Seven Vows for Sustaining an Art-Committed Life

So you’ve dedicated yourself to living an art-committed life, I can hear you saying. It’s one thing to proclaim that. But how do you maintain it during those moments when real life interferes?

I have capitalized on the flexibility of self-employment over the last year to grow this blog; start an MFA program; and begin teaching. I’ve approached each day like a baker, mixing together the sugar of creative writing with the flour of commercial writing. Some days have been sweeter than others, but each has been filling.

Two weeks ago I returned to full-time salaried work. What lured me back was not just the comfort of a predictable paycheck, but the opportunity to serve my country in a truly meaningful way. There are jobs the art-committed work so they can afford to do what they really love; this is a case where it’s the job itself I really love.

By the time I reached Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, near the end of my 2010 cross-country U.S. road trip, I knew I needed to return to an art-committed life. Nearly two years later, I know I can balance that life with an inspiring full-time job.

What a delightful dilemma, I can hear you saying. A great day job, with a fun side pursuit.

It is not a dilemma. But it is a challenge. Because of the dedication I bring to this job, and because I find it rewarding, it will actually be easier for me to neglect the muse to which I have dedicated myself as a creative writer.

I spent too many years neglecting my muse. I believed creativity was finite, that when I gave my creativity to my employer, there was none left for my art. But creativity is not a fossil fuel of finite supply that must be transported in pipelines and on ships and driven around in automobile tanks. Creative thinking, I’ve learned, begets more creative thinking. A creative breakthrough at one’s day job can inspire a blizzard of creativity with one’s late-night or early-morning art.

I will not remain true to myself if I do not continue living an art-committed life. So to keep me on the path, I am proclaiming here these vows:

  • I vow to make time for my art. I returned home from a long day at work at 10:45 pm last night. I awoke at 5:15 am this morning to write this post. That is not a sustainable daily schedule, but I am committed to carving out at least an hour a day for my personal muse. Today my muse wanted to write this post.
  • I vow to bring full creative effort to my employer. This is easy to say now, when I am loving every minute of my new job. But there will come a moment when my muse tells me she misses the time we used to spend together. Her call might come in the middle of the day, perhaps during a dull meeting or when a project I’ve been working on has suffered a setback. I vow to tell her I’ll call her back that night.
  • I vow to continue my MFA in Nonfiction Writing. It already is clear to me is that the work I’m doing in my degree program brings daily value to my new job in communications. But it is tempting to think that perhaps I should take a hiatus from the program, that producing thirty solid pages of creative writing each month along with critical reading and writing will take too much of my time. I will remind myself that the MFA is a core part of my art-committed life, and will increase my efficiency at my salaried job.
  • I vow to be fully present while on the job. If you look through my tweets over the last month, you’ll see two trends: 1) I’ve sent far fewer the last two weeks, since I started the new job. 2) Those tweets I’ve sent during East Coast working hours were sent via Hootsuite. In fact, they were scheduled each morning before I left for work to go live while I was at work. I made a decision when I started this job that I will not engage in any personal media while at work. That means the social media conversations I allowed myself to engage in during the day as a freelancer must now wait until the evening or the early morning, just as my muse must wait.
  • I vow to remain engaged with the artistic community. I’ll still answer your tweet, just not right away. I’ll still chat with you in the comments field on this blog, but again perhaps not right away. Everyone I interact with in social media not only shares my passion for living an art-committed life, they also share the challenge of balancing art, work, and family. They will understand.
  • I vow to maintain a separation between my worlds. Longtime readers of The Artist’s Road know that I never blogged about my freelance clients. My professional and personal code calls for a firewall between work and social media. As it happens, my new employer mandates that. Consider it done.
  • I vow to remain open to possibility. When I chose to return to freelancing at the end of 2010, it was the third time in my 20+ year career that I voluntarily became self-employed. Clearly I have a bit of an entrepreneurial bug. But a good entrepreneur, like a good artist, remains open to possibility. This new professional possibility was too good to refuse. And so I voluntarily adjust my day parts to accommodate it while remaining committed to my art. Now my mission is to remain open to possibility with my art. As I restructure my engagement with my muse, she may wish to take me in unexpected directions. I trust her enough to follow.

I love to learn, and I’ve just embarked on a major learning process, determining how best to balance a commitment to my salaried employment while honoring my commitment to my muse. What lessons have you learned as you seek balance in your own artistic life?

