I have always struggled with imposed schedules and routines, and yet I can’t deny the mental freedom that comes from ordered living. With the birth of this new web-home I have given much thought to my working ways in the context of making a living as an artist, and feel the need to bring a bit more order to my days. I have a tendency to flit from one thing to another, rather than focus on one thing at a time, and while I do get things done (mostly) it’s generally a haphazard process.
The challenge I find is in getting the balance right between freedom and structure. Too much routine and I feel boxed in, claustrophobic and stifled, yet without any structure my productivity levels are sporadic and inconsistent. I don’t want to provide fuel to the common conception that artists live chaotic and disorganised lives punctuated with occasional creative outpourings, as the truth is that creating anything worthwhile usually involves work and a great deal of focus.
Over the years I have read about the habits of many creative folk and what is interesting is that while there is a huge variety of routines and rituals, each one had a working method that would enable them to create consistently, often prolifically. So the key is finding what works for me. Some folk are most productive in the morning while others work more efficiently in the late night hours; some have particularly detailed rituals, whether it is what they drink, eat or listen to, as well as particulars in what is worn (anything from a full suit to pyjamas).
Now in my late thirties I’m well acquainted with my preferences in terms of creaturely comforts and physical requirements for working – endless cups of green tea; silence or a film score playing quietly depending on what I’m working on; comfortable loose layers to wear; the essential accessories of multiple notebooks, pens, art materials and laptop. But I am easily distracted, get bored quickly and like lots of variety.
The conclusion that I have come to is that I must keep things as simple as possible. I know from experience that an overly detailed working plan will quickly lead to overwhelm, frustration and an increasing sense of failure. The very thought of a minute-by-minute breakdown of the coming day/week/month is enough for me to lose the will to live, yet I understand that for many folk this creates focus and a sense of control.
However I need room to breathe, think, dream. To procrastinate and ponder. To nurture creative seeds and give them space to grow into something or nothing. For this is part of the process of creative work. But for all the times of chasing ideas there must also be times of ‘blood, sweat and tears’. To live as an artist (of any feather) is indeed a privilege and a joy, but it also takes determination, grit and periods of intense focus. For it is work – serious and meaningful work – and this deserves my full attention, commitment and energy.
And so I’m in the process of creating routines that facilitate my ability to work well without hampering my creativity. A few of the things I’m committing to are a minimum of one blog post and a dedicated admin day every week as well as one full day off every weekend (I’m a firm believer in the need for regular, guilt-free rest). A simple structure to begin with certainly but there’s a lot of room for development. I will let you know how I get on, here and on Twitter, and I hope that you’ll also let me know what works (or not) for you.
Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work
If you are interested in the daily habits of famous creatives have a look at Daily Routines: How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days
A note about the artwork:
The artwork on this post is a small (3″ x 3″) portrait of a Raven, one of my favourite birds. As nature and wildlife are great teachers on the subject of ordered living – and this painting emerged on a dark, rainy afternoon while pondering the contents of this post – I thought it a fitting illustration.
A small aside:
Thank you to all those who sent well wishes, warm words and thoughts on this new web-nest of mine – they were greatly appreciated.