Making time for creativity; balance

as i get older, i’m realizing the importance of scheduling time to be creative. with the day-to-day to demands of job, family, social life, health, it’s easy to lose track of a month and make zero progress on one’s own projects.

how does everyone else make time to be creative?

do you work early in the morning, late at night, on weekends? what do you do for a living, and how do you find a balance between the demands of your job and your creative pursuits? do you have a family and how does that factor in?

one of my goals for 2018 was to schedule one full day a week to work on creative projects. i literally went into my ical and blocked out every wednesday for the entire year “CREATIVE DAY”. although it seemed overly formal at first, it was an incredible feeling to realize how much progress could be made with 52 completely open days this year.

so far, i’ve been able to more actively participate in the disquiet junto, document new sounds & processes (via youtube/soundcloud), plan recording sessions for collaborative projects, practice photography, study graphic design & typography, transcribe some jazz solos, and practice piano. my “day job” is as a freelance recording/mixing engineer, so scheduling has been as easy as not listing wednesdays in my availability to clients. (and if a job that i just can’t say no to arises on a wednesday, i’ve committed to reschedule my creative day to some other day that week, just like i would for any other client.) it’s also been a huge psychological relief just to know that something will get done creatively every week.

seems like there are a ton of incredibly creative and productive folks here on this forum – i’d be very interested to hear how you manage to make time for it all.

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Charles Bukowski’s poem on this subject really hit home for me when I ran across it only a few years ago:

air and light and time and space

“–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

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Though I’ve not read one of my nearly 30 volumes of Bukowski in almost 30 years, I’ve held on to them for the impact they made upon me in my mid 20’s. Same goes for Burroughs and Nietzsche. They all taught me something about difference, acceptance, and potential when determination to do a thing is flowing through your creative self like blood through the circulatory system.

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Thank you for sharing this.
So true.

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Saturday morning has ended up being my consistent recording time. I never declared it, it just worked out that way. My wife and son sometimes work on things in the room, or not. The Junto projects give me some focus when I need it.

Bukowski gives some good grand strategy, don’t be afraid of acknowledging tactics that work for you.

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Nice thread- although wednesday is a terrible day to put aside for a Junto.

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interesting that bukowski & nietzsche, two icons of my 16-year-old self, should come up so quickly in relation to this topic. i was just meditating yesterday on how willful immersion in creative pursuits returns me, in some ways, to that time of my life. creative growth seemed unlimited and responsibilities were few. the heroic/mythological/oppositional context for art proposed by thinkers like nietzsche resonated strongly.

but what about when one’s deepest ideals are met with hard realities? deadlines, rent, food, health, etc. – will and discipline are not enough to overcome everything. there’s a negotiation that must happen every day between ideals and the basic realities of living in the world we happen to inhabit. rather than pitting the two against one another, i’m interested in ways in which one can perhaps be nested inside the other. a mysterious aphorism from kierkegaard that i sometimes return to: “duty is not that which is laid upon, but that which one lies upon.”

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You got me thinking about another old book, “The Dialectic of Enlightenment” by Adorno and Horkheimer where they say, “Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from an audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure (which collapses under reflection), but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided.”

I took from this that I must continue to feed the opposing thoughts, rebellion against conformity, the turning away from pop culture and even where I have assimilated my life with the tastes of the masses, I must cultivate the continuing drive of making an effort against routine. So the acts of trading time for rent, food, health become part of the fuel that drives the need to explore an angle of creativity, even if it’s only for 15 minutes outside the groove. This is but one small aspect of how I nest internal conflicts to help keep my efforts of creativity evolving while allowing it to remain pleasurable.

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Making time is a real thing!

I find being able to compartmentalise parts of my life really useful, and also I think now that I have less “free time” due to more obligations, the time I have is more precious. I find I’m now a lot more appreciative and grateful for time that can be my “own” now. So when I do sit down and work on my creative works, I can be quite productive.

I don’t really have a set day because I work a weird rotating roster, and also largely night shift [with a few afternoons tossed in]. On top of that I’m doing a PhD part-time, which fortunately ties into my creative practice but sometimes I need to do other, non-academic creative things to keep music enjoyable.

So I’m grateful for things like the Junto because I can play around with ideas and techniques without any pressure.

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y’see, I find the Bukowski depressing; not in its sentiment, but more in my take. Some days it’s all I can do to overcome the inertia to make - to let myself make mistakes, to clear space on my desk for the synthesizer or the grid or whatever to start composing, to overcome fears of failure or desires of gratification. Some days, it’s like blood from a stone. I still create, maybe not the things I set out to… but the reminder that when I’m failing to, maybe it’s because I was never going to anyway… gets me down, I guess.

And then I just have to find self-care and say: if it’s not happening today it’s not happening. It might happen another day. I have to find my own way through things. This year I’ve been so busy I’ve not opened the modular in 2018. But that’s OK; last month was full on; this month won’t be, maybe I’ll find space soon.

Anyhow: not quite on the original topic, but for me, this only rings true as a voice on my shoulder reminding me how I never do anything well enough, or intensely enough, or honestly enough, and I need to listen to a different voice, sometimes.

