I want to emphasize before I describe my "secrets" that this is what works for me. You may hate my suggestions and find that starting the day with 3 hours of yoga or rewarding yourself with gin or employing two nannies is the way to go for you.
For those of you who don't know me, here is my life: I'm a full-time, professional artist making a 5 digit salary that I'm not going to reveal on the world wide web. I have a cop husband who works full time evening shifts and two small children under the age of 3. I also have two cats, one which does not bury her poo in the litter box and one who is criminally insane. I have two dogs (more on this later). So my life is busy, basically. I also am a musician and an aspiring novelist and so time must be made for playing music and writing.
All right, that aside. First of all, I want to say that the most important element of the equation is my mind-set. I was not always a chipper, productive Maggie. In fact, before 2006, I was constantly griping that I could make a full time living at my art if I only had time. But who has time with two toddlers and everything mentioned above? My husband pointed out that if I took all the times I was griping and all the brief times I had during the day and smashed them together, I wasn't completely without time. I have found this to be true again and again. When someone tells me they don't have time to do something, I don't believe them - I believe they don't have the motivation yet to do whatever that something is. If you want something, you make time.
Which brings us to inspirational lesson number two. Set goals. I'm a very goal oriented person. I don't have to know how I'm getting somewhere, but I do want to know where I'm going and about how long it will take me to get there. And subconsciously, if you make a very specific goal, you'll change your habits to make it happen. This really works. It's not just psycho-babble. It's been proven time and again. I have great, ambitious New Years Resolutions. They read like a megalomaniac's diary.
When I say that I set goals, I mean I set a lot of them. Every morning while I eat breakfast (not a big fan of breakfast foods - sometimes it's cookie dough I end up eating) I contemplate what I want to accomplish that day. You can definitely tell the days when I haven't made a definite plan. You wanna sample set of goals? Yesterday, my goals were:
1) finish one 6 x 6" painting for eBay
2) send off two more query letters for my novel
3) work some on my large commission portrait
4) get the kids up earlier than usual from their naps and do something really entertaining with them like playdoh
5) make something with that sausage in the fridge before it goes bad
Sound mundane? Yeah - but managable. And if I don't add something to that list, I guarantee it won't get done. For instance, I had thought about calling my grandmother yesterday but forgot. I made it a goal for today and we had a great long chat. Also I'd like to point out again that the more specific the goals, the easier it is to accomplish them. For instance, #3 was very non-specific. "Work some" turned into 10 minutes of diddling around on the paper before finding something better to do. Today I made the goal "finish the shoulder" and I did just that.
Okay, by now you guys are all saying, "That's great, but it doesn't change the fact that I have maybe 1 hour a day to myself and the rest is for everyone else." Right? Yes, I am a mind-reader as well. Well, first of all, you have to learn to watch how you're spending your time. I'm a great procrastinator. I'm a great time waster. For instance, instead of writing this blog post, I spent 42 minutes reading this really great thread that Dianna Ponting is writing on how to use pastels. (Here's the link so you can waste the time too.) Now, don't protest. Look at the following list and put a mental check by everything you do:
- write e-mails
- talk on the phone
- watch tv in the evening
- sit on the couch trying to work up the nerve to get going
- cleaning up
- getting dressed/ ready to go
- playing solitaire
- surfing on the web
- reading my blog
- getting your art supplies ready to go
All of you with children know that you can't do art or write novels or anything introspective while they're wide awake, so that's what the "empty hours" are for. Don't use this time for anything else. There are things you can do on the list above while your children are awake and wild. For instance, I encourage my toddlers to help me while I clean up the kitchen and do a load of laundry, and I have special toys that I only let them have while I'm writing e-mails in the morning. I get the things done that don't require creativity while they're awake. Including them in the process means that they aren't sticking pens in outlets while I'm doing chores and plus they get to gloat over every "good job!" they get. Really works. Two year olds can flip pancakes with your help and one year olds are actually very good at putting dish detergent into the dishwasher and closing it up for you. Oh, and I like to make lunch for the next day at dinner time, because morning's can be hairy and lunchtime even hairier. And yes, I love to cook and eat so I don't think scrimping on making a good lunch and dinner is a time-saving option. Depending on your lifestyle, you may think otherwise.
