What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “working artist?”
Maybe you think of a musky Bukowski hunched over a typewriter with a cigarette burning to a nub an overflowing ashtray to his right.
Maybe you think about Picasso in his famous striped shirt, leisurely taking brush to canvas, stopping every now and then to take a long drag and contemplate life. (I don’t know if Picasso smoked; I imagine all artists in the 20th century as smokers.)
Whatever you think of, you probably don’t picture someone who looks just like you making notations in a day-planner, writing long-term plans, checking a to-do list, and then scheduling time to create. That is, scheduling time to work.
Most of us have an uber romanticized idea of what it means to be an artist. And working artists? Well, they just happen to be the lucky few who have stumbled upon a regular gig, an agent who does her job, or a benefactor.
So, that may be true for some. But most working artists work. They do their thing EVERY DAY.
The notion that we should just sit and wait for inspiration to strike us before we do anything is pure fallacy. I don’t believe that the good stuff just appears like snake eyes. I don’t believe that brilliance only happens when I’m using my lucky pen, wearing my pink panties, and drinking good coffee.
I won’t gamble on my art. Will you?
Here’s the thing, we do not have to wait for inspiration before we can create.
I know. Crazy, right?
It’s true. “Waiting for inspiration” is just an excuse born out of fear.
That artist who wanders the streets of Manhattan waiting for inspiration to strike before he pulls out his mole skin, only to jot down a few ideas that he’ll get to later, is a hot mess. That guy can barely pay his rent. He doesn’t tip on that “good cup of coffee” that he MUST drink in order to create anything worth anything. And you want to know the deep down, dirty truth? That guy is sacred shitless of his potential. His fear of falling short of amazing prevents him from being pretty good. It prevents him from being a working artist.
I want to burst your bubble. I want to totally tear down that romanticized idea of what an artist is. I want to grab you by the shoulders, turn you around to face a mirror, and tell you that an artist is you.
Do you salivate at the thought of a bestseller, a solo exhibit, a Broadway opening? Whatever you dream of is totally possible. But only if you DO THE WORK.
Being an artist is really not too different than other, more traditional jobs. A lawyer, for example, must show up to work at a particular time, must check his scheduled meetings, must do research, and then must actually show up in court.
An artist…wait, scratch that. A working artist must do the same. Except instead of showing up in court they show up at the page, on stage, in the studio. They keep a tight schedule and they show up every day.That is, they WORK EVERY DAY.
Stephen King said,
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
Ouch! If you’ve been the kind of artist who is waiting that might have stung just a bit. But you know deep down he’s right. He’s totally right.
With me so far? Okay, if you haven’t been taking your art seriously and haven’t been showing up to work, here’s how to start.
Set a Goal
What on earth is it that you want to do? Maybe you want to do a lot of things. That’s great! Just choose one and let’s go with it.
Now ask yourself what steps you need to take to meet that goal? Write them all down. Your goal may be the kind that takes years to curate. Or maybe you’ll be halfway there in a couple of months. Either way, stay clear on what your ultimate goal is. This is your guiding light!
Break Down the Steps
Break all those steps down into small tasks. They will become your to-dos on a daily basis. If a step is too big to accomplish in a day, break it down even more. If you don’t already have a day planner or a smartphone app that can keep you organized, get one. I use an old school planner that I can write in because I get a thrill from checking things off a list.
Plan Your Attack
Now look at your calendar and plug those tasks in around all the other stuff you have to do. If you have a job that is unrelated to your art, get ready, because … POOF! Now you have two jobs. And of course, your calendar will reflect social obligations, errands, self-care, and all kinds of other things you’ve got on your plate. Plan around this stuff. Some days will be busier than others – maybe you’ll only be able to devote an hour to a project on weekdays. But come the weekend, you can carve out bigger blocks of time so you can really dive in.
Pick one day of the week when you will look ahead seven days and plan your attack. Sunday evenings or Monday mornings are great for this. Then review your to-dos DAILY. It’s okay if you need to make adjustments as you go. The most important thing is that you are always showing up for work.
I hope this post gives you a little direction and inspiration. I adore wandering artists. They are cute, just like puppies. But all puppies must grow up eventually.
Have a different system that helps you be a working artist? Please share in the comments below.
PS I highly recommend King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s required reading if your art is of the pen.
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