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The Bukowski quote hits hard. Lots to unpack.

It seems rooted in an idea of art as poiesis, the truth that one is called to bring forth, not art as an object of aesthetics.

The “place and time to create” reeks of the aesthetic approach. It’s preconceived. And narcissistic (viewing oneself through others’ eyes, through how others imagine the ideal life of “an artist”). A narcissism that leads only to kitsch because it blocks the true.

The true is in the world. It is in the family, the job, the cats crawling up one’s back, the earthquakes, floods and fires. It’s in the desperate longings to create when one cannot, and the traumas that sometimes surface when one does. At least, I think this is Bukowski’s real point.

All of this resonates. And yet, I can’t go along 100%. It’s still true, but the sense in which it’s true troubles me.

While someone working “16 hours a day in a coal mine” will continue to evolve in terms of ideas, awarenesses, and the occasional fragment of activity, and thus be creative, that creativity may never get outside the person. For me, works count. And there’s no avoiding that these works require a certain amount of time. I’m not one who thinks art is ever justified by effort, but effort always finds its necessity. Unfortunately.

Compromised, perhaps, is my focus on “works”. Perhaps it’s the old Western privileging of the active over the contemplative life. But this is a compromise – at this point in my life – I cannot avoid, and this is where I must part with Bukowski.

But so much else he is saying illuminates my mistakes, also the positive developments.

For instance, I did make the terrible mistake of abandoning the social (because I couldn’t abandon the job). This went far beyond abandoning social networks. I abandoned anything other than work, music, and readings somehow related to the musicworld I was building for several years. This may have helped initially, in terms of forging my own path, but I had become unbearable to myself. It cast me into psychological distress, which began to limit the work.

On the positive side, I did progress when I stopped trying to separate everything into neat little “work” and “music” boxes.

Much of my work life involves code, also some machine learning, so I incorporate much of what I learn into the work. It’s how I augment the interface between my body+control surfaces and the sound production (think of a TheoryBoard type of thing, but completely different and specific to the music I do), so in fact I can make better and more spontaneous use of the little time I do have. The aim: everything from scratch, live to 2-track (Not there yet!)

If I had infinite time, or even large blocks of dedicated time, I would probably have gone down the path of more traditional “composition” not put so much towards this live-to-2-track method. And I have no regrets on this point.

The bits of time when I’m so tired, when I’m not feeling it I can at least put towards the code or even in rearranging the studio to be more ergonomic.

My basic schedule is: a few hours Sat/ a few hours Sun, freeze development of the system, work freely on music, if not record, at least get a few jams going, bring forth a few ideas that can be repeated again (maybe this is really the “performance”). Then a few hours randomly during the week, work on the system (the “composition”). Then again, many weekends I have to travel for work.

So, not perfect, not yet even fully productive, but I do feel a small sense of moving forward. Also trying to reach out a bit, cultivate the social, and hopefully be able to redress past errors, including where I have hurt people. Still, I strongly feel, I need to make some sort of change in work life to address the practical side that contravenes a bit what Bukowski has said. I hope the fact I feel something already being born, can save the situation somewhat. We’ll see.

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I buy it. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” is something my wife says to me a lot when I’m being a perfectionist. It applies to creative work, but I think it also applies to creative workspaces. Don’t wait until you have the perfect place (or the perfect setup!!!). Make it work wherever you are.

Hard to do, but doable.

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Thanks for posting - that one and same was actually SUPER formative for me when I was younger (although I do currently feel that Bukowski is a bit problematic “troubled white-man underdog anti-hero”, etc).

In any case, there’s so much truth to it, whether it’s “time”, “I just-need-more stuff-and-then-I’ll-do-it”, or whatever excuse.

Not to self-indulgently channel CB (though I will anyways), what I’ve done is to prioritize my creative work by re-framing my creative practice as ‘my job’, and making everything else fit around that, rather than trying to fit my practice through the cracks of everything else.

This has resulted in a lot of financial precarity and an enormous amount of stress, but also meant that my work as an artist has developed tremendously, and I’m starting to get some opportunities that I might not other have - now starting to cut it as a working artist in some tiny way, which maybe would have made my teenage-Bukowski-reading self proud, so full-circle I guess?

I’ve found that the universe is actually pretty flexible provided you have a stupid amount of will-power and are willing to take a few bumps on the head along the way. I’ve had the good fortune to work with/for some pretty prominent artists from the older generation who helped me to see first hand the risk/reward calculations of just ‘battening the hatches’ and going for it

Full disclosure/context: I make (some) $$ performing/creating on commission, and supplement that teaching electronic music privately and adjunct, as well as helping out at an arts non-profit, which doubles as my studio. I apply for arts grants often. Student debt/cost of living is constantly scary but work-able. My partner is also an artist so she’s maybe more understanding of me running my schedule/life like a sociopath.

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Thanks, this brings me closer. I’ve been way too focused on “the concept”, and in particular the custom software environment and not realizing what I/it can already do.

