It’s January, the time of year when it is easy to get depressed by your situation and wish that your life were different.
If you are having a bad day at your job it is tempting to think how much better it would be if only you could do your creative work full-time. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with your current stressors.
I have fallen into this myself. If I am faced with an issue at work that I can’t solve, I catch myself thinking that if only my novel were a best seller and I made lots of money off the back of it then I wouldn’t have to work with computer systems anymore. I could skip off into some kind of creative utopia and never be stressed again.
I also see this in the creative Facebook groups to which I belong. People yearn for their art to solve all of their problems. They say that they just have to get it together with their writing, or their painting or whatever it is they are passionate about, so they don’t have to have a job anymore.
But is it fair to make your art your salvation? That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on your creativity.
Your art isn’t going to save you.
Only you can save you.
Is it fair to burden your art with your material needs?
Here is what one of my favourite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, says about keeping a day job and not demanding that your art gives you a living (from Big Magic):
I did not quit all my other jobs until EAT PRAY LOVE became a crazy bestseller, you guys. And EAT PRAY LOVE was a freak of nature. [Note: she had published three books prior to this]
The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world.
I do not believe that Creativity comes to us from the material world, and therefore she has no concept of what it takes to survive in the material world. Creativity is a timeless little playful disembodied weird other-worldly goddess. She doesn’t need to eat, she doesn’t need a roof to sleep under, she doesn’t need to go the dentist. (WE DO, but she doesn’t.) Creativity just wants to engage with us (or not, sometimes!) in her own crazy and unpredictable ways, but she never promised to provide for us.
It is unrealistic to expect your art to provide financially for you. The only people I know personally who do their creative full-time are either financially supported by their spouses or are retired and have retirement income.
There are some bloggers I follow who have managed to make the switch but they worked phenomenally hard, writing early mornings, evenings and weekends. They also developed their skills in sales and marketing. Producing a body of work is one thing, selling it is another.
It is possible to make a full-time income from your art, but it is rare. Therefore you need to provide for your art, not vice versa.
Only you can solve your problems
In my Buddhist practice we joke about carrying your life tendencies around in a suitcase. We think we can escape ourselves by changing job or moving to another country. However if we don’t face those tendencies head on then they will come with us and bite us again in our new circumstances.
While burying yourself in your creative work gives you respite from the rest of the world, you will still need to deal with those every day issues when you emerge.
Self-acceptance saves emotional energy
When we constantly moan and rail against our circumstances, we burn up emotional energy. One of the common things I hear when people are having a tough time in their working lives is that they don’t have the energy to create.
However, if we can accept what is and stop fighting it, then we stop wasting emotional energy on it. We can liberate ourselves from the suffering without changing the circumstances.
No, that isn’t easy. It takes time and effort. But that effort will be rewarded.
I’m not saying that you should give up on your art but I am saying that you may need to accept that your creative work is something which is done around the edge of your other responsibilities.
If you can accept that and get on with your creative work even if you can only do it in small chunks then you will make progress. If you do nothing but constantly moan about how difficult your life is, you will make no progress and your emotional pain will increase.
What can you tweak about your daily routine to make it a bit better?
Are there little changes you can make that will give you more time or energy to create? Could you get a cleaner? Or live in a less than pristine house?
What if you were less conscientious at work? Do you have to work long hours? What would happen if you did slightly less or left work earlier one or two evenings a week?
Having time and energy to do creative work sometimes involves making difficult choices. You might need to make radical sacrifices.
Sometimes we get fixed in our view that life has to be a certain way, or that we have to meet certain obligations. But do we? If you try something and it doesn’t work out, go back to plan A or try something else.
See your job as training for your art success
At times when my day job is demanding it is easy to think that a writing life would be better. But if I were making money as a professional writer, I would still have deadlines. I would still have to produce something when I am daunted. I would still have people breathing down my neck waiting for results. Being a full time writer wouldn’t change that.
Instead I try to think of the pressures in my day job as training. That way, if my books do take off in the future, I would be able to withstand the demands that this would bring.
I didn’t intend this blog to be negative. I just see too many people, and sometimes see it in myself, who are waiting for their art to solve their problems. Your art can’t solve your problems. Only you can do that.
In any case, you will always have challenges. There will always be deadlines, things that scare you, tasks that need to be done and people with whom it is difficult to get along. All of this exists in the art world or in publishing or in music or in the theatre or on a film set.
Yes there are people who make a living via their art but it is rare. How can you be an artist in spite of your life, in spite of your current set of challenges?
Now I’d like to hear from you
How do you cope when life prevents you from working on your art? How do you juggle the demands of your work and responsibilities with your desire to create?
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