Can You Be Creative and Work Full-Time?

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.

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Main image credit: Poolie