Logical step, I guess, is “code freeze”. Accept the parts that work, postpone fixing bugs until after the (music) release. By all means accept existing bugs if they lead to musical results, but discard what’s just a long way from working at this point. Accept that I may need to touch up a bit (or a lot) manually, that some “composition” is OK even though I’m trying to eliminate the damn concept. There will be other opportunities, other releases.

Ugh… so frustrating, it’s a hard lesson.

I believe what mr. Bukowski said stands so true for someone of mr. Bukowski‘s caliber. Yet, there are more of us who do not overflow with creativity. For those of us, calendars, time, limitations matter and have an impact on our creative output. Thank you for opening the thread, I am very curious on how others approach their creative time management.

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What I take away from the Bukowski poem is that the artifice of creativity can easily get in the way of actually creating. That the need for a perfect space, perfect time, and perfect tools can be an excuse to not actually do anything.

I’ve certainly felt that at different times in my life… IMO, a lot of internet forum gear chatter is a type of this. “I’d finish my album, but I just need this new module” etc.

That said, when your art requires equipment having those tools ready-to-hand is really nice. If you have to breakdown/setup everything each time then that eats into your time to actually use the tools. Will we put up with setting up/breaking down all the time if it’s the only way? Absolutely! But it’s certainly not ideal.

For me finding time generally means a few things:

  • Treat my art as part of my work, even if it’s not often the paying part
  • Have at least some of my tools more or less ready to go all the time so that I can take 15 minutes and work if I feel like it
  • Put creative time in the calendar and then use it, even if I’m not feeling inspired
  • Waiting for inspiration is the death of creativity – “RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.” (Cage)
  • Consider exposure to art as part of my creative process – listening to music, going to galleries, going to performances, spending time with other artists/musicians – all of these things are what help me create my own work through inspiration and external accountability
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“the importance of scheduling time to be creative. with the day-to-day to demands of job, family, social life, health, it’s easy to lose track of a month and make zero progress on one’s own projects.” – this is my problem, exactly. When I was working, time was hard to find; when I got laid off, the same - even with a comfortable amount of severance to quell any panic. Like, I’m afraid to do any music in the day bc there is job hustling to do.

If you won 4 million dollars and bought that well-lit loft and all the mods, would you really churn out all the music? Or would puttering, daytime movies, breakfasts out take up more and more time?

Working alone could be a big factor - a band would mean a practice schedule… so like blocking out a year of Wednesdays, maybe the core strategy is scheduling the time, so that it feels psychologically important to do.

Recently I recorded a bunch of random sounds of Instagram, and most nights arrange them, which is gratifying. That is like 45 min - 1 .5 hours a day. It is better than not recording, not as good as being dedicated. I usually work on this after everyone’s gone to bed, and yes, with the cat getting between me and the screen the minute I am focusing lol

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Realising this certainly helped me, but then again it has somewhat stopped me from properly organising my equipment/workflow!

John Cleese gave an excellent talk about creativity that I think nails the requirements, or at least the ideal environment, for a creative practice.

Here’s his list:

  1. Space
  2. Time
  3. Time
  4. Confidence
  5. a 22 inch waist

Number 5 is of course a joke, but time is in there twice for a reason. I’ll let you read the article for the details, but I will highlight this one point about “time”:

It’s not enough to create space, you have to create your space for a specific period of time. You have to know that your space will last until exactly 3:30, and that at that moment your normal life will start again.

And it’s only by having a specific moment when your space starts and an equally specific moment when your space stops that you can seal yourself off from the every day closed mode in which we all habitually operate.

I’ve been trying to work this way for some time, and I’m getting a little better at it. The key here is to focus on the time and not the results. It’s not just the outside world (email, Twitter, chores, whatever) you need to be shielded from, but also the distraction of goal of the very task you are engaged in. That is, if you’re focused on the results, it makes it harder to relax into the “open” mode that is important for creativity. It’s easier to get into to that zone if the goal is to “compose for the next 90 minutes” than if you’re focusing on “finishing a three hour rock opera.”

It reminds me of some other good advice I heard (maybe also from James Clear where this link came from…?). It was something along the lines of it’s better to form a daily work habit than to set goals. If you write a page a day you’ll find yourself with a novel in a year. Just setting a goal of writing a novel in a year, however, gets you no closer to that goal.

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One of my partners relatives used to say “if you want something doing ask a busy person” (She was just the person I associate with the quote - I’ve come across it elsewhere since)

For me - my life is full of work (I’m the directory of a, not music, company) I have three children, we got a dog recently (with all the careful forward planning we’ve done everything in our lives so far - ie none) I had a health scare last october so have been very focused on getting fit and healthy

My music making fits in around all that - the odd thing is I sometimes look and thing “I’ve been stupid busy this week and yet somehow in all that I’ve made three tracks!”

What perhaps I lack is the time for focused longer thought - I’ve got two albums on the go (a “winter” one on hold until the weather gets bad again and a summer one that’s not quite clicked with me yet) both would benefit from me paying attention to them for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Specific time doesn’t work for me - I hate structure. What I did do to kick this off was to set myself the pointed stick of releasing one track a week on soundcloud, come what may. I did that for a year and somehow it’s all stuck - I feel bad, in the same way I feel bad if I don’t walk at least two miles every morning, if I don’t make at least something each week…

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