Image by Max Sat
Being an independent creative professional in the 21st century is not easy. But then again, has it ever been easy? Creatives strive to do what they love as an outlet. They need to express themselves. It's a matter of survival. The scary part about all this is that survival is becoming more and more difficult as an artist. But if there's anything I've learned this year is that the fright is still manageable.
The key? Take smaller bites.
That's probably not the answer everyone wants to hear. But here's the truth: we can shoot for the stars. We can dream big. We can carry the whole world on our shoulders. That's cool and all. By all means, I'm not discouraging you from not dreaming or shooting or carrying whatever cosmic ambitions you have. I will say that it is important to temper yourself.
Telling yourself to chill out and take it easy is not simple. In fact, it goes against the fibers and the heartstrings that ignite the fire in our artsy bellies. How are we supposed to swallow counterintuitive advice? The mere thought of such a thing is, well, horrifying.
Here's a thought: don't work hard. Instead, work efficiently.
Working with efficiency and urgency is an art in itself. Learning how to single-task is a mountainous task to undertake. But the problem is that we artists tend to be hopeless romantics. Everything we do is done with such love and care. We're delicate, and we eventually break when we haven't given enough time to our work(s) in progress. I understand this as well as anyone, trust me.
Artists, in their hopeless pursuit of the love of their art, romanticize everything. That's not a bad thing. What is bad is that artists romanticize their struggles to an extreme.
Here's an example:
This is a snapshot of my office space back in the summer of 2014. Each note posted on my wall represents a task or goal that I wanted to accomplish. Some of them were weekly, many of them were daily. This wall is saturated with writing projects--from poetry and short stories I wanted to redraft, to short films I had in pre-production at the time. There's also urges to write one blog post daily, apply for gigs, and write numerous features for a website that I was contributing to for free. Also, there's a notebook for my novel, a list of edits to make for a music video, and a calendar booklet on the desk.
I was proud of myself when I took this picture. I was happy that I had occupied my time with so many things.
Eventually, most of these things did not get done. Other projects have been completely discarded. I clearly don't blog every day. And those sunglasses are the only ones I've ever worn without feeling self-conscious, and they're long gone in an abyss.
It took me a few months to realize how much I was stressing myself out. I was the reason why being an artist was so bloody difficult. I was trying to fill a void. I was afraid of not having so much to love. I was scared of what it would be like to not have anything to love. Soon, I got rid of everything on that wall and devoted on one thing.
In the spring that followed, I accomplished my biggest dream: I became a published author. That one thing was my first novel. If I continued to romanticize the idea of keeping busy, working infinitely hard, and put daily pressure on my responsibilities as an artist, I wouldn't have gotten it done. I would've burned out, and I'd be worse off with a bunch of incomplete projects.
Image by Al Ibrahim
When I decided to take on less each and every day, I got more done. I discovered how to write faster. I got better at writing. And I was able to breathe again. The pressure was gone. The urgency was still there, but it wasn't nearly as scary.
Every artist is different. Some are able to support yourself solely on your art, and others have to take another job or jobs to put a life together. However, one thing remains true for everyone: it is critical to gauge your limits fairly. This thing called life isn't a sprint. No one completes a marathon by running their absolute hardest the entire time. Runners take a second or two to stretch or tie their shoes. They slow down when they snag a cup of Gatorade. Creating art is a marathon, and you're in it for the long run.
Try not to pretend to be something your not. Be you, accept your thresholds, push them a little if you must, but don't force yourself into a place where you may not be able to recover.
Life is scary, and that's okay. Take your time with it, and it will become less scary.
Happy Halloween, you filthy animals!