How to Be Productive as an Artist

When we first begin our creative hobbies, we paint, draw, or write when we feel like it. It’s a source of relaxation and fulfillment. If we don’t feel like doing it or we’re too busy, it falls by the wayside, no harm done.

When we go pro, though, or otherwise transform our creative spark into our career path, we find ourselves with a new source of pressure. We must create, produce, and refine on a regular basis — and often under a deadline.

And that can seem impossible, especially on days when you feel dried up, exhausted, or distracted by the non-creative tasks filling up your day. (Dishes, anyone?) That, in turn, saps the passion right out of your art.

Suddenly, you regret becoming a full-time writer or professional painter. You hate that you have to pick up the pen or brush when all you want to do is sleep. Why can’t it all just be fun again?

To succeed as a creative professional, you must learn to produce even if you don’t feel like it. You must know how to get your creative juices flowing again. You must overcome the self-doubt and mental exhaustion that prevents you from working.

Here’s how:

Take breaks.

There’s creative flow, and then there’s creative drought. It’s never a good feeling when you have a drought come on just as you’re nearing your deadline.

The key is to strike a balance. Let’s stick with the water metaphor and say that you should aim for creative showers. I don’t mean singing as you soap up, although that’s a great way to take a break from your work.

Implement the Pomodoro technique, in which you work for 25 minutes, then take a brief break. This is a great way to ensure that you don’t burn yourself out. It may be tempting to stay in a state of flow until you’re done. But if you’ve ever had looooong flows, you probably know that you don’t feel like returning to the project any time soon after spending 8 hours on it.

To keep the creative juices flowing, take a break every 25 minutes (or hour, whatever works for you). Take a walk. Take a shower. Clean up your supplies. This period of rest lets you keep the project fresh in your mind, but prevents you from “drying up.”

Consume others’ work.

The best artists are voracious consumers of other artwork. Some people think that visiting galleries, attending shows, or reading other people’s work can distract from their own projects. Others fear that they’ll be unduly influenced by others’ work or that they’ll accidentally steal from them.

Make no mistake: Regularly consuming your “competitors’” work is the best thing you can do for your own craft. You might be swayed, sure, or horrified to discover that someone else did that Great Idea you just had, but the benefits far exceed the drawbacks. You’re much more likely to find inspiration by consuming art than by sitting at home in your studio.

Pick up a non-professional creative hobby.

Even with the rise of Renaissance men, women, and non-binaries, no one is a professional in absolutely all of their creative endeavors. It’s simply impossible. Even so-called “triple threats” on Broadway are likely not pro writers, chefs, or sculptors. And pros in any one discipline or field are unlikely to be experts in all variations. You can be a pro blogger who has no idea how to write a case study. You can be a professional ballerina who can’t samba to save her life.

Why not choose a creative activity that has little or nothing to do with your day job? Enjoy it with no expectation of turning it into a source of income.

Whether you choose another form of art or a subfield in your own industry, keep it a hobby. Many people find it relaxing and fulfilling to dabble in poetry, ballroom dance, or knitting — even if they’re ghostwriters, jazz dancers, or seamstresses by trade.

Above all else, remember to be kind to yourself. Your creative spark doesn’t mean it should be easy to create all the time — it’s not! By following the best practices for productivity while continually exposing yourself to potential inspiration, you should be able to keep those creative juices flowing.

Originally published on Creative Juices, our Medium publication.

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