1. EVERY DAY IS GROUND HOG DAY
TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME
The creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.” Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for the creative person.
The truly prolific artists I know always have that question answered, because they have figured out a daily practice — a repeatable way of working that insulates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world. They have all identified what they want to spend their time on, and they work at it every day, no matter what. Whether their latest thing is universally rejected, ignored, or acclaimed, they know they’ll still get up tomorrow and do their work.
ESTABLISH A DAILY ROUTINE
A daily routine will get you through the day and help you make the most of it. When you don’t know what to do next, your routine tells you.
When you don’t have much time, a routine helps you make the little time you have count. When you have all the time in the world, a routine helps you make sure you don’t waste it. I’ve written while holding down a day job, written full-time from home, and written while caring for small children. The secret to writing under all those conditions was having a schedule and sticking to it.
You can’t just borrow your favorite artist’s daily routine and expect it to work for you. Everyone’s day is full of different obligations — jobs, families, social lives — and every creative person has a different temperament.
Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life and helping you take advantage of your limited time, energy, and talent. A routine establishes good habits that can lead to your best work.
What your daily routine consists of is not that important. What’s important is that the routine exists. Cobble together your own routine, stick to it most days, break from it once in a while for fun, and modify it as necessary.
A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.
FINISH EACH DAY AND BE DONE WITH IT
When the sun goes down and you look back on the day, go easy on yourself. A little self-forgiveness goes a long way. Before you go to bed, make a list of anything you did accomplish, and write down a list of what you want to get done tomorrow. Then forget about it. Hit the pillow with a clear mind. Let your subconscious work on stuff while you’re sleeping.
2. BUILD A BLISS STATION
DISCONNECT FROM THE WORLD TO CONNECT WITH YOURSELF
Creativity is about connection — you must be connected to others in order to be inspired and share your own work — but it is also about disconnection. You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others.
You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.
YOU CAN BE WOKE WITHOUT WAKING TO THE NEWS
There’s almost nothing in the news that any of us need to read in the first hour of the day. When you reach for your phone or your laptop upon waking, you’re immediately inviting anxiety and chaos into your life. You’re also bidding adieu to some of the most potentially fertile moments in the life of a creative person.
AIRPLANE MODE CAN BE A WAY OF LIFE
You don’t need to be on a plane to practice airplane mode: Pop in some cheap earplugs and switch your phone or tablet to airplane mode, and you can transform any mundane commute or stretch of captive time into an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and your work.
Airplane mode is not just a setting on your phone: It can be a whole way of life.
LEARN HOW TO SAY NO
In order to protect your sacred space and time, you have to learn how to decline all sorts of invitations from the world. You must learn how to say no.
3. FORGET THE NOUN, DO THE VERB
“CREATIVE” IS NOT A NOUN
If you wait for someone to give you a job title before you do the work, you might never get to do the work at all. You can’t wait around for someone to call you an artist before you make art. You’ll never make it.
YOUR REAL WORK IS PLAY
The great artists are able to retain this sense of playfulness throughout their careers. Art and the artist both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy, too focused on results.
If you’ve lost your playfulness, practice for practice’s sake. You don’t have to go to such dramatic lengths as combustion.
Nothing makes play more fun than some new toys. Seek out unfamiliar tools and materials. Find something new to fiddle with.
4. MAKE GIFTS
PROTECT YOUR VALUABLES
One of the easiest ways to hate something you love is to turn it into your job: taking the thing that keeps you alive spiritually and turning it into the thing that keeps you alive literally.
When you start making a living from your work, resist the urge to monetize every single bit of your creative practice. Be sure there’s at least a tiny part of you that’s off-limits to the marketplace. Some little piece that you keep for yourself.
If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.
IGNORE THE NUMBERS
If you share work online, try to ignore the numbers at least every once in a while. Increase the time between your sharing and receiving feedback. Post something and don’t check the response for a week. Turn off the analytics for your blog and write about whatever you want. Download a browser plug-in that makes the numbers disappear from social media.
WHERE THERE IS NOT GIFT, THERE IS NO ART
We all go through cycles of disenchantment and re-enchantment with our work. When you feel as though you’ve lost or you’re losing your gift, the quickest way to recover is to step outside the marketplace and make gifts.
If you’re bummed out and hating your work, pick somebody special in your life and make something for them. If you have a big audience, make them something special and give it away. Or maybe even better: Volunteer your time and teach someone else how to make what you make and do what you do. See how it feels. See whether it puts you in a better place.
5. THE ORDINARY + EXTRA ATTENTION = THE EXTRAORDINARY
YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED
Really great artists are able to find magic in the mundane. Most of my favorite artists made extraordinary art out of ordinary circumstances and materials.