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

39 Responses to “Seven Vows for Sustaining an Art-Committed Life”

  1. Kate Arms-Roberts Reply May 3, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Congratulations on the job!!
    I will be watching to see how you keep both commitments. I am sure you will find a way to honor your muse through this.
    For me, my biggest learning has been about coming back to the work when I lose the thread. When I stop writing for a bit, for whatever reason, it is tempting to treat myself badly about the lapse, but that is not useful.
    The only productive approach is to notice that I have not been writing and to start writing. Anything else adds emotional baggage and gets in the way of the words.

    • Thanks, Kate!

      I’d like you to watch, because I’m hoping my blog friends help hold me accountable. As for returning to the thread, I think that’s why I need to carve out an hour a day, or, if that seems impossible, thirty minutes. I think it’s like exercise. If I don’t do it regularly, when I then try to do it with conviction it feels like starting over again. Now I’m terrible about exercise; I will aim to be better with creative writing!

  2. Hi Patrick,

    I just wanted to congratulate you on your new position! It’s a rare, wonderful thing to love your salaried job so much!

    Your commitment and determination to all facets of your life shine through in this post. I’m certain you’ll find the balance. Your dedication is admirable (and serves as a kick in the pants to me!)

    Just one thing about the MFA, which of course you will continue. But I know many students (including me!) who benefited from a hiatus. It also allows time for certain lessons to really sink in and can deepen the experience. I’m not advocating for a break – just saying that it’s not necessarily a cop-out, either, as there are positive aspects to it, too!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Sion! I appreciate your congratulations and your confidence.

      I’m already locked in for the next semester, although I’m now figuring out how to adjust my work schedule to fit in the residency. I will remain open, however, to taking a hiatus after this semester if I feel my muse needs a break. Thanks for letting me know it can work.

  3. Kudos for no social media at work, but something tells me you approach all things with commitment. I haven’t gone back to a day job, but I have gone back to my old job, which is playing my music live. That has made me hitch up the ol’ butt wagon to get everything accomplished in my fiction writing world, let alone my blog.

    I’m curious to see where this road leads you. I hope I’ll learn something about accomplishing both jobs with creativity and grace.

    • Having heard your music, I think it’s fantastic you’ve returned to live performance. Do you ever make it up to the mid-Atlantic? I’d gather a crowd for a show.

      I expect to learn a lot on this road. And it should give me plenty to blog about!

  4. Hi Patrick,

    First of all, congratulations! Love the way you’ve substantiated your vows. I’m sure you will be committed to keeping them. Good luck.

  5. Congratulations, Patrick! Great point that it’s not an either/or thing. I often find that the art and business sides of my life compliment and feed each other. And smart, forward-thinking companies and (government entities like yours) recognize the value that that other side of an employee’s life can bring, as opposed to viewing it as a distraction that competes for time, energy and intellectual/creative capital.

    • I love the way you’ve worded that, Rob. There is a synergy of skill sets and creative spark, and I’m fortunate to have an employer that recognizes that.

  6. Hi Patrick,
    This is such a wonderful and inspiring list. I may just print it out and stick it next to my laptop.
    I’m so impressed that you’re working full time and keeping up your studies! I’ll be applying to low residency programs this winter, and am so glad to hear about your experiences in keeping up the writing/assignments!

    • Thanks! Let’s keep talking as you look into low residency programs. I plan to blog on this summer’s residency, just as I did with the winter one over New Year’s.

  7. Patrick,

    There are some similarities between your intentions and mine regarding work and art. I’m inspired by the clarity with which you outline your intentions. I look forward to hearing/reading more about how your intentions play out.

    I know that my actual behaviors have sometimes been a little more messy than my stated (or unstated) intentions. This is an area I continue to work on and play with.

    Playful blessings,
    Stan (aka @muz4now)

    • Thanks for complimenting the clarity of my vows. It wasn’t hard to write, because I’ve been formulating them in my mind for months, dating back to when this first appeared to be a possibility. The words were polished in my mind before I put them down on paper

      You seem a very self-actualized person, Stan, so I’m confident you find ways to maintain your intentions while adjusting to life’s uncertainties, and remain humble while doing so.

  8. Congrats on the new job! Sounds very exciting. I really love what you’ve vowed, and I can tell you’re going to make it work. I think what I admire most is that you’re trying to protect both your creative life at home and your new position — not just one or the other. Best of luck!

