6 Tips for Living the Creative Life

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
I apologize about the lack of a blog this past Sunday- with the oncoming holiday and big shuffles in the professional and personal worlds, I needed to step back for a bit and address some other stuff.

It’s hard to decide what I dislike more- days when I don’t write, or days when I don’t feel like I write enough/ well.

In the end, no matter what it is or how much, the important thing is doing it- whatever you do.

As I write this, my wife and cat are taking a nap. Sitting at my computer, I am surrounded by the spoor of an ideally-productive life.
The evidence of decisions to be made, and decisions already made. My tea has gone cold because I decided to get some of that taken care of first before actually writing.

The problem with trying to do creative work- art, writing, music, recording, etc.- is that it’s work… that doesn’t always feel like work. Other things feel more pressing and important, and so demand priority simply because they feel more “like work.”

Eventually, however, you DO get down to the business of creating. You finish a commission. I put a few paragraphs into my book, write a blog post, or do a video.

Depending on how you manage to structure your work and how you make a living off of it, finishing things can be immediately rewarding (“I finished my commission/ freelance, and I got paid.”) or it might be a labor of love for the time being, and powered by hope (“Once I publish this book, I’ll get paid.”)

Regardless, it’s still the matter- always the matter, really- of just showing up. Not necessarily thinking about the finish line or even the paycheck at the end, but the work itself. Neither of those other things is possible if the work doesn’t get done- and being creative is WORK.

Doing Your Duty

Despite my own skepticism about the concept, I did wind up making something like a “vision board” for myself. It doesn’t exactly consist of visualizations of my goals, though. It’s more of a cluster of inspirations and reminders for myself.

Most of the stuff up there is about getting the work done. Not against procrastination, really- but more about the lack of excuses for losing hope:

Why yes, I have mentioned some of these before.

I think this is a conflict a lot of people who choose a creative life deal with:

  • The desire to create something.
  • The feeling that your creation is not “worthy”- (i.e. more important stuff you should be doing)
  • The conflation of what you love with “work”- (i.e. fear of losing passion)

it all adds up to stagnation. Repressed creativity, a lost joy in life, AND a feeling of failure.

In the last few weeks, I have definitely felt it.

As I sit here, watching the clock for when I absolutely MUST get in the shower to catch the bus to my restaurant job, and my wife sleeping in during her Thanksgiving break, I still find myself creating though.

​I can’t BUT keep writing.

No one chooses to make a living creating things because they want to slack off.
No one chooses it because they’re looking for an easy life.

We pick an artistic life because we choose to live on terms we decide, not those dictated to us.
We want to live making the things that ONLY we can- and that will ONLY EVER come from us.

It is hard. It is frightening, sometimes. The fear of failure, losing faith in yourself and your abilities is an absolute constant. It’s lonely as hell too- invariably, you spend a lot of time alone, usually with only your own mind for company.

Successful or not, though- slow build-up or immediate payoff- creative people are some of the finest, strongest, ballsiest, and most loving people I know. Every one of them has their own reasons for what they create and why.

The other day, I got a pretty amazing revelation- in one form or another, I have been The Black Hat Baker for seven years. 
This blog is VERY different from the under-the-table bakery I started running out of my home kitchen- but whether it’s been baking pies, decorating cakes, or putting words on a page, the single most challenging part has always been just showing up. What precisely that consists of, however, has varied quite a bit.

Commuting At Home

One of the best-but-problematic things about writing is that you can do it anywhere.
Previously I enjoyed writing my blog entries almost exclusively at bars and cafes– the thrill of activity around me, casual people-watching, and none of the distractions in my home.

Unfortunately, going out that often can get expensive, and sometimes that very activity can prove distracting. I’ve sometimes lost entire nights I intended for writing because I got caught up in conversation at places where I’d become a regular.

As of late, then, I’ve been looking for less-expensive, slightly more isolating methodologies to help me be productive. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of advice/ “lifehacks” for improving your concentration.

