There is a long, quite demanding, dayjob project that begins on Friday. This week has been broken up with hours allotted for its preparation.
But since October I have been learning, finally, the better tricks to protect my creative practice. I slip and flounder from time to time but it helps a lot to know that there are invisible hands ready to pull me back.
One trick is to match project with project. It seems obvious but often I treat creative work as a formless, over-flexible, open-ended task compared to the structured, defined, purposive design of a dayjob project. No wonder the latter can easily run over and overwhelm the former with its sharp edges and hard bullet points of objectives.
In other words I need to give some "structure" as well to my creative work. Nothing formal or constricting to the natural flow and rhythm of creativity, but something that will direct and steer the practice towards tangible output, and then applying some level of target "quality" to that output. This is probably something that applies to someone who has been working on a creative practice for a bit of time, someone who has already gained a clear understanding and acceptance that a creative practice is essential to his or her daily life. Also someone who has a good inkling of the types of creative work he or she wants to pursue or explore.
I discovered that when I define my creative work into "projects", I am better able to finish something. I am able to make a concrete list of actions and tasks that I can tick off at the end of a day and feel satisfied about. It does not matter if it is a small task such as "prime the canvas" or "paint the background" or "refill the paint palette". When I look at my list I see my creative practice getting done side-by-side with dayjob duty. It is not pushed aside or postponed, or de-prioritised.
The overall goal in defining the creative project is to have clear pockets of action that I can jump into given the time available to me. I have more than one creative project defined so there is always something that I can do real work on. (The time when I come up with ideas and inspiration and refill my creative well is a separate activity in itself and I find that for me, it is not the best counterbalance to dayjob work -- I will write about this in another post.)
Creative Project #1:
I am going to make paintings on these small circles of canvas -- I used 5-inch diameter embroidery hoops as frames.
The idea is a word that inspires or triggers a positive action or thought, set against a brightly patterned background. I started with "believe".
Next I'm thinking "create", "love", "become"...
Each finished piece goes into the "exhibit line" -- this project contributes to a bigger project of building up the pieces for my creative exhibit which I plan to realise next year.
Creative Project #2:
To practice both my calligraphy and poem-writing, I picked up on this random practice of doing both on small square pieces of memo pad. Now from random I decided to turn it into a proper practice.
The finished pieces can then feed bigger projects: transforming them into bigger calligraphy painting pieces, or making them part of a poetry book collection --- oh wait, what about greeting or message cards, as certain lovely ladies have suggested?
Notice that these projects are generally small-scale -- with tasks broken down and doable in fifteen to twenty minutes (making the time is a basic assumption here -- when one commits to a creative life one commits to making time even if it is only fifteen minutes). Convenient enough to slip in during dayjob work breaks (like when I am writing reports). These are the creative projects I have currently defined to match against upcoming dayjob work. I will continue to design new ones so I can have options while maintaining forward movement.
These projects are supplemented by a daily-page practice which serves as an additional anchor into creativity. I will post my tricks for that next.
It is Monday and I woke up feeling well. I was in bed early last night because I still get tired easily from the week-long overtime work. But I got eight hours of sleep so I'm good.
Started off the very early morning (6-ish) with coffee and going through my idea book for what to draw and paint. Then I did emails, and monthly transactions for the accountant, and other small but necessary steps to get quite a number of things moving in one direction or another.
By 9:45AM I was leaving the house for a morning meeting (dayjob work), and it lasted until lunch. I had lunch in the same cafe where the meeting was and I stayed on for a couple more hours to sketch. I completed three new sketches for painting later on.
I also dug out older drawings that I never got the chance to paint when the dayjob projects started to move.
I am not entirely certain what I am rushing towards but I have that tiny core of ripe urgency inside me that is telling me to paint, paint, paint, and to have a body of work ready.
Ready for what? There is the Watercolour Fair on Saturday for which I have much less than I need to fully prepare for. There is the budding idea in my head of just setting up my own small art sale online and at a cafe one Saturday in early December. There is the magical chance that someone, somehow, shows up and asks to either buy all of my paintings (at a very good price) or feature them in an exhibit that will put them on demand (well, one can dream).
But the point is, none of those will happen if there are no paintings to show on hand. New ones. Bigger ones. Continuing to push the known borders of my imagined subjects and their worlds.
So I just listen to that inner song and paint. Show up in front of the canvas or paper. Show up. See. Create.
Poor sleep last night because I have been worrying too much. I'm currently engaged in a day-job project that is on an extremely rushed schedule and I am working with another supplier for the first time. I have no previous reference on how reliable the supplier is on projects like this one. With the time constraints, there is very little room, if any at all, to remedy any failures. I can only hope and pray to the gods.
Meanwhile I am plotting out my own side of the work -- calculating and allotting hours from now until the 6th of November when the project will be concluded. The important thing is to ensure that there will still be creative hours, and that there will be enough mental and physical energy to make use of those hours productively.
I make a big deal of the hours because I have come to the point when missing out on creative practice for any period of time brings on a kind of depression, lethargy, and overall demotivation from life. I also suffer from an unpredictable standstill state that puts on hold any forward progress on my creative journey.
How do I make it work?
I try to keep Mondays as light and free as possible. A heavy Monday can set a heavy mood for the rest of the week. Today I have made a list of very specific small tasks that will keep my day-job projects moving but without eating up too much creative time. I also use the "timespace" to get a feel of how the week will likely flow -- slowing my Monday allows me to gain a proper perspective on the workload. It is difficult to do this when I start Monday rushing around. I have to set the pace today, and I have to start it the moment I get up from bed.
Monday mornings therefore are rituals of transition from the weekend to the working week. Coffee and daily pages. Mind-sweeping with my Wunderlist. Updating my planner. Emails are checked only after I have felt myself settle into the day (usually between 9-10AM). By then I have better control of my thoughts and emotions, and I am less likely to be affected by the urgencies of everyone else. I would have established for myself a solid stance for the day, and thus for the rest of the week.
One thing I learned (the long hard way) when I started working freelance is that the world will not fall apart if I take my time to do things with more care. It sounds easy, obvious, and sensible but I came from a lifestyle and mindset that valued now, now, now no matter what. But these days I will not compromise the quality of my work nor the quality of my life on any project that will not respect the time needed to do things with care (or respect the time I need to take care of myself while I do the work). So far, I still have clients who are willing to work with my terms so I must not be wholly unreasonable.
There are regressions and failures from time to time, when old work habits take over and wreak havoc. The recovery time I need afterwards is too high a price to pay. But I have been getting better at managing my time between creative work and day-job work but it has been a very, very long process. Unlearning and learning. Trials and tests. Experiments. Occasional trips back to square one. This last quarter of the year is one big test as I juggle two day-job projects before the year ends, simultaneous with creative commitments : October Creativity Bootcamp, NaNoWriMo, the Watercolour Art Fair, commission works, and keeping the website alive and active. If I succeed without descending into the usual depths of hell then I may have finally cracked my formula for 2016.
Wish me luck.