It was time I really needed. After about five months, though, I began to get bored. I was floundering. I knew I wanted to make my living with my art and writing, but I didn’t want to get another job, even an art- or writing-related one. But I found it hard to impose on myself the kind of schedule I would need to get work done. I needed some outside input.
I started taking classes in creative entrepreneurship (which I knew nothing about—I’d spent 20 years in libraries and academia). I started a creative business, entered my art in shows, started two novels and submitted poetry to literary magazines. My work was slowly being recognized (emphasis on slowly). I found I worked better if I had a deadline.
But even though things were happening, and I was beginning to see how I could help make them happen, I still felt adrift. I didn’t know what this new life looked like, or should look like. (I have since learned that a ‘should’ popping up is a big ol’ red flag—as in “danger, danger Will Robinson, you’re buying into other people’s ideas about you again!”) I was very familiar with what the life of an 8-5 job looked and felt like—and I was determined NOT to recreate that. That’s why I quit, right?! But this amorphous artist-writer life was a mystery.
I’m old enough that people asked me if I had retired when I left my job. No! I wanted to yell at them. I’m just now getting to my real work! But many people don’t understand any work lifestyle outside of ‘job’ and ‘retirement.’ And I realized that I didn’t either.
What I was doing was fun, it felt like play—it was what I had always done outside my job, for myself, for fun. It was not-work. Which is a wonderful thing, except that I equated work with legitimacy. This thing I was doing—play, not-work—was therefore not legitimate. It was not something any serious person would do with their ‘work’ time.
It took me a long time (and numerous conversations with my coach) to realize that’s how I had set up my work life. And that I could change my mind about it—I could view my art and writing as both play and legitimate activity, a serious contribution to the world that others would appreciate and find helpful.
But I still felt like I was spinning my wheels half the time. When I had a deadline I was motivated, I was productive and excited about my work. When I didn’t have a deadline, there were just too many possibilities for what to do with my time. Start another piece? Maybe a new series! Or work on the languishing novel. But I should really work on something more likely to make money—the business. But what about studio time? I don’t want to neglect that. I’d spin around in the little hamster wheel of my mind and usually end up reading email or Facebook.
Then the other day I had an aha! moment. I sing in my church choir, and when we first start working on a piece, we bumble our way through it a few times to get a feel for it. When things start clicking, at least for enough of us that it doesn’t sound completely awful, our director will say, “Yeah, that’s the shape of it. That’s the shape of the piece.”
I realized that that’s what I’ve been looking for—the shape of this new work life. And I’m starting to get it, the shape of this creative life. I’m putting the pieces together.
But even more important than the specific pieces that compose the shape is that I now know it has a shape. An outline, a form I can return to when I get lost. And I know it’s my shape to form, to construct. Which is what I love about it, now that I know there is a form to compose. A simple thing, I know, but it makes all the difference for me.