Chop wood and carry water.

It’s a large part of your creativity

4 min readJul 3, 2017


My grandmother was a knitter. Whenever she had a free minute — which wasn’t often in her full-time job as a nurse while raising three children singlehandedly because her violin teacher husband was more interested in the bottle than in his family — she would knit.

In our last conversation, she told me that she sees herself as a thief because she steals with her eyes. (If I had known then that it would be the last time that I would speak to her, would we sill have spoken about her knitting?)

Whenever she saw someone at the hospital with an interesting patterned cardigan or sweater, she analysed it and figured out in her head how to create it herself. Then, when she had a ten-minute tea break, she whipped out her knitting along with the teabags and a biscuit.

Growing up, we never had shop bought jerseys or socks or beanies during winter because her handiwork kept all of her grandchildren warm and snug every year. That’s how much she knitted even though she had no time.

Do you know the difference between sketching and drawing?

Just the other day, an artist friend of mine corrected me when I told her I’m learning how to sketch.

‘You mean draw, don’t you?’

‘Well, it’s the same thing,’ I argued. ‘I’m learning how to make shapes on paper that represent something that I’m looking at in real life. That’s sketching, right?’

She shook her head and rolled her eyes as if the difference should be obvious. Noticing my blank stare she explained, patiently, like a teacher to a slow child, that a ‘sketch’ is a rough drawing merely capturing the details of something you want to draw later, details like showing where the light is coming from, where the tree is in relation to the house, that sort of thing. Sketching is putting the ideas on paper.

‘A drawing, on the other hand,’ she said, gesturing with her hand just in case I might be losing interest in the semantics (you think?!), ‘is when you take your sketch to you drawing pad and you get working on the actual picture.’

Right. Did knowing this difference inspire me at all or make me a better artist? Nope. Not in the least. But it did bring about this article. Because sketching is like taking notes, mental or otherwise while going about your daily business, and drawing is the time spent in actual creation.

Every artist sketches and draws, even if our art never requires a pencil and paper.

As a writer, I do “sketching” and “drawing” as well. My grandmother sketched when she stole with her eyes and drew when she was able to sit down and knit. I’m assuming every artist — whether you use a paintbrush or your body or ingredients in a pot — has their own version of “sketching” and “drawing.”

A large part of our art takes place during the day, away from the creative workstation.

The point is that a lot of what we do during our creative expression, whether it’s drawing, doing yoga, dancing, quilting, cooking, knitting, sewing or playing with clay, happens during daily life — we’re sketching while going about our chores and duties. Even enlightenment happens “while we chop wood, carry water,” as the Buddha said.

I’ve done a lot of writing while washing my hair in the shower or while watching my kids on the playground and even while nursing them. When my actual writing time comes, which could be ten minutes here or half an hour there, then I simply wrote what I created in my mind while I was doing other things. Which means I spent those ten minutes actually writing, as opposed to daydreaming or wondering where to start.

A friend keeps a notepad with her while she drives her kids to their after school activities because the Creative Muses choose to inspire her while her little one learns to point her toes and her older one kicks the ball around on the soggy soccer field.

In other words, she creates in her mind while she’s chopping wood and carrying water. Just like my grandmother did with her knitting. We can all do that, and if having no time is your excuse for not creating, then let it go. Either think of a much better excuse (and let me know what it is so that I can write about why it’s not a valid one) or start creating whatever it is that you’ve always wanted to create but didn’t have time for.

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Originally published at on July 3, 2017.




Host of The Not Starving Artist Podcast and animal portrait artist. Visit