Making Time for Creative Work
In a world where our time and attention are continually mined as a resource, reclaiming your focus and directing it towards creative work is nothing short of a revolution. But if you’re anything like me, devoting time to your creative work is an ongoing process with perpetually shifting seasons. Some months, you might be on a roll and fall into a nice, smoooooth rhythm: making art before breakfast, chores after dinner, plotting revenge plus resting on the weekend. In my busy bee era, an entire year could fly by with plenty of creative gigs (and all the admin work that they bring)—but seemingly no time left over for a personal, creative practice.
The “how do I make time for art” question has plagued artists as long as our profession has existed. I like to imagine a cave painter explaining to their spouse that no, they can’t join for berry picking today because the big moose mural Jerry commissioned is sooo behind. If I could sit down with them today and chat about our shared, eternal struggle, I think the conversation would go something like this:
why is it hard?
Not to take the easy way out here, but no one can answer this question but you, dear reader. For example, if you’re a new parent, making time for creative work may be difficult thanks to plain ol’ sleep deprivation. But if you’re an emerging artist, without a small human relying on you for survival, the banana peel in your path might be that you haven’t set up a sustainable work-life-art balancing act yet.
That said, in my short time wandering this earth, I have noticed some universal, sneaky sentiments that can keep artists from making art:
- The “Everything Else Comes First” Moat
Just like a moat around a castle, the belief that “everything else takes priority” can keep me busy treading water—without making any progress towards my goal of a vibrant, committed artistic practice. A solid first step is simply noticing that you’re in the moat : ) Crawling out might take some helping hands, so be sure to hit up a fellow artist to let them know you’re stuck in neutral. We’ve all been there.
- The “I Should Be” Wall
Once you get past the moat, another obstacle may loom over your path: the “I should be” wall. Instead of letting our creative selves exercise their agency and curiosity, we often approach creative time with expectations of what kind of work we should be working on, how much time we should spend on it, or what the final product should look like. Gaining traction in your work is nearly impossible when your creative self is carrying all these unspoken and unrealistic sentiments on their back. Noticing these beliefs is the first step to gently, slowly unshouldering them.
Here’s my current, personal banana peel: my day-to-day work at Fractured Atlas is both concrete and creative—so the prospect of devoting time to my visual creative practice with no guaranteed, tangible results is daunting. Let’s call it the “Fear of Unknown Outcome” Cliff. I might need someone to give me a friendly push : )
it’s so important though…
Making time for creative work is incredibly important, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Sure, your art simply won’t exist unless you take the time to create it (shocking, I know). But what matters most is your actual experience of this creative time, not just the tangible outcomes from it. Here is a small selection of experiences I’ve had making art, that I can’t get anywhere else:
how do I make it sustainable?
If time is a finite resource, and every part of your life is competing for a slice of the cake, how can you cultivate sustainable, creative habits? To say nothing of the companies vying for your attention and the extractive workplaces leaving you burnt to a crisp at the end of your shift. Let me be clear: this is not easy work. But the stakes are high, so here are some of my current favorite tools for taking a stand and carving out time for art making:
- the “No thanks” Goggles:
When I started wearing “no thanks” goggles, I discovered that I have more time than I think. The financial precarity of the arts encourages creative workers to say yes to every opportunity. With your new goggles, you can start discerning between work you could do, and work you actively want to do.
- the Simplicity Saw:
If you wait for the perfect time to work on art, the time will never come. The magic of the Simplicity Saw is that it helps artists cut to the chase and get to work, by breaking creative time into bite size pieces. For example, instead of expecting to spend two straight hours in the dance studio, try dancing in the elevator on your way to work. Scrolling Insta on the toilet? Try setting a timer, and working on your screenplay for just five minutes. Devoting time to art doesn’t look one single way—it’s whatever works in your life, right now.
- the New Thing Level:
If your medium of choice is starting to feel heavy with expectations, and you catch yourself expecting tangible progress every time you’re in the studio, you might need some rebalancing with the New Thing Level. Playing around with an art form you’ve never tried before encourages having fun, making mistakes, and going with the flow. In my own life, this has looked like making some exquisitely crude watercolor paintings, instead of getting down on myself for not making progress with sculpture. Where would you go, if you let yourself go off the path?
forgetting & reminding
Sometimes I forget that I’m an artist. As other parts of my life begin taking up more space and time, some sharp elbows get thrown and the most creative parts of me take a back seat. Whether I’m immersed in work, family, side gigs, or a murky yellow wind carrying wildfire smoke to the sea (cough cough), finding time for art making takes intentionality, commitment, and some real bravery. But every time I return to a more regular creative practice, I’m reminded that it never left—it’s been right here, waiting for me.
About Vicky Blume
Vicky Blume is an arts worker based in New Haven, Connecticut. After moving to the city to study art and psychology at Yale, Blume lit up communications for a contemporary art gallery and a community art school. Most recently, she served as Creative-in-Residence at the New Haven Free Public Library's Tinker Lab. In her artistic practice, Blume builds interactive websites, animations, and installations that offer calming and consensual alternatives to the Attention Economy. At home, she is passionate about her houseplants but struggles to care for more sensitive plants. She aspires to create a home environment where every houseplant can thrive.