Juggling act

I have a sore index finger on my left hand, which is making a’s and e’s a bit of an effort tonight.  That’s an advance apology for typos.

I’m looking for you guys to share your practical advice on the juggling act of a creative life and paid work.

I have been thinking today (and, to be honest, for many ,many moons, stretching back to when I was 17, which was a loooong time ago) about the juggling act of working and creating.  That (that “that” took me three goes.  Poor finger) sounds a bit pompous, so I’ll try again.  The balancing act that many of us go through to do our creative endeavours on the side (notice I don’t call them “work,” because I am deeply superstitious that if I call my creative stuff “work,” I will suddenly become productivity-driven and pump out twenty meaningless chapters before realising it’s all disingeuous tripe.  It’s happened before) and manage paid work, even a career, on the other side.

I know about a billion people who find themselves in this position.  Some would like to do their creative pursuits full-time, others are quite happy with doing them on the side.  Me, I am quite happy doing them part-time at the moment, because if I was to go full-time writing, I think I would cave in under the sudden pressure to make my writing “succeed” in a more traditional, income-generating sense.  I have a game plan which is to work towards 100% income from creative work, but it is going to be a gradual, staged process, and it does wonders for my insecure mind to know that I am progressing my non-creative career at the same time as my creative one at present, and will not be under any pressure to switch 100% to the creative one until I have proven it can pull in some bucks.  I’m not dreaming of big bucks, (OK sometimes I am), but really just enough for the basics, from doing what I love.  That would be awesome.  But I know myself well enough from past attempts at going into free-fall (ie supporting my creative pursuits solely through meaningless casual work or savings) that my brain runs and hides from the scariness, and I need a “real” job to trick myself into the relaxed, open frame of mind to write.

I have tried  at least twice before to totally quit a “real” career and just write.  The first time, I wanted to write a non-fiction book about happiness.  I had written an opinion editorial, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and which a publisher was interested in seeing a book proposal for.  I spent three months trying to write.  My friends always laugh to hear that I got really depressed in the process (not because they are mean, but just because of the irony).  I couldn’t do it!  I couldn’t write!  I went back to part-time work and have stayed in part-time work ever since.  That’s the book I like to say I had to not write.  

Two years later I gave it another shot.  I had just been offered a promotion at my work, and that freaked me out sufficiently to send me sprinting from Canberra to Melbourne, quitting my job and enrolling at the last minute in a digital media course to kick-start my filmmaking career.  I made two documentaries, and almost had another nervous breakdown.  It was the pressure to succeed creatively that did it.  After nine months of casual work and telling myself I was OK, I finally let go of the bohemian ideal got a “real” job, one which was progressing my other, public service career, and felt much better.  The pains in my stomach disappeared.  I lost 10 kilos (in a healthy way, not from stress).  

I still work part-time, in a different city again (Sydney – that’s another story).  I still write (obviously). 

I am curious – more than curious – how others do it?  How do you guys view your creative lives, and how do you conduct the balancing act: at a practical, day-to-day level, in your heads, and in your hearts, that allows you to do what you need to do, to “follow your bliss” (as my fiance calls it)?  It would be great if we could share our insights and practical tips about this.

I’d say my top three tips are:

1. You don’t have to be a bohemian risk-taker and throw away your other career in order to be a creative artist.  You just have to do what keeps your mind and heart open and secure enough to do your thing.

2.  It’s important to remain absolutely focused.  Things which look like they might be on the right track can be deceptively close to what you want to do, but still aren’t.  For me, a good example would have been to do a short story collection for the publisher, when all I really wanted was to do Mr Middleton as an illustrated book and focus on writing my novel. It looked and smelt like it was on the right track to writing as a full-time job, but it would have betrayed where my creative mojo was at, and that is your most valuable asset in the creative journey.

