reminded me of our conversation. Of course Ms. Cameron says it far better than I could…

      “The doing of a small something when a large something is too much for us is perhaps especially an act of faith. Faith means going forward by whatever means we can.” ~Julia Cameron

      Reply
Aileen

I now love you! The feeling of ” i haven’t finish anything.” This article really help me especially now that i am busy with my thesis and i find it hard to do other works. Really inspiring!

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    I’m with you Aileen. Even though I’ve gotten a little better over the years, I still got a big ol’ pile of crap-I’m-going-to-finish-someday sitting here mocking me….

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Well, dadgum. Very little inspires or spurs or encourages me, but this certainly did it. You’ve got a really excellent point here. This is the first article I’ve read here, being referred here by Freedom Arts and Education Center, but I think I’ll check out some more stuff! Thanks again for the excellent article.

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The 10 minutes a day idea can work well for writing or doing a quick marketing chore, but I work with mixed media art and it takes about fifteen minutes to get everything up and going and then another fifteen to clean up at the end. I schedule most of my studio time on the weekends, which means forgoing the usual social time or outdoor activities.

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    I think you’re right Donna that it often takes a longer period of time to get into the flow of the creative process. For me at least, the 10 minutes is primarily a way to get my butt in the chair and do something. Ideally, if things are going well and I have the opportunity, I’ll keep going–but I try to give myself permission to stop after ten minutes if necessary. I’ve found that even this small amount of time helps me keep the momentum going on a project.

    Reply
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