All this is, of course, wishful thinking. You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.
By paying extra attention to their world, they teach us to pay more attention to ours. The first step toward transforming your life into art is to start paying more attention to it.
SLAW DOWN AND DRAW THINGS OUT
It’s impossible to pay proper attention to your life if you are hurtling along at lightning speed. When your job is to see things other people don’t, you have to slow down enough that you can actually look.
Because drawing is really an exercise in seeing, you can suck at drawing and still get a ton out of it.
To slow down and pay attention to your world, pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and start drawing what you see. (The pencil’s best feature is that it has no way of interrupting you with texts or notifications.) You might find that this helps you discover the beauty you’ve missed.
PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO
If art begins with where we point our attention, a life is made out of paying attention to what we pay attention to. Set up a regular time to pay attention to what you’ve paid attention to.
We give things meaning by paying attention to them, and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future.
6. SLAY THE ART MONSTERS
ART IS FOR LIFE (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND)
This is as true for the making of the art as it is for the art itself. If making your art is ruining anyone’s life, including your own, it is not worth making.
7. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
TO CHANGE IS TO BE ALIVE
But hope is not about knowing how things will turn out — it is moving forward in the face of uncertainty. It’s a way of dealing with uncertainty.
To have hope, you must acknowledge that you don’t know everything and you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the only way to keep going and the only way to keep making art: to be open to possibility and allow yourself to be changed.
LIKE-MINDED VS LIKE-HEARTED
if you really want to explore ideas, you should consider hanging out with people who aren’t so much like-minded as like-hearted. These are people who are temperamentally disposed to openness and have habits of listening.” People who are generous, kind, caring, and thoughtful. People who, when you say something, think about it, rather than just simply react.” People you feel good around.
VISIT THE PAST
We have such short memories. You don’t have to go that far back into the past to discover things we’ve already forgotten about. Cracking a book that’s only a quarter of a century old can be like opening a chest of buried treasure.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT TIDY UP
KEEP YOUR TOOLS TIDY AND YOUR MATERIALS MESSY
Creativity is about connections, and connections are not made by siloing everything off into its own space. New ideas are formed by interesting juxtapositions, and interesting juxtapositions happen when things are out of place.
It’s always a mistake to equate productivity and creativity. They are not the same. In fact, they’re frequently at odds with each other: You’re often most creative when you’re the least productive.
TIDYING IS EXPLORING
The best thing about tidying is that it busies my hands and loosens up my mind so that I either a) get unstuck or solve a new problem in my head, or b) come across something in the mess that leads to new work.
Tidying in the hope of obtaining perfect order is stressful work. Tidying without worrying too much about the results can be a soothing form of play.
SLEEP TIDIES UP THE BRAIN
Sleep is an excellent tool for tidying up your brain. When you sleep, your body literally flushes out the junk in your head. Neuroscientists have explained that cerebrospinal fluid in your brain starts flowing more rapidly when you sleep, clearing out the toxins and bad proteins that build up in your brain cells.
LEAVE THINGS BETTER THAN YOU FOUND THEM
Art is also made out of what is ugly or repulsive to us. Part of the artist’s job is to help tidy up the place, to make order out of chaos, to turn trash into treasure, to show us beauty where we can’t see it.
TO EXERCISE IS TO EXORCISE
What I’ve learned on our morning walks is that, yes, walking is great for releasing inner demons, but maybe even more important, walking is great for battling our outer demons.
If we do not take a walk out in the fresh air, we do not see our everyday world for what it really is, and we have no vision of our own with which to combat disinformation.
10. PLANT YOUR GARDEN
CREATIVITY HAS SEASONS
Like a tree, creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season you’re in, and act accordingly.
One way to get in touch with your own seasons is to follow Kent and Thoreau’s leads and observe the seasons in nature.
These are the people I look to for inspiration. The people who found the thing that made them feel alive and who kept themselves alive by doing it. The people who planted their seeds, tended to themselves, and grew into something lasting.
THIS, TOO, SHALL PASS
Go easy on yourself and take your time. Worry less about getting things done. Worry more about things worth doing. Worry less about being a great artist. Worry more about being a good human being who makes art. Worry less about making a mark. Worry more about leaving things better than you found them.
Keep working. Keep playing. Keep drawing. Keep looking. Keep listening. Keep thinking. Keep dreaming. Keep singing. Keep dancing. Keep painting. Keep sculpting. Keep designing. Keep composing. Keep acting. Keep cooking. Keep searching. Keep walking. Keep exploring. Keep giving. Keep living. Keep paying attention.
Keep doing your verbs, whatever they may be.