    • Wow, thanks, Annie! I love your confidence. I have to protect both to be true to myself, but I also find great joy in both, and would never want to have to choose.

  9. Hi Patrick,
    I’m not surprised you landed a great FT job you’re excited about; you’re practically a national treasure (hmm, I could even say international!)😀 Big congrats.

    I’m relieved to hear you’re going to keep working on your own writing and keeping in contact with your creative pals on and offline as much as time and energy allows you to. I hope you can find some time really soon to take a short vacation, though. Seems like you’ve been chugging away at full steam for the longest time!

    • Vacation? Hmm. I’ll use what little vacation days I will have earned for my MFA residency; is that a vacation?🙂 I’m committed to staying connected with great folks like you. I’m finding it harder to visit blogs like yours that I value, but I will find a way to fit that in. That’s part of my engagement vow.

  10. Wow! Congratulations on your new job! It looks just like your cup of tea.🙂
    I have found that having a job that doesn’t suck all the life out of me during the day helps me be able to write during the evening when I’m off work. Since my ideal job is “full-time novelist” and I don’t get paid for that yet, I content myself with this for now.

    • Hi Melissa,

      I’m glad you find creative energy for both the day job and the novel. I’ll confess, I really love the hustle and bustle of a busy office. I can’t say that ten years from now I’d still want to do full-time office work, but I like having a bit of solitary writing time and fast-paced in-person collaboration. I understand the draw, however, of supporting yourself from your writing. Hard to do!

  11. I adore this post. And #1 is THE BEST. Heck all of them are fine fine things to remember, but #1 screams at me. I was just chastising myself today. I awoke with the alarm at 1630 but went back to bed when i should have had my shower and coffee and fed my muse before leaving for work. Thanks for this reminder to make my muse, my art, ME important.

    • Thank you for the confirmation I’m not alone in this. It’s helpful, as I stare at my computer screen clock and see it is 5:27 am…🙂

      Keep feeding the muse with your creativity, and keep feeding yourself with lots of coffee! It’s a miracle.

  12. What’s this? I step out for a moment, and when I come back, you’re the Chief Communications Officer of the USPTO. Not only that, you’re your own deputy! (How does that work? Makes that vacation Carole mentioned sound even less likely.) Well done, Patrick!

    It will be challenging to continue in your art-committed life, for sure. But commitment is all about perseverence and overcoming challenges. This is simply the next phase in your commitment. Sort of like what having kids does to a marriage…

    I hope it helps to know we’re all still here awaiting your next blog post and anticipating that memoir. At the same time, you’ll probably need to extend the timeframe on these projects. That’s the only way I keep going with stuff I’m working on. I make an agreement with myself almost daily to be okay with things taking a long time, as long as I’m consistently showing up.

    • Hi Sue,

      I love knowing that you’re awaiting the next blog post, but keep in mind the memoir will take awhile; I have to finish writing it first!🙂 Yes, the timeline may need to be extended, but the good news is that much of the memoir is being written in the MFA program, and packet page count requirements are set. So even if I only do the 30 pages a month, I move forward. It’s good you have an agreement with yourself to be reasonable, once you show up, as you put it.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. Morning Patrick. Another great insightful post. it is a beautiful day down here just north of Sydney. I plan to get out and away from my computer and take it in. Like you, I have vowed to maintain a separation between the different worlds I inhabit and that includes taking breaks regularly. I travel 4 days a week by train to work, over two hours a day, I’m able to use this time to write and I’m v.thankful for it.

    • Ah, yes, I’ve gotten a lot of work done on train rides between DC and NY. Well done! Enjoy your beautiful Aussie weather; rainy and overcast this weekend here in DC.

  14. Well stated! I have a similar philosophy for my life right now. I do full-time work that is meaningful to me in a different way than the more freely creative writing that I commit to outside of work hours. I firmly believe that doing stuff out in the world can enrich the time we spend in the writing chair.

    • Hi Jeannie,

      I’m so glad you find your full-time work meaningful and that there is a synergy across your creative efforts. Not everyone finds that, but some of the artists I interviewed on my cross-country road trip did, and they greatly appreciated it.

  15. Congrats on the great new job, Patrick. I have no doubt that you’ll continue to honor your muse and keep your life art centered. And by the way, love that photo–I’m lucky to leave near the Columbia Gorge, which is one of my favorite places on earth.

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