5 Ways to Carve Out Creative Time

Remember the good ol’ days when you could sit down with your paintbrushes after your day job, and just fritter away the hours until you finally crashed at 3 am?

work in progress in my studio

work in progress in my studio

Remember when you could pick up your instrument and not have to worry about who was asleep?

Or when you could start and finish a sewing project in one sitting?

As a mom, finding the time to make something (that’s not a meal or an art project with your toddler) can feel Sisyphean. We love our kids, but the time and energy we spend raising them depletes our creative energy — leaving us burnt out and pining for the days when we could actually have creative time for ourselves.

For the two years I was pregnant and then raising an infant, I didn’t make a damn thing. Finally, in January, I committed to 2019 being my year of making. And so far, I’ve been making that commitment a reality.

Here are five tactics I’ve used to carve out creative time for myself in between working, maintaining a marriage, raising a toddler, and keeping a (sort of) clean house:

1. Forget about self-care.

Self-care and creative time aren’t the same thing. Honestly, the first step in creating more creative time for myself was counterintuitive: I threw my self-care notions in the trash can.

Carving out self-care time — whether it was a bath or time to journal or a yoga class — was nice for the moment, but afterwards, I still felt depleted and shitty. My inner artist was still pissed off with me — which meant that time was, ultimately, a wasted hour.

When I chucked my self-care time in the trash and focused solely on getting into the studio to paint, everything else in my life got better. I had more energy to play with my son (making the workout time less important). I slept better at night (making the baths obsolete). I even ate healthier because my heart — and mind — were happy (making the splurge desserts and coffees easy to ignore).

I know ignoring the self-care concept may seem counter to everything all the self-help gurus are shilling, but try it. And if you hate it, you can always go back to baths and green juices.

2. Let someone else take over.

Full disclosure: I am as much of as a control freak as you’ll ever find. This goes double for how I feel about my son. I’ve breastfed and co-slept with him since the moment he was born. We even practice EC, which requires attention and dedication to tracking your child’s rhythms.

So the concept of leaving my awesome kiddo with someone who (gasp!) might put him in diapers or who couldn’t breastfeed him to sleep was like a punch in the gut.

However, when I committed to getting a studio again, we all survived. The boy still cries when I leave, and it still rips my heart out every time. However, he now really enjoys his time with his daddy while Mommy is at the studio. They play differently than I would, and he’s put in a diaper more than I would like — but, again, we all survive.

Allowing my partner to take on a more active role has improved our relationship as well. He has a better understanding about why the rules have been created, and I have been able to slowly peel my fingers off my need to control the world around me— which is the best thing for everyone in the long run.

Whether you have kids or not, this is a really important point. To carve out creative time, you have to let someone have more control somewhere. Whether that’s having other people take over projects at work, hiring a professional to clean your house, or hiring a VA to handle your grunt work, you gotta let go somewhere.

3. Put some money down.

I know! “We’re just making the ends meet. There isn’t enough money for a studio or a practice space!”

I hear you. We were broke when I signed for this studio space.

But consider this: How much are you willing to pay for your sanity?

Have you paid ridiculous amounts of money for prescriptions? Do you shop at Whole Foods or take supplements? Do you pay for a gym membership even though you only go once a year? Are your insurance costs through the roof?

We can always find a way to magically squeeze another dime out of our budget. (I cancelled our internet, all our video subscriptions, and we ate beans and rice for two months so I could secure this studio space.)

Once you put the money down for a studio, you will get your tuchus there— just so you don’t feel like a jerk for spending all that money on something you aren’t using.

Let me add caveat: I am a supporter of having a studio somewhere that is not your house, especially if you have children. I know many mamas have their art studios in their attic or basement so they can be on hand easily for the kiddos. For me, when I am within earshot of my kid, I can’t focus nearly as well.

If you’d rather have a studio at home, the concept still stands. Put some cash down to renovate your space; buy some kickass supplies; get a super swanky chair. Anything that puts your a$$ on the line.

works in progress in my studio

works in progress in my studio

4. Give up on making your art “good”.

Whew. This is a tough one. “But if I don’t want my art to be ‘good’, why would I bother?”

The answer to this one is simple. If you are hellbent on making your art “good”, the possibility of it not being “good” will — sometime, somewhere — paralyze you. You will give up (even just for a little while) because you decide that you just will never be good enough.

And that just ain’t worth it.

In the end, you can’t control if other people think your work is good. All you can control is if you enjoy the process of making your work. The sound of the brush on the canvas. The moment of resolving a dissonant chord. The feel of clay squishing between your fingers. Losing yourself in the pleasurable sensations of making art is one of the most precious experiences of being human.

So just stop worrying about making “good” work.

If it’s shit, who cares! You enjoyed the act of creating it in the moment, and that is all we are given. The moment. So enjoy the moment, and let other people worry about their perspectives of your work. That’s not your concern.

Need some inspiration on why you should stop trying to be “good”? This Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk is a classic.

5. Give yourself permission to be unproductive.

I’m just gonna say it: productivity hacks are the death knell of creativity. Productivity hacks are fabulous if you want to crank through the grunt work of your day job so that you can make time to get to the studio, but if you want to enjoy the process of creating, trying to be “efficient” is not the way to go.

Creativity requires space, ease, and time. Once you get in the studio, you can relax. You got there. You did it! You made time to be creative! The creativity will come by you relaxing and enjoying yourself. If all you do today is color with crayons, awesome. The work is percolating. Don’t rush it.

I know some artists feel they require a deadline in order to finish something, and I hear you. Sometimes you gotta know thyself. However, my point here is if you treat every moment in the studio as something that must culminate in a finished product, eventually you are going to dread going.

I hope these tactics are helpful! Let me know if you implement one or several, and what results you found.

Also, if you know another artist who is struggling to find the energy to make their art, forward this article along to them!

If you’d like to track how my studio progress is going (with all the joys, frustrations, and foibles) and get more inspiration for your own creative practice, I’d love it if you’d follow me on Instagram at @cj_howard_art.