Can You Be Creative and Work Full-Time?

January 24, 2011 — 15 Comments

Watch clocking. Image by Poolie

There are lots of blogs which encourage people to give up their jobs and live a fancy-free ‘location independent’ lifestyle but it’s not that easy for everyone and often there’s a lot of planning that needs to happen before that transition can be made.

Why I Won’t Apologise for Having a Day Job

I thought long and hard about whether to start this blog before I had achieved my ultimate aim of being a full-time freelance writer or working in some other line of work that could be defined as ‘creative’. After all, although my current job actually does involve some creativity as I’m working in digital communications, the nature of working in the civil service means that bureaucracy will always trump creativity on a day to day basis.

But over the last ten years I’ve achieved quite a bit creatively alongside my full-time job, whether it’s writing for local magazines and blogging, doing my own radio show and podcast or playing my own songs live. Each thing I’ve done I’ve enjoyed for its own sake, even if there weren’t financial rewards.

Time is more valuable than money

In the latest step in my mission to becoming a Clear-Minded Creative, I’ve recently requested to cut back my hours at work so from next month I’ll be working four days a week instead of five. I’m hoping that this will give me some extra time to write and also to teach myself some new skills. Of course it’s also going to have a financial impact and I’m going to have to be much more frugal than before.

It’s not as dramatic a decision as someone like Nicola from The Redundancy Experiment who has taken voluntary redundancy in order to set up a freelance copywriting business. But I feel like it’s a real step in the right direction. Whilst I’ll still be able to cover my essential costs like my mortgage and bills, I’ll be losing a substantial chunk of the disposable income I’ve come to rely on. This will hopefully give me the extra kick up the arse I need to find some paid writing work rather than working for others for free which I’ve done too much in the past.

But what if the problem is me?

According to the beautifully illustrated book The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week* by Summer Pierre “your job is not the problem”.  It might be that what’s making you miserable is in fact your own outlook on life or personal issues.

“it finally dawned on me that it didn’t matter how much money I was being paid, or what kind of environment I was in, it was still me coming to work: depressed, sarcastic, adolescent me. I realised if anything was going to change, it had to start with me.”

She takes the reader through a process of reframing your negative thoughts and seeing things in a new positive light, suggesting making a list of all the things your job provides for you. So rather than saying “it allows me to pay the rent/mortgage” you instead focus on the concrete benefits, e.g.  “it allows me to live in a flat with a telly and broadband internet access, it allows me to have a decent social life, be a member of a gym” etc. From this exercise you can realise that you’re not a victim or ‘wage-slave’, you are actually getting some serious benefits from having a job.

So despite my recent decision to cut back my hours, not everyone has to give up their job or go part-time to fit creativity in. In her book Pierre suggests a few small creative projects you can fit in around work, and I’m sure you have your own suggestions and experiences doing this too.

Tips on Finding Extra Time & Fitting In Creative Projects

Here’s a tip which writer and cartoonist Blythe Robertson posted on the Clear-Minded Creative Facebook page on using the daily commute to get things done:

“I’ve been getting a lot of good work done on the bus and train, lately. Things like editing the previous day’s pages or working on plans and outlines – the boring tasks that quickly mount up. Generally, if you can organise things so you can keep tasks small, you can cram creative bursts in to the most unlikely places. Technology and connectivity does help, so you don’t get yourself tied up in knots with having different versions in different places (still not quite mastered that one fully, yet).

Rory the Roar-Quacker by Blythe Robertson

I’ve also been working on dialogue sections and have found it REALLY useful. I don’t mean from eavesdropping purposes (although that can sometimes be hilarious) but from the point of view of being able to reference how convincing your dialogue is against the different accents and cadences you here from snippets of conversation.”

You can see some of the results over at Blythe’s blog (as you can see, he is very much a man of letters). He also drew the wonderful illustration of Rory the Roar-Quacker you can see here.

And photographer John Sinclair replied to last week’s newsletter to say:

“My tip is aimed at people taking photographs and is an idea that resulted from a challenge I set myself just t’other day. To beat procrastination over what photographs you should make or which project to do next set yourself a quick topic and aim to get thirty pictures in thirty minutes. It will force you to look hard and look fast and think quickly about what you’re doing.

