Fitting Creative Pursuits Around a Day Job
Many of us make a decision somewhere in our lives to seek or train for a day job that is not our real passion in order to fund ourselves and our households and avoid financial strain. Most commonly, those whose real passion lies in creative pursuits such as writing fiction, visual art, film, photography, dance, music, sewing, or theater realise at some stage that these things will not earn us an adequate living and so take on a different occupation and try to continue with these passions out of work hours. But all too often this leads to those creative passions being pushed aside in our lives as the out of work hours time is time when we are tired from the day's work, having to complete mundane tasks such as the shopping, household chores, cooking, medical check ups, and for some people fitness activities, if you're not lucky enough to have a creative passion which involves physical activity. In this hub I will discuss some of the ways I attempt to keep my diverse creative pursuits going around work which I have found to be useful, and might help you to fit in your creative activities whatever they may be.
Having a portable method of taking notes on ideas
We've all had brilliant ideas for a project in the middle of typing a work report, while in the shower, or when almost asleep. And chances are these ideas are forgotten because you didn't have any way to record them at the time and by the time you finished work, got out of the shower, or woke up, you couldn't remember what the idea was. The simplest way to deal with this is to carry some means of writing these ideas down or otherwise recording them. If you live alone you might be lucky enough to be able to do this by voice recording even when the idea happens as you're falling asleep - just get a voice recorder app on your phone and verbally record your thoughts. This doesn't work for those of us who have a sleeping partner beside us who we mustn't wake, and it can be difficult writing things down as well because turning on a light can wake your partner too. So you'll need a little portable notebook or two (when I only have one, I just leave it in my handbag, and forget to take it to bed or to places I might only take my purse and keys). Leave one beside the bed, and carry the other in your bag to work and on outings with friends. Keep pens everywhere. And have a tiny torch or a low light app on your phone for by your bed at nighttime. Practise writing down the briefest possible notes that explain your thinking to you later - no one really wants to wake up in the middle of the night and write an entire story, or have to spend hours putting detail into your notes to understand them, so sometimes it helps to develop your own kind of shorthand to record your ideas. You can practise using it by jotting down what you intend to do next when you're working on a project; this can also help you not to lose the thread of your imagination if you have to stop midway through because the phone rings or you're late for work or your partner, child, pet or friend turns up wanting attention.
Chances are you will have great ideas in the shower or when falling asleep because your brain needs incubation time, when you aren't trying too hard to think of something, in order to think of your best creative ideas (Ritter & Dijksterhuis, 2014). So you need to capture these thoughts - perhaps even by having a whiteboard or other writing utensil that is OK to get wet propped up or attached to the wall in or near your shower as well as a notebook in your bag and by your bed.
A Side Note: Natural Environments and Creativity
Another time I have found that this happens is when watering the garden, so carrying something to write on in your pocket when out among your plants may be worthwhile as well. When you do get time away from work, spending some time outside in a garden or another type of natural environment is a good way to break away from thinking about work and other stressors and enhance creative thinking (for extended information on the effects of immersion in a natural environment, see Jones, 2013 and Tyrväinen et al., 2014, among others).
If you have a favourite quiet garden space, or somewhere you visit in a park or botanical garden, bring your artistic materials with you there and take notes on your ideas - take snacks and a thermos of tea or coffee or water bottle so that you can stay long enough to forget about other things and let your mind wander and generate new ideas. This doesn't have to exclude other people if there are people you like spending time with who understand what you are doing and willing to bring things of their own along to do and give you some thinking room.
Being prepared to sometimes get up early or stay up late and get into it
As much as it isn't great to wake up in the middle of the night and go on a creative binge, sometimes the only way to fit in a decent chunk of time working on your creative pursuit is to jump out of bed while you're inspired at the crack of dawn and get a few good hours in before work, or stay up after dinner until something is done. The time in the morning when no one else is awake to disturb you and the day is fresh and your company is bird song and the garden is often an atmosphere I find promotes new ideas and allows me to put other things out of mind for a while. Similarly sometimes being up late when other people are asleep, somewhere comfortable that is a favourite or sometimes a new and interesting place can allow time for reflection or sometimes just much needed extra work on a project which otherwise would not get finished.
