How To Make Time To Be An Artist

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Wendell Berry’s studio

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

Tell me if this happens to you.

There is a new book out by a break through author and you think to yourself, “That could be me.  I wonder how she did it.”

You stand on line at a book signing and as you move closer to the author, you feel more and more frustrated holding that book in your hands while your book, the one you have always wanted to write, is still an unwritten dream.  As she autographs your copy, you make the same promise to yourself that you always make when you find yourself face to face with someone who is actually doing what you are longing to do, “OK, today I am going to write my book!”

The problem is that promise will have to fight its way through a laundry list of Other Important Reasons Why You Can’t to get you to sit down and do your work.  Here are the most common ones:

  • I’m too busy
  • I have no time
  • I have a big job
  • I have other priorities
  • I can’t get started

At this point, you know that you are the only one who can champion that promise through.

Without your help, that dream will remain what it is – just a dream. And you will always be on the line with the rest of the dreamers, another fan seeking an autograph, not the writer who has written the book.

Writers and artists have lives that are not that different from ours.  They have to live somewhere, put food on the table, and take care of themselves or their families.  They also have a passion to be creative, to make art and to get it out into the world to share with others.  How do they do this?

Artists actually have two passions.

The passion for their art which is the one that fuels their dreams and imagination.  This is what many people experience when they read a book or see a painting that touches them.  You see yourself in that work of art and you feel their creative spirit igniting your inner artist.

The other passion is their practice.  This is the part that is not so glamorous or exciting.  It is the alarm clock set for 4:45 am, it is the daily struggle to put a few good words on paper, to fight distractions, the will to create something faithfully, to acknowledge and thank yourself for the effort without judgement.

To show up.  Every single day.

The power of combining these two passions is formidable.  It will strengthen your creativity with focus and from this will come your book, your painting, your opera.

You will also be experiencing the benefits of an artistic life: creating joy and living an intentional, purposeful life.

Three simple steps to set up your practice

“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. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen. “

Joseph Campbell on having a “bliss station,“ in The Power of Myth

Over time, you will find you are actually building a body of work.  You will also notice elevated levels of happiness in your life because you are doing something about that dream of yours and spending time working on what you are passionate about.

This practice requires commitment and perseverance.  By showing up every day, you will gain a strong sense of purpose. Sharing it with others will give you joy. This is the essence of a creative life.

These three steps that lay between you as the fan and you as the artist.

Set your alarm

Find one hour a day.

Think about your typical day and find one hour of time.  Set an alarm, a calendar reminder, an alert or anything that will remind you it is your time for your practice.  

This should be a time that you can come to everyday and do your work. For me, this is that magical hour from 5:00 – 6:00 am. I set two alarms for myself.  One is to wake me up and one is my internal clock to be mentally prepared to fight my desire to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

Clean your desk

Keep your space clear.

This is your sacred space.

I believe the only things you need are your imagination and your tools.   For me, that means absolutely nothing on my desk, no sounds, no distractions.  No phones, Facebook, alerts.  No internal editor – myself.  I even turn all of my text white so I can just write without interruption.. Something I cannot do easily because I am so easily tempted to self edit as I write.

Sit in the chair.

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Show up.

I have a friend who has a hard time getting himself to practice the cello.  He will walk into the practice room and walk around circling the cello before sitting down to play. Once he is sitting in his chair and practicing, time will fly and he wonders why he wasn’t doing this earlier.  

Sometimes getting past “circling the cello” and just sitting your chair is the most difficult challenge.

Make something

What terrifies me is the blank page.  

For you it may the empty canvas, the silence in your head.

You may also have that other pesky fear: of not being perfect.

Your job is to put something down on paper.  Get the story, the dance, the symphony out of your head and into the world.  It will look like a mess.  

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

If you are struggling with your work, here’s a piece of advice I find helpful:

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“Procrastinate.  If at first you don’t succeed, give up immediately, move on to some other task until that becomes unbearable. Then move on again circling back around to the first problem.  By now, your subconscious will have worked on it, sort of like sleep, only cheaper.”  from Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs

There are many dreamers in the world with a work of art one alarm clock away from becoming a wonderful reality.

Set yours now.

How To Speak With No Words

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The trick to making an impact is saying NO.

NO I will not use 10 words when 1 will do.

NO I will not use words when letters will do.

NO I will not use clauses, pauses, parentheses, or participles that dangle.

NO I will not be afraid of the gaping silence at the end of my short sentence.

NO I will not use big words that sound vague and condescending.

NO I only have space to focus on 1 thing at a time.

And so will you.

How Your Morning Can Make Your Entire Day

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Unless you are a diehard morning person, you and I probably share the same feeling about getting out of bed on cold winter mornings.

Who needs that?

If you live near the ocean, the winds don’t help.

I had a particularly challenging day ahead of me which made it even harder to feel good about unfurl myself from my blankets.

This is what I did to get myself out of my morning funk and into a day that I felt really good about:

  • I got out of my car and walked on the boardwalk into the dark sand.
  • I saw the moon fading and the sun rising in the same sky.
  • I took 20 big deep breaths with my eyes closed.
  • I told myself I have everything I need to make a great big dent in the universe today.

And do you know what?

As I drove away, I believed it.

Find your own inner sea shore and sink your toes in the sand.

I guarantee your next 24 hours will feel like a day at the beach.

Meditation for Tired People

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OK, I confess.

Just because I wear yoga pants all the time doesn’t make me any more limber or enlightened than you.

Meditation is something I try to do as part of day because it does something for my state of well being.  It is one of those things you wonder why you don’t do more often.

Of course, you usually say that when you’re done doing it.

Not when you are about to do it and especially if you are too tired to get out of bed in the morning.

That is why I am such a big fan of beditation.  Meditation for tired people.

Don’t get me wrong. This is never going to take the place of true meditation.  Its only virtue is that it is a step in the right direction.

However, I believe the commitment to the process is the true journey whether you are a yogi or you simply wear yoga pants.

This is why I am not beating myself up over my meditation practice.

Which, in a nutshell is this:

Whatever I can do, I do.

Try it and see if you don’t feel just a little bit better about yourself.

 

How to Negotiate for Love

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When you first think these things in your head, you can’t imagine really saying them.

Over time, these encounters will become more and more frequent.  And so will these thoughts.

Eventually, you say it. There. It is out there and now what are you going to do?

In my experience, it is a natural thing that two people will have different interests. Two people who love each other will find a way to make it work.

And that is what love truly is.  Always being willing to give and take, compromise, negotiate, bite your tongue, bide your time, forgive and fall in love all over again.

Love means never having to say you can’t knit.