Create what you love. And do it every day.
At 31 this is what I would have told my 24-year-old self when I started in publishing.
It sounds relatively simple right? Wrong. Or at least, that’s how it was for me. Specifically the do it everyday part. I didn’t keep a sketch book. I didn’t write everyday. I didn’t think about new ideas all the time. I’d come up with a book idea. Write it. Make a dummy. And pitch it. If it sold, I’d make said book. Exert a serious amount of energy and then feel like I needed a three month vacation. And then repeat the whole thing all over again for the next book. Which isn’t exactly wrong. The problem was that I was treating my book career like a hobby. A career is not something you do occasionally. It’s something you invest your time in everyday. And I love my job. So why wasn’t I investing my time?
For me it was easy to step back and say I deserved a break after completing a book. It takes a lot of work! But I found when I looked at it like this, it started to feel like a burden. And writing and illustrating is not a burden, it’s a privilege. Truly. So I realized it was time for a radical change. Which is funny because 2016 was insanely full of them for me and my family, so why not add one more?
This past August we sold our house, bought a new one (but not without being transient for three months at my parents and in-laws with a baby and dog in tow). Renovated the new house because it was a total disaster. Moved in two days before Christmas and basically reinvented our whole work schedule. It was a massive overhaul. And it changed everything in the most difficult and best way possible.
It’s 6:19am right now and I’ve already been up for an hour and half.
This is what I do everyday now. Including Saturdays and Sundays. Which today is Saturday. I wake up at 5am and work for a solid four hours before most people start their work day. And I do it seven days a week. I know what you’re thinking…I can’t do that. I can’t wake up that early. I’m too busy. (I know this because those are all the things I said when my brilliant husband suggested this to me.) He told me that in an average work day, people are only truly productive for four hours, which is crazy considering most people work a job from 9-5 everyday. So why couldn’t that work for me? It would certainly allow me to be a mom and take care of my home and family in a much more efficient way than I was already, let’s be honest, struggling to do.
It’s all about commitment to craft. Do you love to create? Great. Do you love creating so much that you would get up and do it at 5am? Because that’s what it takes. Everyday. Even if you have another job. I’m not saying you have wake up at 5am like I do, but you do have to be committed to making time for your craft each and everyday. I picked 5am because I like feeling like I’ve already worked a solid block of time before the day has really started, that and I have a 18-month-old son. This is the schedule that works for me and my family. You have to find what works for you.
Because here’s the thing - if you keep waiting for extra time to come along for you to create your next idea, it won’t. Time doesn’t give a crap about you or the millions of things you have to get done everyday. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of mornings I get up and everything I write is terrible and my drawings are awful. But I still keep going. I push to get through those four hours even if it’s killing me.
Here’s what a typical morning looks like:
5am: Roll out of bed, which is difficult every morning. I don’t think that will ever change. Especially when my dog (a mid-sized portable heater) snuggles next to me. She is not supportive of my early morning drive.
5:10am: Some sort of stretch or repetition of ten to get blood flowing. My hands are stiff in the morning. And my brain is fuzzy. This helps. Seriously. I know it sounds silly, but it works.
5:10-6am: Draw. Anything. As much as I can. Whatever pops into my head. I use Japanese PiGMA pens and whiteout for corrections. I started using this method for a few reasons. I generally stay away from black ink in my work, it always feels too harsh or heavy. I tend to prefer grey or navy ink or a simple pencil line. But my goal is to make intentional lines, no second-guessing myself, and pencil encourages hesitation. The more I used the black ink, the more confident I became in the lines I was making. Going directly to ink, rather than creating a pencil sketch first, pushes me to be decisive with my line. Now, of course, I still make plenty of bad lines and change my mind about the drawing as it comes together - thus the whiteout. But I find that my morning sketches have a way of maintaining the integrity of the line I intended because I haven’t sketched, used a light table to transfer, and then created the finish. The first drawing is the finished drawing.
6am: Then I post one of my morning sketches. This is a relatively new thing. I’m horrible at social media. But I found that posting a drawing everyday makes me feel accountable to something. Like if I miss a day, everyone will know. Which isn’t really the point, the drawing is for me, but thinking this way is encouraging. Keep drawing. Keep creating.
6am-7am: Write. I allocate a solid hour to NEW creative writing every morning. Not editing. Not a book I’m currently under contract for. But new ideas. This part is really difficult for me. I tend to self edit a lot as I write. I work on just getting words on the page in this hour. The computer I write with doesn’t have access to internet intentionally. The internet is a time succubus that doesn’t care about the creative work you need to do, so ignore it.
7am-9am: This is when I do the work I’m contractually accountable for, like new books or illustration jobs. Currently, I’m working on finishes for my new book, DON'T FORGET DEXTER.
9am: I walk out of my bat cave and see my little man. This is my favorite part. Because this is the part where I actually feel like I’m devoting time to my craft and my family. I don’t feel torn between carving out time during the day to work or play with my son. This schedule allows me to do both and feel good about my use of time.
The rest of the day is spent working during the time my son is napping. Before I did the 5am wake-up, I’d get really stressed out because I could only work during his naps. Sometimes he would wake up early, sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t focus. And it felt like I wasn’t able to get anything done because of constant interruptions. But now, by the time he’s up, I’ve already worked four hours, so anything else I’m able to accomplish is a bonus.
Then at some point, I take a walk with my family, to reboot and think about new ideas.
Now obviously, everyone’s schedule is different. People have day jobs, kids, and a million other responsibilities. And I’m not suggesting to all of you that this is what you have to do to be successful with your craft. All I can tell you is that this is how I feel successful on my own terms, without external pressures telling me otherwise.
*Also, in case you’re wondering, my husband is self-employed and works from home too. Which means I have to make those four hours count. I have to hustle. We both do. There is no day job income to fall back on for us. This is the price we pay for the freedom to create and spend time with our son everyday.
If you get anything at all out of this post, I hope it’s this: don’t waste time waiting around for the perfect moment to create because it will never come.
You have to make time for what you love.