Set achievable end points for each session working on a project
It's easy to start multiple projects or have multiple ideas in your notebook but never get anything finished due to the myriad distractions that can be present in our homes and even find their way into your favourite secret places. Phones ring, partners want attention, kids need things, friends want to catch up, food needs making, the floor looks like it needs a vacuum. If you ever want to ignore these distractions I find it's no good trying to do the whole piece of work in one go, because you can never ignore other things that need doing for that long, but at the same time if you don't have some goals for sections or stages to achieve in one sitting, you are likely to let the distractions pull you away from your project before you really get anywhere on any particular occasion. So, work out some stages that your project can be broken down into, each able to be achieved in a reasonable amount of time that you think you can devote to getting a set stage completed on a given occasion. If you can only ever put small amounts of time towards your projects, work out a few simple steps towards your goal that you can do in each of those small bits of time and make sure they can add up to your finished product in the end. To really make these chunks achievable you need to plan some times when you can work on your project and avoid adding extra social commitments that take up those times, or be spontaneous and grab bits of time that you get unexpectedly and use them. Finally, make sure if you are doing a visual art or craft project that takes up space and has to be given time to dry, made in stages or has small parts, that you set up somewhere to store the partially completed bits in between chunks of work, so that they are not taking up your dining room table, getting drinks spilled on them, or being accidentally put away somewhere weird or handled incorrectly by your partner, parents, kids, or even pets (my rabbit likes to eat paper things, so drawing work is never safe unless stored high up). Set up your storage spot before you start your work so that it's easy to put it away quickly when it's time to go somewhere or do something else.
Make friends and connections in the area you are doing your creating in
It can be really hard working by yourself on projects after work hours that not everyone sees the purpose of, so one thing that has been very important for me is having some companions to work beside sometimes who are also working on an artistic project. Making friends and connections in the same or similar artistic fields can really open your eyes to the value of your creative work in contrast to some friends and relatives who might not see the point in doing such things. It also means that you don't miss out on a social life when dedicating time to your artworks or crafts because you have some friends who will happily sit and work with you and use the time to talk and support each other. These people are more likely to 'get' what you're doing and give you constructive feedback and can be a sounding board for ideas, or even work on collaborative projects. Finally your arty friends may have other connections and be involved with or know about events that are fantastic opportunities for you to join in with, amazing things to see that will inspire you and an outlet to show off your work to audiences who are interested. And your friends, being interested in this kind of thing too, will be keen to attend these kind of events with you, so you don't have to be on your own among strangers.
Seek out ways to combine your creative work with other things that need doing
As a dancer I am lucky enough to engage in an art form which does this on its own; I can both work on my creative projects and practise an artistic skill and work on my fitness at the same time. If your creative pursuits are less like this, you may still be able to connect them in some way with other things you need to do. An example which I did last year was to create a film diary as an artistic end product while looking after the garden at my grandma's property. I was more aware of the garden because of making the film so it helped me to get around to fixing irrigation, planting new plants, and general watering and pruning while I was out taking film and photos. If you're working on a piece of music, you could listen to your draft versions while doing fitness and relaxation exercises, and relaxing may help new ideas for lyrics or other instruments come to you. If you're writing a piece of fiction you could take your phone voice recorder or a dictaphone out while watering the garden or even planting plants, or carry it around with you while cleaning the house and record your thoughts and new sections to type out later. The same is likely to work with song lyrics or poetry. Because the cleaning or gardening is likely to be part of your weekly routine, this should build in some automatic time spent on your creative work. If you can find a way to make art that is about or uses these day to day activities, all the better.
