One of the things we get caught up in as artists is the thought that faster is better. The image of the starving artist—which has been so severely pounded into our brains—damages us this way. It assumes that we can starve and struggle, or “kick-start” our creative careers by fronting ourselves cash that we don’t have, so we can hurry up and “make it.”
And art—making it, polishing it, learning how to sell art—doesn’t line up like that. It is a slower, steadier, amoeba-like and roundabout process than the direct-line to success that we tend to expect of ourselves.
So how do we get to our art—and professionalize it so there’s a good chance of building a real-and-true art life for ourselves—if we throw out the fast-and-furious approach to succeeding with it?
Here’s how. We get ourselves a time map. What’s a time map? It’s a simple little tool that we can use to get our hands in our art while we’re doing everything else that needs to get done. That means, while we’re fielding day jobs, money, time, work ethics, motivation, relationships, and family life.
That seems like a tall order when we’re first facing off against the pressures of it. It’s why we artists often put the cart before the horse and try to buy ourselves faster success by running up debt for our art, or under-earning, living the life of a starving artist and putting crazy pressure on ourselves. Pressure like that will not help us find our inspiration. It just won’t.
So what’s the time map idea and how does it work? It’s simple. You can do it on a napkin or a scrap of paper if you like, and it only takes five minutes each week to do.
At the beginning of your week you’ll create your time map by simply looking at your free hours. Got a day job that keeps you at work nine to five? Have to commute? Need to pick up the kids and do homework until eight? Then those aren’t your hours. Block those hours out as “fixed hours”—hours that are already taken up with some activity or duty.
Then, map out your free hours.
My first time map listed free hours on Wednesday evenings from six to nine, Friday afternoons from three to six, and Saturday and Sunday mornings from eight to ten a.m. And that’s truly about all I had; all I had to begin with.
Then, once you know what your time map free hours are, ballpark what you think you can get done. Say you want to write ten hours a week. Great. But when you’re beginning that might not happen, especially at first.
I use the two-thirds rule: whatever I want to accomplish, I cut by two-thirds. Why? Because everything in life takes three times longer than I think.
Say I want to write ten hours, but I’m using the two-thirds rule. That means I’m going to shoot for three-and-a-half hours of writing (or painting or whatever it is I’m working on.) I’ve got Wednesday from six to nine; that’s three hours. But here’s the catch. I need more than that, just in case my resistance gets the better of me and I find myself swirling around the apartment, looking for things that will distract me from actually sitting down. So I need more than three hours. I need buffer zones, make-up hours—scheduled time to explore how I work best.
You may find that you write or paint or compose best in one-hour increments. (I use the timer for these.) Or you may find you need two-hour blocks. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it.
And it won’t happen overnight. You’ll have to press against your resistance and keep trying until you find a schedule that kicks in the door on your resistance.
The key to becoming a successful artist is not instant multi-millionaire monetary success. It’s the ability to get our hands in our art, over time, and for a lifetime. That’s the point of all of this. To help us artists find a way to get our hands in our creative work, day after day, a little at a time.
Six months or a year of that kind of effort will bring us so much more happiness and so much more accomplishment than waiting for the day when the stars are perfectly aligned to create. That day, my friends, never comes. That’s what the time map is for. To give you, and me, the precious gift of our art—right here, and right now.