I am often asked how I find the time to paint and to jam on my guitar and so on. The answer is pretty prosaic. I don’t have bags of leisure time available, but I have found a way to carve out time to take care of my creative side. The method is simple and it relies on habituation – the idea that if you form a good working habit, things go faster and easier and you become more consistent. My method for finding the time to do my art is this: put it in the diary!
If you have a regular, weekly or daily slot in which you are committed to doing something creative, you tend to do it. You do it even when you feel like you can’t or don’t want to. You make your other plans around these sessions. They become anchors in your life and time slots that you have a tendency to guard and preserve. If there are other people involved in your creative sessions, relying on you to show up, so much the better. It gives you another reason not to skip the time allocated.
What I find really encouraging about setting forth a specific time to do your art and sticking to it is that you can see your progress, because there is a yard stick to compare it against (i.e. the calendar). Your progress becomes more apparent to you. You also tend to prepare for the session better and find yourself learning how to turn up for your art and just do it, irrespective of your state of mind or health. You also get a feeling of great satisfaction and well being for having turned up and produced something – something that could last. The achievement makes you feel good.
Feeling good more of the time makes you a nicer human being to be with. This means that time you spend away from your loved ones in your creative process actually enhances the quality of the time you do spend with them, because you’re in a much better frame of mind, less stressed, less frustrated and making progress. It’s also inspiring for your kids to teach them how to get things done, without the angst and fear.
The other aspect of being nudged toward preparing for your creative sessions is that you can decide, ahead of time, what kind of experiment you are going to conduct. You might try a new brush, or paint colour or technique. You might give your newest distortion pedal a run. You find yourself in focused thinking before the time slot, because you look forward to it, it is precious and you enjoy it. As a way to cheer yourself up, nothing beats looking forward to your next creative session.
Alternatively, because time is short, you can also use the constraints to teach you how to improvise. Ask the model to pick a colour and paint them in a palette that has that colour as the predominant hue. Just start playing music, without agreeing the time signature, rhythm or style. Be spontaneous and inventive, because there is no time like the present.
By providing yourself with time constraints, you also learn how to finish a piece of artwork in the time you have made available. It teaches you not to fuss and procrastinate, which in turn makes you more courageous. Every brush stroke counts, because you haven’t the time to mess around and fool yourself into thinking you’re perfecting your work. You’re not. You’re just wasting the limited time you have set aside. This, in turn, makes you a more decisive artist and that ultimately means you build your confidence, your technique, your style and your productivity. Because your work is captured quite quickly, it retains a freshness that overworked art lacks. If you are a highly productive artist, it means that the cost of producing your work is lower, so if you are selling your work commercially, you can either make more per hour of effort, or else offer a wider choice to customers.
As a cure for writer’s block, the fear of the blank canvas or doubts about how to fill the silence with music, there are few better methods than just showing up and getting it done, without worrying too much about the grand plan, whether or not you’re any good or how to make it perfect. Some of what you produce is going to be ugly and lousy. That’s part of the process. To get to the good stuff, you have to develop your chops and while you’re doing that, much of what you make will be terrible. There’s no law against producing something that is no good, so long as you learn from it and you always do. There’s no shame in it, either.
This might not work for everybody or in every case, for every kind of art, but so far I have found it effective for blog writing, painting and guitar playing. I hope to extend this to guitar building, music production, recording, song writing, home maintenance and writing books. The more of this I do, the more certain I am that it works. In fact, it’s highly effective. Give it a try.