When Life Gets in the Way of Art – Skinny Artist

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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(23) comments

I agree. Things are not always conducive to creating art, but the act of just doing it can be a solice. It is an escape that nags at you but when you succumb to the nagging, your spirit is nourished.
Just do it.

Julie

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    You’re right Julie and I think it is that “creativity nagging” that got most of us doing this in the first place. For whatever reason we feel that consistent pull and a restlessness to create something. That nagging feeling that there is more to life than simply consuming the creative work of others. In our own way, we are compelled to put something out there in the hope that in some way it will connect with someone else.

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      You got me recalling the days of being a teen who escaped life as it was by sketching (when not reading). We had one of those family vacations way back when…our family of mother, father, and 6 kids all jammed into a station wagon. We pulled a little camper trailer behind on our way to the Seattle World’s Fair. Needless to say, we were cramped and it was chaotic. Being the “senior sister” it was usually my duty to tend one or both of the babies. When not doing that I was enthralled with the landscapes we passed by. I sketched much of it, and once involved in sketching I could tune out all the chaos. That need to create coincided with the need to escape into my own world. That is when I first began to view myself as an artist instead of just a person who liked to color and draw. And so the story began.

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Thank you. I so needed your post right now at this very moment. It got me back on track. Gotta go, there are paintings waiting. :)

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    It always makes me happy when a post reaches someone at the right time. Thanks so much Tracy for letting me know. Now go get to work! :)

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I reported this in my FB group My Art Tutors Tips n Tricks. Great post!

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    Thanks for sharing the post with your FB group Vicki, I really appreciate it!

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Kelly

I am someone stumbling around the creative process trying to find what is real and true for me. Showing up is my ultimate challenge because everything else seems as if it is more important. This post and many of your other ones help me to recommit to my art, even if it appears to have no value to anyone but me. Thank you!

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    When it comes to stumbling around the creative process, I’m right there with you Kelly, and you’re absolutely right that for whatever reason, it is far too easy to push your creative art to the back burner in the midst of everything else going on. Sometimes I’m not sure if this is a defense mechanism for my fragile ego, or if it’s just good old-fashioned procrastination. Either way, it’s not always easy to “show up” and put in the work.

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This reminds me of the book “Art and Fear” — there are so many reasons to stop, but what makes a successful artist isn’t talent nearly as much as it is that famed ‘showing up.’
As a person with psychiatric disabilities, I find it difficult to keep up with the basic necessities of life sometimes, It never ceases to amaze me, though, how much more smoothly the rest of my life falls together if I can take that little bit of time for art every day. Something, anything, to remind me who I am and to shore up my own inner strength to continue the fight.
Thanks for this.

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    Thanks Willow and the fact that this post in some way reminds you of one of my all-time favorite books “Art & Fear” is quite a compliment :)

    I think you’re right that whether we are talking about eating healthier, exercising more, or creating our art — there is that internal reward for showing up and not taking the easy way out. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes. When you set that time aside to create, you are reaffirming to yourself that this is a priority in your life and it’s important to you. Like I mentioned in the “Chains” post, it kind of becomes a point of pride and you don’t want to let yourself down. You described it perfectly when you said that the act of creating “shores up your inner strength” which gives your the ability to “continue the fight”. Simply by showing up, you push yourself forward and that momentum can be a very powerful thing.

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What a great article. It’s definitely easy to let everything else in life get in the way of creating art. It’s a battle I fight each day. Just as I have made it a priority to go to the gym 4 days a week for the past year, it is now time to do the same for my art. It has to be as important as brushing your teeth, and it will become a habit. :) great site!

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    Thanks Cassie, I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment and I think you’re absolutely right that most days it’s way too easy to come up with (really good) excuses not to go to the gym or to sit down and create something. However like you said, we just need to find a way to make it a priority in our life like anything else that is really important to us :)

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It is me, myself and I that stands in the way of making art. Too often my mind tells me that what I’m creating isn’t good enough and therefore not worth my time. Another common one is that I have enough art standing around my home and I might feel that I should be spending my time trying to sell it or market it, things that can easily eat up a whole day and leave little creativity alive in the mind.
For me, it is the fun that makes me turn up every day. When I have overcome doubts and my own mental hurdles, I just really enjoy doing my thing!

Maybe there are people in your neighborhood that would help you build your creative gazebo? One of my friends actually found enough enthusiastic teenagers to build an amazing shed!
Good luck!

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    Unfortunately you are exactly right Rosi that often it’s our own self-doubt that keeps us from creating anything. All of these other so-called reasons are little more than excuses to keep us from exposing ourselves and our work to others. So we come up with busywork to distract ourselves from our real work of creating. We end up filling our day with so much frantic and often pointless activity that we can’t blame ourselves for not having the time to create.

    Eventually it kind of becomes a vicious circle that slowly eats up the days, months, and even years of our life. I know because it’s something that I still struggle with every day myself. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about all of the time I wasted yesterday doing stupid stuff, all I can really do is to try and do better today!

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Hi Drew,

Another great post. I should probably take my computer out of my studio so I spend less time reading SkinnyArtist and more time painting! ;)

Hope you’re doing well, mate and I always enjoy your posts.

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    Thanks Trevor for your kind words, but I can’t help but think that taking your computer out of your studio and severing your lifeline to this site would be a huge benefit mistake to your creative productivity ;)

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G’day Drew,

What a true thing is this: ‘Successful creative artists learn to play “hurt”’ I so agree.

Old-time circus troupes had a motto that goes something like this: ‘never let ’em see you hurting.’ I think it means to give the audience the very best you can do, no matter what it costs you. I think also of champion high-board divers, skaters and ballet dancers who put their bodies and minds through extraordinary trials to make their performances look ‘easy.’ One other thing. Instead of talking about ‘life getting in the way of art’ how about remembering the fact our lives – in one way or another – are the root of the art we do make? Cheers, Dorothy

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Kirstyn

I am a very young artist (only 20 years old) but the more and more that I get into my craft, the more and more I realize that art is like sex–the more you do it, the more you want to do it. :p
If I am able to just carve out like 30 minutes to work every day for a few weeks, then eventually I find myself setting out an hour, and then two hours, and then three hours… etc.

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I take my camera everywhere, ready to shoot at every opportunity… even when I’m not sure I’ll get one good exposure. When I look at my best work, I never wonder why I spent the time. People think I’m crazy, so I know I’m doing the right things for my art. After work, at lunch if I can, the weekend, or when I travel anywhere, I shoot. I can’t make a living from photography, but I don’t care. I love my art. I live for those times when I am free and creating. Why would anyone put that off?

Peace, Terry

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Bill

I just discovered this website and it’s so wonderful to know the trials I face as a newbie to the art world is shared by so many. I’m retiring in my fifties from a mind numbing govt job that demanded zero creativity. Yet I always had that creative nagging but buried it to attend to “reality”.
I’m starting at the bottom, and I’m going to show up in my studio everyday and enjoy the process as an escape from the distractions. I will have an 80% chance of success!

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    Thanks so much Bill for your kind words and welcome to the community! Although we can’t promise you a smooth ride as you ramble along on your creative journey, we can offer you a good dose of support and encouragement along the way. Congratulations on beginning this new chapter of your life and I wish you all the best :)

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robin

good article! Well said. I gotta go “show up” now, but I might post this article somewhere to remind me, when I start to fade, of the thing I need to tell myself (too often): GET ON THAT PONY AND RIDE. KEEP ON KEEPING ON. FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. Thank you.

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