How to Stay Devoted to Your Art (and not go crazy)? Call it Practice.
“How do you not go nuts?” a friend recently asked me.
She’d taken some time off from work to ‘just write’ and was having a hard time settling down to focusing on the creative as much as she’d dreamed.
I laughed. My approach to staying sane on the creative path as been decades in the making. I often feel the same restless uncertainty when faced with the time and a blank page, even when it’s what I’m desiring half the time.
After many years, I’ve settled upon an approach that’s about making the work a practice. In fact, my days are structured by practice: a yoga practice, a Buddhist chanting practice, a writing practice, and a music practice, all with with their own Recommended Daily Allowance.
Like vitamins, I know what’s optimal to keep my engines running and my creative output in integrity with my goals, but everyday has its unique challenges. Some days, the work is scary, some days there’s just not time to do it all. However, now I know a minimum RDA can, and will do the job of keeping the engine running so that when I have more time or excellent attention, an assignment or upcoming show, I have my skills and fitness in place. And the ‘work’ become less work-like. When creativity is practice, the doing becomes a goal in and of itself. Production happens, without the pressure off of finishing that can cause its own angst. Now I don’t consider practice work, or really duty, as much as preparation and catalyzation.
A prioritization of practice has been decades in the making, though I first learned an appreciation for such supporting structures from my mother, who had a knack for self-discipline and a regard for the practical. She organized her days and weeks by the tasks and meals needed to keep house and home for a family of four. Tuesdays and Thursdays were for washing sheets and towels. Mondays and Fridays were for washing clothing. Monday and Wednesday morning we had eggs and toast for breakfast; Tuesday and Thursday were for cold or hot cereal. Friday, she made French Toast. Saturday and Sunday were reserved for pancakes or waffles. Saturday was also her shopping day, a weekly trip to Safeway, grocery list in hand.
Sunday included her weekly visit to Holy Eucharist church for 10am mass, though her day-to-day focus on self-care was more physical than spiritual. Each morning, she did a half hour of floor exercises — leg lifts and sit ups — along with Jack Lalanne on TV, and then set about her daily tasks. Afternoons were reserved for folding and ironing — she ironed almost everything except for the towels — accompanied by watching One Life to Live and General Hospital (The creak of the ironing board, the sound of the iron steaming and the voices of the soap opera actors are forever linked in my mind). After her 3pm break for coffee and a couple cookies — rewards! — she set about preparing an evening meal.
I didn’t get her schedule at the time. And I know she would have liked to do something different with her time during those years of family rearing. But I respect how her self-imposed schedule kept her from sloth or distraction, drama or any sort of substance addiction.
Mom’s approach to the project of raising a family gave me an early understanding of self-discipline that I’ve turned to again and again over the years. I picked up part-time jobs after school and during college, and ran cross country and rode my bicycle to stay fit. This led, in young adulthood, to competitive cycling, which eventually led me to yoga practice. Dedicated yoga practice led to an accompanying Buddhist chanting practice. At the same time, journalism led to creative writing. Creative writing led to songwriting, Songwriting led to singing. Singing led to performing. Performing led to more practice… and so on.
It is only in the past decade that I’m clear on how my practices work together, definite about what my practices are and understand what’s optimal and how a minimum RDA can keep my engine running and on my path. Practice renders my body and mind on the healthier, saner side, and my skill set supple enough to work and perform. Practice provides structure, harnesses my spirit and if I’m lucky, helps me catch inspiration when it first appears. In between and after the sun salutations and prayers, the morning pages and the rehearsals, are the teaching and the gigs, the articles and lyrics, as well as the householding and the food prep, and the personal life. Hopefully, overridingly, the revelation, the liberation and the transformation that dedicated practice brings, rises to the fore and becomes art and soul.
Ideal Daily Practice:
2–3 hours dedicated writing time
1–2 hours rehearsal/performance
1.5 hours yoga practice
1–2 hour hike
1 hour chanting
Minimum RDA Practice
750 words or 3 pages free write (morning pages)
Practice/perform 3 songs
12 sun salutations, 5 minute seated meditation
20 minute walk
Morning and evening Gongyo