The Challenge – Alone or Together?
Finding the balance of community and time alone seems to be a common issue for most creative people, particularly creative professionals who need solitude to produce their work. How do we maintain the integrity of our artistic voice, stay productive and meet our very real human need for social interaction? The key lies in knowing your personal creative energy biorhythm and managing your social network so that it honors and feeds your creative energy. Scheduling your time with this in mind will build momentum for your creative process.
Many creative activities require a large amount of solitary time for conceptualization and execution. Still too much isolation can lead to depression, lowered productivity and allow bad habits, such as procrastination, to flourish unchecked. This is particularly problematic if you want your livelihood to be your creative work. You need to be networking with others to build a base of clients, let alone a community for personal support. This requires face time with others to build real relationships. Most of society is built around community relationships, like family and friends (many of whom may not be creatives) so time spent alone can be perceived as a selfish act. Protecting that time, though, is crucial for our sanity and fulfillment as creators.
Nearly every artist I know has this dilemma. How do I get my work done with all the demands from family, friends, clients and community? Or how do I get my personal needs met for companionship, cross fertilizing ideas and peer support if I am spending all my time isolated in my studio working? Co-working environments have popped up as one solution to this age old challenge. These are working environments that allow you to work side by side, mixing solo and collaborative/social time as desired. Artist co-ops are another great opportunity for peer support. The financial and time resources these may require can be a challenge though. Still finding the right balance for you is essential for maintaining a sustainable career in the arts.
Identifying Your Needs as a Creator – It’s a Mixed Bag
What would that ideal mix of collaboration, intimacy, inspiration and solo studio time look like? It may vary from one discipline/task to another, which makes it more complicated if you are a multi-disciplinary creator. You may have one rhythm when you are writing, another when preparing a performance, and yet another when developing a web page. Take time to notice when you feel most productive, both time of day and circumstances that support it. Also notice obstacles and distractions that pull you out of your creating zone. For example, I can be totally engrossed in web page or newsletter design late at night, but my writing ideas flow best first thing in the morning when I am fresh. I can do photo editing and painting with music playing (sometimes blaring) in the background, but never when I am writing. I enjoy knitting and even photographing around others, but find their presence distracting when I am doing writing or web design. It totally blows me away how young people can study in a noisy café!
Our finely attuned senses as artists help us observe the world and craft our work. Yet this same sensitivity can leave us feeling overwhelmed by external stimuli, particularly in very social settings. We may need to take time to decompress after social events or limit our time in those settings. Then there is always the lure of working with fellow creatives that can quickly turn into a distraction from achieving our own personal work. Our society supplies many tempting opportunities for creatives to set aside the work that they feel compelled to do alone, in favor of the collective social experience, whether it be family gatherings, friends’ parties, holidays, sporting events, etc.
As creatives, most of us have no problem entertaining ourselves, but sometimes those solo activities can also be diversions from the projects that matter most to us. We can spend time designing personal websites, posting on Facebook or even writing a blog (hint, hint), instead of finishing the painting on the easel. I have sketchbooks full of ideas that never got beyond the initial concept phase, abandoned in favor of some community demand for my skills to design a flyer, decorate a space or coordinate a festival. It’s true that inevitably it is all creating, but the personal work that only I could make remains stillborn, when I do that. Inevitably this eats away at my commitment to create what really matters to me as an artist. And the world is less for that unique vision never being realized. Be sure to schedule unstructured time in the studio to allow for personal play. We do not need to justify every creation’s existence with an intended audience or client, when we need it to feed our souls.
What are Your Needs?
Take some time to observe your personal workflow for inner and outer work. Are you most clear for writing projects in the morning? Do you start to flag about mid-day and need a refresher like a walk outside to reconnect with the world? Are there family obligations like children coming home from school, meals to be prepared, etc.? Are you able to concentrate better with more stimuli around you or less? I’ve heard that folks with ADD concentrate better with more ambient noise in their environment, while my ex-husband, as a hypersensitive person thrives in the quiet of the countryside. Is your creative process fed by long walks in nature or the hubbub and diversity of a busy urban street? Each of us has our own rhythms and relationship to the world around us and our creative practice. The key is to take time to observe yours and then shape your schedule of alone and together time around that rhythm. Can you satisfy your need for social interaction simply by sitting in a café observing others or do you need to have an intimate conversation with a friend? Would taking a class or throwing a party be your best outlet for socializing?
Make Creating Your Work a Priority
One thing to be sure to do, is schedule that creative time in first and shape the rest of your life around it to support that effort. It is like doing a Japanese Ikebana arrangement. You place the main branches first and then all the rest of the material is added to support and bridge the relationships between these primary elements, for it is the main branches that define the shape of the arrangement. The same is true of our life. Those activities that feed us and make life meaningful should define the shape of it.
One of my teachers, Robert Fritz, in his book, Creating, illustrates this point with a story of a teacher who filled a jar with large rocks. He then asked the class if the jar was full. Someone replied yes. But he said “Are you sure?” Then he poured gravel into the jar around the large rocks. Again he asked if it was full. Someone, hesitatingly, said, “Maybe?” So he then added sand to the jar, again asking if it was full. This time the class replied, “No!” Finally he poured water into the jar up to the brim around the rocks, gravel and sand. Finally the jar was declared full. He then asked the class what was the lesson? A student replied, “You can always add more to a busy life.” But the teacher said, “No. The lesson is if you don’t add the large rocks first there won’t be room for them at all.”
Determine what matters to you to be productive creatively, your rhythm, your balance of alone and together time. Prioritize that in your scheduling. Then, shape the rest of your life to support those priorities. It is a step by step discovery process, supported by conscious choices. Taking the time to observe your personal flow can lead to greater satisfaction and productivity in your creative practice.
I can help you explore the right balance for you through one to one calls or in person coaching sessions. It is possible to shape your life to support your creative and social needs.