Think about subjects near and dear to you or things that you wouldn’t dream of tackling. My first project was discarded xmas trees on the murky streets of Edinburgh. The outcome should be thirty pictures that wouldn’t cause you great shame if they were stuck up on a wall with your name beside them.”

He’s even just set up a brand new Flickr group for anyone who wants to take part in his challenge.

What do you think? Are you able to fit creativity around a full-time job or are you looking for a job that allows you to be creative full-time? Share your experiences in the comments.

*Amazon.com affiliate link. Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Main image credit: Poolie

Milo

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This article was written by Milo McLaughlin and published on www.clearmindedcreative.com. Milo is a copywriter, multimedia content producer and creative coach based in Edinburgh Scotland. He is the founder of Clear-Minded Creative, which provides inspiration, support and practical advice to help talented people forge a new path in life.

15 responses to Can You Be Creative and Work Full-Time?

  1. Hey Milo -

    I agree that we really need to start with ourselves and our jobs are probably not the problem. They’re just something that we like to place blame on. I also think a lot of it is our constant obsession with striving and attainment. We think that if only this next thing would happen, or if only our lives would be different in some way, THEN we’d be happy.

    That kind of leads to us getting trapped in a perpetual circle of searching b/c we’re never happy with our current situation or even if there is some contentment, we’re still trying to constantly improve to the nth degree to make it better.

    Now, having said this, I wholeheartedly think that there’s nothing wrong with someone wanting to work on their own, start their own business or explore other opportunities…but, I think that before that is done, we need to start with ourselves, right here and now. We are we so miserable? Is the job really the problem or is it our negative and habitual thought patterns? If we start questioning and really examining these questions, I think we’ll find it’s the latter.

    Cheers,
    Nate
    Nate recently posted..Any Day Can Be A Day for Making Resolutions

  2. Yes I know this is something you’ve written about before Nate and I do agree. I also find that if I’m disorganised and not doing my work well, I’m more miserable and just by actually trying to do my job a bit better (even if it can be extremely boring) I do end up feeling better.

    At the same time there is a point when you know that you could achieve more and be happier if you were doing something more suited to your skills and abilities and that’s when you want to think about making a change.

  3. Thanks for mentioning me, Milo, and congratulations on dropping some hours – you will love having more time for your own stuff. I have been working 26 hours a week for some time, first for study then for child-care reasons mostly. I think it can make a huge difference to your quality of life. It also makes you resent the day job a lot less. Two wins!

    Where I work is a good illustration of whether you can be creative when working full or part time. The answer is, as you suggest in your post: it depends on the person. Ours is what Julia Cameron (she of The Artist’s Way) calls a “shadow” career – a bit like the creative ones we’d actually love to have, but are not free to pursue for various reasons, including mortgages, dependants and fear of failure. We’re all good with words and many of us write stories, novels, poetry, blogs, take photos, make music, make prints and consume all of the foregoing. The people who are more creative in their own time find the daily grind easier to bear than those who aren’t as consciously creative.

    The spur of voluntary redundancy is what motivated me to get out despite thinking about it for years and doing nothing. The job narrowed my horizons to the point where I thought I couldn’t do anything else. Which is nonsense, of course, but I couldn’t see it before. And I didn’t want to lose my nice salary either! Now I’ve made my decision, those years don’t feel in the least wasted because they brought me to the point where I’m ready to leave and try living differently.

    I believe you get what you need when the time is right.
    Nicola recently posted..Go your own way with help from the Illuminated Mind

  4. Hi Nicola, thanks for the encouraging words – despite being a fairly small step it still feels quite huge, and I’m determined not to waste the extra day faffing about!

    I get what you mean about ‘shadow careers’ but not sure if that’s a good or bad thing according to Julia Cameron – will be re-reading The Artist’s Way very soon though in order to discuss it here in more detail.

    Good on you for taking the leap- I’m enjoying watching how you’re progressing :)

  5. I’ve worked part time for years and its definitely the best option for me. Good luck!

    Also though I agree that sometimes you are your own problem in a job, sometimes there are jobs that grind you down, where you are unappreciated and treated like dirt, and all the thinking in the world about ‘how nice it is to be able to afford to live in the centre of Edinburgh because of this awful job’ isn’t actually going to help.
    Crafty Green Poet recently posted..Off to London!

    • Very true Juliet. I know that feeling from having worked in retail and in a call-centre! Glad to hear part-time working suits you – and thanks for your comment!