Here are some of the things that I’ve tried thus far:

1. Creating A Space


I love being able to write from nearly anywhere, but when I stay at home, having a specific space for work is crucial. Reserve a space for getting your work done as much as possible. Mine also comes with snacks (so I don’t need to get up) and the space heater parked next to me.

​2. Rituals


Have specific objects or behaviors around that you ONLY use when you work. Specific music that you put on, specific clothing you wear- something that will tell you “I’m doing this, therefore I’m working. In my case, I tend to listen to lo-fi hip hop and trip hop only when I write, and I have my special “writing mug.” I’m drinking out of it- therefore, I am meant to be writing.
Alternatively, if you like working away from home, try having one place you ONLY go to to work. Sitting in/near the same place each day can help to. It’s like “going to the office-” but it has beer and/or muffins.

3. Keeping Time

​You’ve made time to create- now KEEP IT. Create a schedule, or a scheduled time each day that you set aside to work, and MAINTAIN it. Set deadlines for yourself, too. Yes, I say this fully aware I have just violated mine and that this blog is a week late- but I’m not going to make a habit of it.

On individual days, I use the “Pomodoro timer” technique to help my productivity. The human mind’s natural habit is to wander, and extended periods of focusing can lead to fatigue. The idea of the Pomodoro technique is that you focus for a set number of minutes, after which you get a short break. I go with 25 minutes work, 5 minute break.
During the break, play a game, or stretch, or get a snack. Then back to it for another round. Every 4 work rounds you complete, you get a longer break (say, 20 minutes.) You can use a simple kitchen timer and pen and paper to do it, or there are plenty of apps for computers and mobile devices that do the same thing, paid and free.

4. Cave Time Tech

Not long ago, I read about a group of people who organize “cave days” for folks that want to be more productive- essentially, hosting time in an apartment where all unnecessary tech is forbidden, necessary tech is in “Do not disturb” mode.

If your work involves using technology, then you have a unique problem- the very tools you use to work can distract you. While I’m trying to write on my iPad, that’s also where I keep games I like, books I read, answer email, check social media, etc.

Since I’ve gotten my new iPad, I’ve noticed that Apple includes “Screen Time” settings for people with children- letting them monitor and limit how many times a device is picked up, when, and how much time is spent on different kinds of apps.
I’ve actually gone ahead and done this for myself- apps for writing and blogging are unrestricted, but games and social media are limited to an hour a day.

In addition, I’ve used the “Shortcut” app to create new commands for the Apple interface, Siri. The app is free, and you can try it out for yourself. In my case, when I say “Siri, writing mode please-”  Siri:

  • Turns on Do Not Disturb mode
  • Opens up Google Docs
  • Starts Spotify for my music
  • and opens up my Pomodoro app.

​You can build a “cave” wherever you are!

5. Finding a Tribe

Be honest- being a creative is LONELY. You spend a lot of time locked in your own head, or away from others. When my wife and I are both working, we tend to sit in separate rooms. Finding people who you can bounce ideas off of, share the experience with, and work near without bothering each other can do wonders- not just for your productivity, but to keep you accountable as well.

A while ago, I signed up for “MeetUp”- a website that lets groups organize informal meetings in your local area based on common interests. One group I’ve joined here in Portland, 9 Bridges, is a group of writers that meets up in cafes and libraries throughout the week to work and then discuss with each other.
Having a cave is great, but sharing the fire with others is wonderful too!

One Last Thing…

This blog was aimed at people in the creative world, but there’s others out there too. The people who love them and worry about them. They aren’t critics, exactly- they just see their loved ones struggle and work at something they might not completely understand, or they worry that it’ll be a disappointment. They want what’s best for you.

Maybe it’s your parents.
Maybe it’s your spouse.
Maybe it’s you.

For whoever it is, I can’t offer better words than two icons of nerd culture. First, the one and only Kevin Smith-

and J. Michael Straczynski, from his series “Babylon 5”
Stay Classy,

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