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Use the Scraps; or 9 ways to make art when you’re busy as hell

This is a post I created from a talk I gave at Fuller when I was there as a student. It appeared first at my old blogspot blog but I ported it over here for easier reference.

There’s a fantasy floating around that if we could just get enough free time, we could do anything.  If it weren’t for work or school or family or any of a dozen other time commitments we could write that novel, record that album or paint that devastatingly honest, surreal landscape that pulls back the curtains of reality to reveal the eternal light shining through all reality.  That fantasy is a lie.  You will never get that time.  So you have to start now, doing art when you’re already busy as hell.
This talk originally appeared as a part of Fuller Seminary’s “Week Four: TED-style Talks” event.  They’ll be posting more talks here in the coming weeks.

1. Do stuff you love to do: 

Because you love it and you would do it anyway.  Because that energy, creativity and passion is like a force of nature that you can harness to drive your work forward.

If you find yourself doing it even when no one is looking and no one is paying, then you’re doing it because you love it, because it gives you energy and life.  Even if you lose sleep, there is a net gain of energy for you and those around you.

2.  Budget time for work-ish stuff: 

Don’t spend more time and energy on things that don’t require or deserve it.

3. Use the scraps: 

Structure your best impulses to create into your life so the choice you want to make is the easiest choice to make.  Use the left-over scraps of time by keeping the things you need to work on your art at hand.  Don’t worry about how little time you have.  The scraps add up.


4. Keep the stuff you do for fun, fun: 

It’s easy to lose the fun and playfulness that drew you to your artistic work which is one reason why people stop doing it.  If you don’t feel like doing it, skip it.  But take note if there’s something structural keeping you away.  This might mean it’s important not to get paid for your art.

5. Learn to love sketches, not perfection: 

Embrace the imperfections in your sketches and the background noise in your recordings.  Get past the pretense of everything you do being “world-class” and recognize the humble value in every movement toward being able to say what you need to say when you have something worth saying.  Perfectionism is a mixture of pride and fear that can deprive the world of the exercise of your gifts.  A finished sketch is more real than a vision of a perfect work never started.

6.  Find people who are interested and use their interest to motivate your work: 

When people connect with your honest work they are connecting with a part of you.  It allows people who get it and appreciate you to be drawn in and those who don’t to move on.  This is a good thing! Obviously, the web makes this easier.   

7. Say yes to limitation:

Limitations, deadlines, constraints help you finish.  They may also stop you from creating polished masterpieces, but they can also help keep you from ruining work by over-working it.

8. Say yes to collaboration:

Collaborations open up new opportunities for formation of a generative community out of which new work, energy and ideas can emerge more quickly than working alone.  They are also opportunities for you to give and receive generosity.

9.  Integrate Integrate Integrate:

Don’t think of your artistic work as something that you have to add to your schedule but as something that is a part of who you are that you bring to everything you do and experience.  

I used to think of all the things I am interested in and love as threads that I would one day have to cut off in pursuit of truly important things.  And it’s true that commitments to school, family and work have to take priority.

But I’ve found that with a little intention and perspective, I can wind all the threads that make up who I am into one cohesive identity.  

The key is wind the rope.