December episode of my garden film
Record draft versions of anything you create but don't finish
Most of us sometimes suffer from something similar the impostor phenomenon (e.g., Jostl, Bergsmann, Luftenegger, Schober, & Spiel, 2012; Sightler & Wilson, 2001) where we suddenly think all our ideas are hopeless and we don't really belong in the art world. When this happens, don't throw everything you've done away, because in the light of a new day you might realise that at least some of it was good and could be built on, but you're unlikely to remember exactly how you did it. So keep your rough sketches, blooper videos, half-scribbled-out poetry, and half paragraph word documents - you can always delete them or throw them away later if after a break they still don't seem very good. In addition, it's important to take a few notes or video or audio record short bits of ideas that you don't have time to elaborate on at the time. If you have to leave to do something else and you haven't recorded these bits and pieces in any way chances are you will forget them and miss out on potential chances to create something fantastic that could have come from those small beginnings. If you're unsure about something you've made, don't throw away the draft - get some feedback from sympathetic friends. They may give you ideas to improve it that transform it into just what you were aiming for, or something altogether different but excellent.
Use your experiences and difficult times as inspiration to create
I may write another hub entirely on this topic later, so I won't go into too extensive detail here, but I often find that inspiration for art comes from some of the more difficult moments in my life, or perhaps from the most emotional moments whatever the emotion may be. I have learnt to capture these times of intense feeling about something and make them into poems or songs, which has resulted in my first ever songs to which I've come up with my own music, an achievement I'm very proud of, in the place of what were very distressed thoughts and feelings. Making a product out of your distress can help to take away the feelings of turmoil and instead create the feeling that those feelings have been expressed, and are now part of the creation instead of inside you. Making a product out of feelings of extreme happiness or other emotions somewhere in between can preserve those feelings in the finished product in a form you can reminisce over later. Either way, attempting to make something from intense experiences in your life can lead to producing things you're proud of, and you feeling better overall.
Me recording a draft version of a song I wasn't sure about to see what my artistic friends thought - about the idea of making your problems into art
Choose something worth the trouble
Finally, if there's one thing that will really slow you down and stop you finishing things it's being unsure whether you really are passionate about the idea. If you want to devote your outside work time to something artistic and get it done, then make sure you choose something you really love that you will want to dedicate your time and effort to, and look forward to working on, not something that you're a bit unsure about that you think might be a success for you. This might take a while to find, or maybe it's just always seemed to big or difficult or come across as requiring skills you don't have yet. But you are better off spending your time chipping away at it or learning the skills you need than doing something easier instead that your heart isn't really in. You're more likely to stick it out with something that you truly love doing and really want to see the end product of. Consider trying a small scale version of something if it doesn't seem achievable at first, or asking your friends with different artistic skills to help you get started. Make sure all the struggle to find time, space, and peace in which to work is worth it.
Jones, J. K. (2013). Re-discovering the arts: The impact of engagement in a natural environment upon pre-service teacher perceptions of creativity. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8, 102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.tsc.2012.08.001
Jostl, G., Bergsmann, E., Luftenegger, M., Schober, B., & Spiel, C. (2012). When Will They Blow My Cover? The Impostor Phenomenon Among Austrian Doctoral Students. Zeitschrift Fur Psychologie-Journal of Psychology, 220(2), 109-120. doi: 10.1027/2151-2604/a000102
Ritter, S. M., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2014). Creativity-the unconscious foundations of the incubation period. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00215
Sightler, K. W., & Wilson, M. G. (2001). Correlates of the impostor phenomenon among undergraduate entrepreneurs. Psychological Reports, 88(3), 679-689. doi: 10.2466/pr0.88.3.679-689
Tyrväinen, Liisa, Ojala, Ann, Korpela, Kalevi, Lanki, Timo, Tsunetsugu, Yuko, & Kagawa, Takahide. (2014). The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38(0), 1-9. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.12.005