  6. well certainly a lot of great info in here! it’s been on my mind a lot lately, especially after i read a blog post last year which discussed how much time you spend in transit per week, if you have an hour commute.

    two hours each way, five days a week, that’s practically a whole day, and that’s not even in the office.

    well a bit test for me was over the winter holidays. i had a lot of creative projects i wanted to get done, and maybe tackled about 20-30% of it. i just veg’d out on the couch. ideally i’d like to commit more time to my projects, but in the meantime i am enjoying trying to balance it all with a stable career.
    mr. tunes recently posted..Why your kid should play the bass

    • Hi Elliott, I don’t have as long a commute as that but as I said over on the Facebook page I often listen to audio books on the way to work so at least I’m learning something.

      I do think downtime is important too which is why prioritising creative projects is important as you can never get everything done that you’d like to in my experience!

  7. Hi Milo,

    Let me just start by saying well done on the fab blog!! I have only just discovered it today through a tweet by Creative Boom and I have spent the last couple of hours reading through your posts and links to other sites and found them really helpful!!

    I have always been creative but somewhere during my degree I lost my confidence… in the years since finishing university I have gone for many design jobs, getting through to interviews but not ever quite making it!! Needless to say this didn’t do anything to help with those negative voices in my head saying I wasn’t good enough!!

    A few years ago I decided to give up on the design route and try my hand at marketing… even though my job does include some slightly creative projects I often find myself bogged down with admin duties that have to come first! I started to think that my job was squashing my creativity… but as you point out in your posts, it isn’t my job thats the problem its me!!

    But on a more positive note I have been taking steps to get myself out of my rut, I am currently close to completing an online course that has got me back in the routine on working on briefs… Also this year I have come across a number of inspiring creative sites and blogs, that are getting me motivated to get out to more design related events and perhaps start my own blog!!

    I totally agree with the points you’ve raised in this particular post, I think most creative people working in mundane jobs would love to throw in the towel at work and embark on more creative pursuits but realistically the majority of us have bills to pay and need a steady income so we can do the things we want. But it isn’t our job that are stopping us from realising our creativity, I have felt much more happier in myself since working on my projects for my course, or if I am making hand made cards or paintings. By squeezing in a few for creative projects on a evening or a weekend it really helps not only with creativity but also confidence… something we all should remember!!

    Your posts have really inspired me and I look forward to reading your future ones!! Keep up the good work!! :)

  8. Hi tenpens, thanks so much, it’s comments like yours that make doing this worthwhile :D I totally relate to your work experiences, it can be very frustrating.

    But it sounds like you’ve definitely got the right mindset, we have to keep persevering! And I’m sure that having design and marketing experience can only be extremely useful in the future, especially if you start blogging – which I recommend, obviously ;)

  9. I agree with you Milo that working FT is NOT the death of anyone’s creative career. It is all about how you use the hours in the day you are given! What is your brain doing while at that FT job? Often I continue to work on creative stuff in my mind while working on something else. And I do find that working elsewhere makes me look forward to working on my creative stuff that much more. =) bonus!

    • Agreed Nicole, though it can be frustrating if you can’t use your creativity for the most part of the day, which is why it’s important to try and squeeze creative stuff into the cracks, as it were.

      Basically, you need to be creative with how you use your time!

  10. Hi Milo,

    I like your blog and was interested in this post in particular as I think it is a very common problem. At the end of 2010, I had a health problem that saw me at home recuperating or in hospital. This gave me time to reflect and evaluate my life. It was a great feeling to acknowledge that I liked my job and I could be creative (I’m into photography) and work full time – it was just up to me to do it! In fact, I wondered if being a professional photographer might kill my creativity.
    I blogged my thoughts here if interested: http://jamesdyasdavidson.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-i-decided-whilst-in-hospital.html

    All the best.

    • Very interesting James, thanks for sharing the link – I think this is a very common concern among creative people when they consider whether to try and do what they love full time. I’ve been in the same position – choosing to write about the music I loved for free rather than pursuing paid writing work where I wouldn’t have a choice what to write about.

      I think if you like your job and can also pursue photography you’re in a very lucky position and it’s great that you’ve recognised that. I guess the problem comes when people don’t enjoy their job and feel that it interferes with their ability to be creative.

      Looking forward to reading more of your blog and seeing more of your photography :)

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