Okay, onto those "empty hours." The art hours. The real key is focusing during this time. I already know when I sit down that I have about 4 hours to get my art goals done in a day. First, I establish which of my art goals I need to be more alert for - which is more difficult. That gets done over lunch, after I've had my single glass of caffeinated beverage for the day. I usually give myself a plush easy job for the evening, and I'll usually drink a cup of tea with some sugar in it to keep my blood sugar even while I work. While I'm painting or drawing, I don't consider between pencil strokes or brush strokes. I work very intuitively now, and if I make an error, I'd rather quickly paint or work over it then agonize over a piece. I do a lot of preliminary sketches for pieces I think will be squirrely, and that takes out a lot of guesswork in the finished piece. This is where it's so important to have work goals for the day. I HAVE to have goals for the day or I spend the time fooling about on various art websites or googling my name or something stupid like that. Or making myself tea or switching the laundry or something I can pretend is useful but is really just avoidance.
Another thing I have to do is reward myself. Let's say I'm dying for cookie dough. Well, I can't just have it. I tell myself that I have to do such and such amount of work before I go make cookie dough. Or say I want to change CDs (I always, always, always work with music in the background - it helps focus me). I'm not allowed to get up from my desk and riffle through my CDs until I've finished such and such. Because this busywork will eat up my time.
I also schedule my week. If I didn't do this, I would never get time to write or play my harp. On Friday nights and Sunday during my "empty hours," I write on whatever project I'm currently working on. It doesn't sound like much time to complete a novel, but throughout the week I'm always thinking about what I'm going to be writing next, especially when I'm driving or in the shower, and so when I sit down at the computer, I can be efficient. I write the same way I paint - fast, with no self-editing until later when I go back over it. I also schedule time off. This is often based on television shows, because I'm shallow. For instance, for a long time Wednesday evenings were time off because America's Next Top Model (a horrible vapid show I can't seem to stop watching) and Top Chef came on. And when my husband is home in the evenings, I try and get my work done before 9 so I can join him for a movie or watching a Scrubs marathon. Sometimes he'll come down and read the paper or a magazine in my studio while I write or paint so we can feel like we're together though I'm working. You can accomplish the same thing by bringing your art into the living room and working on it while watching a movie.
Now, the hard part. Discipline. You thought what I just wrote was discipline? No. Well, not like the next bit. Discipline is choosing my battles wisely. This is sort of like Thanksgiving dinner when you could make mashed potatoes from scratch or use flakes, and your pride tells you to spend the time to make it from scratch even though your non-picky relatives wouldn't notice the difference. If you're a hobbyist, fine, go with your principles and your pride. If you're a business person and the flakes make sense, for crying out loud, don't spend the time peeling potatoes if the outcome is the same.
My example for the week? We recently acquired a new dog, Bailey, on a trial basis, and were charmed by him. Great personality but it turned out because of a previous owner, he howls all night and has a great passion for making pee spots on our white carpet. Before I started working for myself, I would've seen it as a challenge and taken the time to retrain him and make it work. But now, as a business person, I weighed the pros and cons and found there was no sense to keeping him so long as the breeder would take him back (and she would). Yes, my pride wanted very badly to retrain him, especially since I'd told everyone in the world I'd gotten this new cute dog. But I wasn't emotionally attached yet and he was robbing time from my other projects. Not a battle that needed to be fought right now. It was harder than I thought to decide it. You all probably don't have small, evil dogs with bad habits tempting you to spend time on them, but you can probably think of a parallel in your life - be it that yoga class you go to only because the neighbors have goaded you or the lunch party you're going to only because your sister's going. I have to decide if I want something because I want it or because my pride or ego is encouraging me to. Sometimes it takes a lot of deep digging in my strange and fascinating brain to find my real motives - I hide them even from myself sometimes.
And finally, I have to say that I have a wonderful, supportive husband who believes in me and all of my bizarre habits. On his days off, he helps to watch the kids so I can eek out more productive hours in the day, and he bunts me into action if I'm wasting time in some sort of avoidance activity. If your spouse is not supportive, get another one. Ha, you think I'm joking. I'm serious. If becoming an artist full time is important to you, your spouse should respect that priority and make it a priority themselves. Of course you have to reciprocate. It's about respect. This doesn't mean they have to like your work or think art in general is wonderful. But they have to understand you need time and sometimes it'll be leftovers for dinner. If they pack your car for art shows and hand out your business cards to complete strangers like mine does, it's a plus.
This post turned out wordier than I expected, but I hope it's helpful. If nothing else, I hope it convinces you that you can do it, whatever it is. I'm a 25 year old with a degree in British history, turned down by the college art department, and I'm making my living from my art. I'm not the best artist in the world and I've seen other artists far better making far less. The only thing that makes me any different from anybody else is that I tried and believed I could do it. Not amazing talent. Not superpowers. Not a mean potato salad (though I do make a great one). If that doesn't inspire you, well, man, you need some cookie dough.