Over the past week I’ve been posting elements of the Creative Mix Recipe on social media, reminders about priorities for a healthy creative life. One post particularly resonated:
“Avoid work that drains your creative energy. Dare to drop work that sucks your soul.”
It was shared and retweeted and shared again. Maybe it was the strong language — drain, drop, suck, soul — that made it good fodder for Facebook and Twitter. But I think it has more to do with how we trade our precious time and creative energy for dollars.
We all need to pay our bills. We all have aspects of our work that we don’t particularly enjoy. But at some point we have to ask whether the work we are getting paid for is draining the life out of our art, whether we are sacrificing too much to serve others.
When I dreamt up Creative Mix, I was interested in how women were managing to make art, create income for their families, and take care of the home front. I wondered how the conflicts we experienced between art and life, art and livelihood, work and family, could be resolved in such a way that one realm would support another. I started by asking how women were earning money in ways that fed their creative process rather than sabotaged it.
Below are some of the ideas gleaned from the Creative Mix Interviews and a few others I brainstormed with clients:
1) Start a business or non-profit that serves other members of your creative tribe.
Jennifer Chenoweth began the online, non-profit gallery, Generous Art, to help artists sell from their inventory, as opposed to having to create new art for gallery shows while the old work collected dust on shelves. The fifty percent of the profit that would normally go a commercial gallery is funneled to charitable organizations, thus relieving artists of the pressure to constantly give away their work to charitable auctions.
Talia Bryce, lead singer of The Lost Pines, built a booking agency for Bluegrass bands. Building on her own experience getting gigs for her band, she has the satisfaction of supporting her colleagues.
Can you think of a business that would serve your tribe and help them achieve their creative dreams?
2) Teach what you know.
Bethany Hegedus adapted the model of distance education from her M.F.A. program and created a successful mentoring program for writers of children’s and young adult literature. When she opened The Writing Barn, she created a safe haven for writers in all genres, but specialized in workshops for writers in her field.
When I began my own Art/Life Mentoring Program, I combined elements of my background in art history with years of studying and practicing meditation and writing practice with Natalie Goldberg. Everything I’ve learned about building a creative life serves my clients. I am continually surprised and delighted that ideas stored in back corners of my mind are useful to them.
3) Design social media programs for professionals in your field or a related one.
I’ve sent several clients to look at the website of my virtual assistant, Mandi Holmes. Mandi curates my Twitter feed, wading through the Creative Mix interviews, my blog posts, and blogs by women in related fields. She also researches artists I’m interested in and who I think will resonate with my peeps. I love working with Mandi because she’s excited about the material and often finds new sources for content I had no idea existed.
Can you see yourself researching a topic that interests you and getting paid for it? The research could feed your work at the same it time serve clients.
4) Take a temporary job that will give you material for your next project.
In the 1980s, the French artist Sophie Calle took temporary jobs as a maid in various hotels and took photographs of what she saw: unmade beds, undergarments, toiletries. She later wrote stories of what she imagined about the guests and combined them with the images.
Ted Conover went undercover as a prison guard at Sing-Sing to get material for his best-selling book about prison life, Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing. “I wanted to hear the voices one truly never hears,” he wrote, “the voices of guards–those on the front lines of our prison policies, the society’s proxies.”
What kind of job might serve as research for your next project?
5) Find a niche and fill it.
I brainstormed the following idea with a client. She didn’t go for it, but it’s a great job for someone. I thought of it for Austin because we have a flood of visitors every year for South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Formula One, and The X Games. But it could work for any city with a good tourist industry.
With more people offering short-term rentals through VBRO, Air BnB, and HomeAway, why not create a complementary service, stocking refrigerators with everything someone would need for breakfast? Good coffee, locally backed muffins, yogurt, fruit. I like this idea because it gets you out of your house and out of your head. You see different neighborhoods, peek into people’s homes, and build relationships with vendors.
No new business is built overnight. Bethany opened the Writing Barn by renting to other teachers for a year before implementing her own programs. I interviewed artists and wrote my blog for a year before I landed on The Art/Life Mentoring Program.
You don’t need to whip up a business plan and fancy strategies for implementation. You only need the first step, something that calls to you and feels right scale. It should feel a little bit scary, but not overwhelming.
What baby step could you take in the direction of your creative work dream? What could you do in January to make 2016 a year of transition toward right livelihood?