Advice to Young Creatives Series: Cultivate a non-monetary creative practice

Hi Friends,

Today I want to talk a bit about creating space in your life for creative pursuits that don’t relate to money, success, accolade, or any of the other bull that the world will tell you is a ‘must.’

Let me start by saying this–YES creatives should be paid for their work. YES you should have work in which you are compensated for in some way. We all need to pay our rent, put food on the table, get health insurance, etc. That’s not the kind of creative work I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about making sure that you have some time, space, and energy to create things simply for the joy of creating.

For a long time, like ALL OF MY 20’s, I felt like all the creative pursuits I invested in needed to have a measurable payoff. Any gig, job, side work, etc that I invested my time in needed to either connect me with someone more ‘successful’, get me press (yup, there was a time when that mattered to me), or could eventually be monetized in some way. And let me be clear–these are not bad things. But for those of you who want a holistic and full creative life, those cannot be the only things.

During that decade I lost my sense of exploration, experimentation, and joy in creating.

I became obsessed with success, and every time I achieved something with external reward the excitement of that pursuit wore off faster and faster. It got to the point where I was investing my time and resources in creative pursuits that I didn’t even like anymore. They no longer brought me joy and any magic or artistic pleasure was harder and harder to find.

I wish at that time someone would have told me to create a space in my schedule/apartment/friendships for creative time without a preconceived outcome.

In my 30’s (and in my sobriety), a large theme has been creating space for artistic pursuits not tied to any of that bulls%*t.

The freedom I’ve felt to play, experiment, listen, and fail has ultimately fed my professional pursuits in a way where both have flourished.

Here are a few tips I would recommend for anyone at any budget level to try and cultivate space for the non-monetized creative life:

  • Go to your local library and check out books about things you don’t know anything about and make the time to look through them. It doesn’t have to be hours upon hours, 15 minutes before bed each night. It’s a no-cost way to start exploring what interests you.
  • Try a trial membership on a site like Creative Bug or Skillshare. Even Youtube and TikTok have some incredible tutorials for getting started on something new.
  • You can also often pickup some free or low cost materials on places like FreeCycle, local thrift stores, and yard sales (looking forward to the post COVID world of being able to go back to my favorite thrift stores!)
  • Listen to podcasts on something new. Lately I started getting into the history of USPS stamps thanks to podcasts. Nope, probably something that will never materialize in my life in any kind of significant way, however, it’s been way more creatively stimulating to me than another podcast about ‘how to increase productivity’ or ‘how to skyrocket to success’ etc.
  • Start small. I’m talking one day a week, 30 minutes. Most of us if we’re honest can make that work. I work full time, have a toddler, and almost any given week I can make time for at least one day for 30 minutes.

In the past few years I’ve developed some creative practices that have brought me so much joy like gardening, linocut and collage work, writing snail mail, and lately I started embroidering.

All of these practices don’t relate at all to my professional career as an Arts Administrator, but they make me a more whole and complete person. They’re also relatively cheap.

Seeds can be less than a dollar, and you can make anything into a planter with a little determination. Collage can be made from literal garbage. Snail mail costs 55 cents but is there anything more delightful than opening your mailbox to something hand written? And postcards are cheaper at 36 cents. Pretty doable! Linocut can be a bit of an investment (about $30 to get started) but once you carve it you can print off of it indefinitely! And embroidery has been relatively cheap – you can get a hoop for under $2, use any kind of recycled fabric you have lying around (like an old t-shirt with a hole in it), a needle is less than a dollar, and a skein of thread is 64 cents.

Total cost of this project was under $5. And it was for no one but me!
Just something to bring me joy and enhance my creative spirit.

If you’re still reading maybe one question you have is, “Yeah, okay, so create a cheap hobby or whatever. WHY?”

Because there is going to come a time in your professional life where you fail. HARD.

It comes for everyone.

I’m not saying this to be pessimistic or tell you that you won’t have success-you will. But you’re also going to have times where your career doesn’t look how you want it to look, and these small creative pursuits will save you.

Ask anyone who lives in Las Vegas and works in a creative or artistic capacity. We’ve all been laid off at some point over the past ten or fifteen years due to our fragile economy. And the folks who have weathered these storms are the folks who have an identity outside of their profession. Who have creative and holistic selves apart from their paid work.

As someone who has experienced that professional loss both during times of artistic wholeness and times where my entire creative identity relied on my employment, I can tell you it’s so much better when you’re not reliant on someone else for that inspiration.

So my friends–I hope you take care of your hearts.

Give yourself space to create in a way that is just for you.

That brings you joy for no other reason than it feels so good to make something beautiful.