3.  Emotional and mental space is just as important as physical space and time.  My “real” job in Melbourne got to be so busy and all-consuming, that even though I had one day off a week (Fridays), I was so exhausted and worries that I couldn’t do my art.  Now I have to be very strict with myself, to the point of trying to limit my after-work conversation about work to a minimum of the first hour after getting home.  Otherwise it sits in your brain and takes over the network.

You can email me on jackie@thosecreativetypes.com or comment below.  To see an article I wrote about this for Online Opinion, click here.  To read the article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, click here.

9 thoughts on “Juggling act

  1. Hello! I found (and love) your blog through Eat Tori who is a friend of mine.

    I think there will always be, for those of us who like to write or create things, a tension between making money either from that passion or in a ‘day job’. So I certainly don’t profess to have the answer (!) but two tips of mine would be:

    -Dream as if money and practicalities were no object. I truly believe that if you want to achieve something (a novel, am art exhibit etc) you have to trust that you could be able to do it. Too often we reason out (and shy away from) success. Sorry – a bit carpe diem, but I think it’s true.

    -Discipline yourself as if you were in the army! Creative play (not work!) sounds fun, but it’s super hard. So beat it back with a stick and promise to meet its challenge.

    I love this – might provide some inspiration? (I haven’t read her book…)


  2. Hi Kate,
    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I think you are 100% right about your tips. I remember my Swiss-German Honours supervisor letting me waffle on about my ideas, and allow me total latitude to dream up whatever I liked, for the first twenty minutes of our meeting, Then he would remind me (over a ceramic cup of green tea – he was a bit of a Zen-ophile), gently but firmly, to write; write a chapter, get it on paper, and get it to him. He was an academic of political studies, but he was also a published poet, and he had the Germanic discipline thing down pat. But tell me, what’s your creative jag?

  3. Kate, we just listened to the speech you linked to by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was beautiful. What a fabulous speaker she is! I have read her book, “eat pray love,” which is a lot about the theme she speaks of – listening to god’s voice in your life, as the “creative voice” – letting go of some of the focus on the individual as the centre of all things. It reminds me of a passage in Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer ( think that’s the one), when he writes about the feeling he has, as an American, that there is a feeling everyone shares that you can do anything, and therefore you could be President of the USA, so you must carry with you a perennial sense of failure if you are not. He compared this to the French sense of just going about your life, and if you are a baker, you are a baker and do not need to feel inadequate. Similar also to Alain de Botton’s book, Status Anxiety, in which he talks about how we all feel inadequate because we have learned that we should be able to be the absolute best and therefore it is our own fault if we are not (I interviewed him for ArtLook a few years ago, when I was doing my happiness project. He also had some good advice: forget about what everyone else has said on a subject, and write about the bit you care about.)

  4. Thanks Fee. The contractualisation of the workforce…at least I feel better about my own situation. But what about you – have you got any insights, either from your own experiences or those of others, that you can share about how to juggle the two halves of the orange?

  5. I have to push myself to create – this can be a small mental torture in and of itself. I want to paint, or I want to write, but I don’t want to… it’s the classic head over heart thing. Having had more time on my hands than ever before in the last 2 years, i’ve tried to kill off my hesitation to create, and i must say i’ve made some progress! It’s nice. Really nice.

    That said, i think i’m yet to struggle with two halves of the orange question. Although i think that, like you, i’d implode without some connection to the ‘proper’ working world. A bohemian money-earning thang would drive me a little batty. I like having a bit of career meat on the bones; for the intellectual stimulation, not the money.

  6. Yay for you, Ms Warthog! I think you raise an interesting point here too – the question of intellectual stimulation from work compared to creative work/play. I certainly use my brain in a different way in my research job, and over the last couple of years, have tried to inject some of the creative process into the paid job too, for more innovative outcomes, which seems to have worked. i know when I tried quitting my job a couple of times in the past, I would feel immediately isolated, not just from people, but from ideas…i guess a more focused creative income/life would also mean having to replace, not just the money and the status of a job, but also the network and brain food.

  7. Pingback: Tips for juggling creativity and work: part 1 | those creative types

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