I have a sore index finger on my left hand, which is making a’s and e’s a bit of an effort tonight. That’s an advance apology for typos.
I’m looking for you guys to share your practical advice on the juggling act of a creative life and paid work.
I have been thinking today (and, to be honest, for many ,many moons, stretching back to when I was 17, which was a loooong time ago) about the juggling act of working and creating. That (that “that” took me three goes. Poor finger) sounds a bit pompous, so I’ll try again. The balancing act that many of us go through to do our creative endeavours on the side (notice I don’t call them “work,” because I am deeply superstitious that if I call my creative stuff “work,” I will suddenly become productivity-driven and pump out twenty meaningless chapters before realising it’s all disingeuous tripe. It’s happened before) and manage paid work, even a career, on the other side.
I know about a billion people who find themselves in this position. Some would like to do their creative pursuits full-time, others are quite happy with doing them on the side. Me, I am quite happy doing them part-time at the moment, because if I was to go full-time writing, I think I would cave in under the sudden pressure to make my writing “succeed” in a more traditional, income-generating sense. I have a game plan which is to work towards 100% income from creative work, but it is going to be a gradual, staged process, and it does wonders for my insecure mind to know that I am progressing my non-creative career at the same time as my creative one at present, and will not be under any pressure to switch 100% to the creative one until I have proven it can pull in some bucks. I’m not dreaming of big bucks, (OK sometimes I am), but really just enough for the basics, from doing what I love. That would be awesome. But I know myself well enough from past attempts at going into free-fall (ie supporting my creative pursuits solely through meaningless casual work or savings) that my brain runs and hides from the scariness, and I need a “real” job to trick myself into the relaxed, open frame of mind to write.
I have tried at least twice before to totally quit a “real” career and just write. The first time, I wanted to write a non-fiction book about happiness. I had written an opinion editorial, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and which a publisher was interested in seeing a book proposal for. I spent three months trying to write. My friends always laugh to hear that I got really depressed in the process (not because they are mean, but just because of the irony). I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t write! I went back to part-time work and have stayed in part-time work ever since. That’s the book I like to say I had to not write.
Two years later I gave it another shot. I had just been offered a promotion at my work, and that freaked me out sufficiently to send me sprinting from Canberra to Melbourne, quitting my job and enrolling at the last minute in a digital media course to kick-start my filmmaking career. I made two documentaries, and almost had another nervous breakdown. It was the pressure to succeed creatively that did it. After nine months of casual work and telling myself I was OK, I finally let go of the bohemian ideal got a “real” job, one which was progressing my other, public service career, and felt much better. The pains in my stomach disappeared. I lost 10 kilos (in a healthy way, not from stress).
I still work part-time, in a different city again (Sydney – that’s another story). I still write (obviously).
I am curious – more than curious – how others do it? How do you guys view your creative lives, and how do you conduct the balancing act: at a practical, day-to-day level, in your heads, and in your hearts, that allows you to do what you need to do, to “follow your bliss” (as my fiance calls it)? It would be great if we could share our insights and practical tips about this.
I’d say my top three tips are:
1. You don’t have to be a bohemian risk-taker and throw away your other career in order to be a creative artist. You just have to do what keeps your mind and heart open and secure enough to do your thing.
2. It’s important to remain absolutely focused. Things which look like they might be on the right track can be deceptively close to what you want to do, but still aren’t. For me, a good example would have been to do a short story collection for the publisher, when all I really wanted was to do Mr Middleton as an illustrated book and focus on writing my novel. It looked and smelt like it was on the right track to writing as a full-time job, but it would have betrayed where my creative mojo was at, and that is your most valuable asset in the creative journey.
3. Emotional and mental space is just as important as physical space and time. My “real” job in Melbourne got to be so busy and all-consuming, that even though I had one day off a week (Fridays), I was so exhausted and worries that I couldn’t do my art. Now I have to be very strict with myself, to the point of trying to limit my after-work conversation about work to a minimum of the first hour after getting home. Otherwise it sits in your brain and takes over the network.
You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. To see an article I wrote about this for Online Opinion, click here. To read the article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, click here.