Do you recognise any of the following scenarios?
You desperately want to work on your art. It’s the weekend at last but now there are other things to do. Shopping, chores, family time, looking after aging relatives. The clear day that you have promised yourself all week is ebbing away before you have even got started.
You want to keep working. You’re in a great flow and wish you could spend more time on it. But it’s time to go out to lunch with your husband. You had promised him that you would do something nice this weekend, but really, you wish you had the time to yourself so that you could get on with your art project.
You are going to self-publish your first novel. You know that it is a lot of work because as well as the writing there is the technical and marketing side. You’re up for the challenge and you are happy to learn anything new that will help you. You’re ambitious and wildly excited that your book is finally going to make it out into the world. You want to devote as much time as possible to it but it’s not as simple as that. You have to work, be a wife and support your family. And you’re also knackered from juggling so many balls and cramming your creative work into gaps of time where it hardly fits.
Are relationships compatible with creative ambition?
That last scenario is me. How can I fulfil my creative ambition and stay married?!
When the legendary British entertainer Bruce Forsyth died in 2017 I was struck by how hard he worked in his early years before he was a household name. He divorced his first wife after twenty years and I always wondered whether his relentless work ethic played a part in that. (Disclaimer: I’m not stating this, I’m just wondering.) He seemed most stable in his third marriage when he was already established as a household name and was no longer climbing the ladder from nowhere to somewhere.
Many showbiz marriages fail and I wonder if creative ambition, that intense desire to speak your truth, places a strain on these relationships.
I know that there are times when I am so possessed by getting my Countess character of my novels out into the world and that I neglect my relationships and feel deficient as a wife.
So how can we balance our creative ambition with the important people in our life who deserve our love and attention?
Accept what you can and can’t do
When there is a facet of our life that we can’t bear and we really want it to be different, the last thing we want to be told is to accept it as it is. However, there is a profundity in accepting our situation.
Accepting ‘what is’ means that you are not constantly fighting against yourself and burning precious energy. This can give a tremendous sense of freedom.
I confess that I am still a work in progress on this front but deep down I know it is the answer. I have learned from past experiences that two things can happen as the pieces of the acceptance jigsaw come together:
- You don’t suffer any more. Instead you have a very solid form of happiness that is not dependant on external circumstances.
- The thing you were railing about often changes for the better. But even if it doesn’t, you’re not suffering any more.
Whatever the outcome, self-acceptance will ease your anguish.
Negotiate times when you can work with your family
It may be necessary to negotiate with your family about the time you need for your creative project. If you want to have all day on Sunday to yourself then you may need to make yourself fully available on a Saturday.
If you want to stay home on a Saturday evening to get ahead with your project, then accept that you could do something nice with your partner on a Friday night instead.
You can also enlist their help. For example, if you want to get up early to have time at the beginning of the day to work on your project then get your family to nag you to go to bed on time.
Inevitably, there will be times when you need to put your family first and your work will take a back seat.
Priorities and decisions
It is impossible to do everything you want to do. An ideal world rarely exists. Even the most successful artists still have a list of stuff they would love to do and struggle to juggle competing priorities.
Making time for a creative routine means saying no to other things. Since being more disciplined in my writing I have a diminished social life. I moved from London to Bedfordshire eight years ago and I don’t have a close circle of friends here that I see regularly. I haven’t taken the time to nurture those friendships because I choose to write in my spare time. It is not an ideal situation but it is something I have consciously chosen.
In my writing work, I can’t do everything I need to do or think I ‘should’ do. As well as blogging I am getting a novel ready for publication (and am about to have a tonne of work land on me once my editor returns the manuscript) and I am also writing the first draft of a sequel. This is taking a lot of my energy. I have stopped posting regular encouraging snippets on Twitter and Facebook. Even though this only takes about twenty minutes a week to schedule them, I just don’t have it in me at the moment. And it would be more time away from my beloved at the weekend.
Recognise the progress you are making
It is so easy to focus on what you can’t get done and the perceived reasons for that – and to blame the people who you think are getting in your way.
Instead, focus on the progress you are making. Give yourself credit for the balls you are juggling and that you, mostly, can keep them in the air! Pat yourself on the back for each tiny piece of progress. Over time they can add up to something substantial.
Hang out with other artists
You are not the only person struggling to balance your personal life with your creative life. I find it useful to hang out with other artists who understand both the ups and the downside of a creative life. People who have trodden the same road can be a fantastic source of advice.
As I read back through this blog I realise that I have not written much about the combability of making art and relationships. Instead, it is about acceptance. But this is the key to any struggle.
Accepting where you are at.
Accepting your imperfections.
Accepting someone else’s imperfections.
Accepting what you can get done and what you can’t.
Accepting that someone else may be further ahead of you or more successful or have difference circumstances.
If we can accept all of this, then we don’t have to be so driven to the point of destruction. We can be content within our groove and plod gently ahead, leaving more time and energy for our nearest and dearest.
Art isn’t everything, even though it sometimes feels like it. Human relationships are important too.
If you found this post useful then please use the buttons below to share it. You can also subscribe in the box below so that you’re the first to hear when the next blog is published. You’ll get a free copy of The Gentle Creative Manifesto.
Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view. Sign up now.