Staying Creative Outside Your 9-5
Written by Jack Neary
Until we sell our first NFT for a cool $69 mil, most of us will have to support ourselves and our creative pursuits with a day job. And when the bulk of our waking hours are devoted to that responsibility, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time left over for even feeling creative.
But as anyone who’s had a taste of creating art knows, once it’s in you, it’s hard to be happy without making time for your craft. Many go to great lengths to ensure their ability to continue their practice. Some have the chutzpah to eschew traditional work altogether, and others have stayed creative even while working full-time in areas unrelated to their work.
Composer Philip Glass drove a cab and worked as a plumber. Bill Withers continued making aircraft parts even while “Ain’t No Sunshine” climbed the charts. Toni Morrison edited countless books while toiling away on her own work in the predawn hours.
Is there a secret to staying creative outside of your 9-5? Is it time management, work ethic, or another pillar of the business world? Is it an innate need to create that can’t be satisfied by anything else? Is it a combination of strategy, flexibility, and positivity?
There’s no one answer as every creative practice is different, but here are a few ways our team stays creative outside the office.
Protect your energy
You can respect the demands of a traditional job while also acknowledging that a creative practice is just as essential to your happiness and productivity.
One way to make time for both is to flip the typical script. Instead of using leftover energy for your creative work, dive into that first thing. Get to the creative stuff before any demands from your inbox meet your eyes, and then use your remaining energy to tackle your day job.
As Toni Morrison told the Paris Review, "Writing before dawn began as a necessity. I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning."
Great artists are great time managers
Everyone’s used to the romantic visual of the scatterbrained artistic genius with paint all over their clothes and papers strewn across their desk. This disarray may work for a young artist with boundless energy and the benefit of a patron’s checkbook to pay for the papers lost in the shuffle, but it’s more likely that your practice takes a bit more discipline and (gasp!) blocking off your calendar.
Serious art takes serious commitment. So whether it’s getting up a bit earlier to write, using time between shifts to run lines, or going home early from a social event to paint the partygoers, commit to showing up during your working blocks. In the same way that you’re on the clock with your employer, make sure you’re actually in your creative space when you say you will be.
Find your community
Do you remember the first time someone admired your work? It may have even happened before you started calling yourself an artist. How about a more recent workshop when a classmate’s note gave you the perspective you needed to pivot and create a stronger piece?
Creating in community is essential to keeping up your practice. Accountability and feedback can make all the difference in jumpstarting that next creative session. Even the indirect encouragement of knowing that someone else is also getting up before work to hone their craft can help your feet hit the cold floor when your body is telling you to hit snooze one more time.
Celebrate the incremental
Too often we’re blinded by the finish line of a goal at the expense of the milestones along the way. Whether that’s selling a painting or querying an agent or something else that doesn’t happen overnight, focusing on the end result will obscure the progress along the way.
Make it a point to look back every so often and see what the beginning of the month looked like compared to where you land at the end. Acknowledging progress and refocusing on the next attainable step will keep you engaged in a way that measuring the distance between where you are and where you want to be can’t.
Just keep going
If you’re worried about when you’re going to do it, you’re probably not going to do it. If you’re worried about what others might think, you’re going to find reasons to prioritize “more important” responsibilities.
So forget the reasons you don’t have the time or energy or tools to keep going. Protect your energy, stick to your schedule, lean into your community, enjoy the ride, and just keep going.