glitched puppet ♥ illustrator, writer, musician
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Work vs Life

I've kind of had this topic stewing around in my head for a while, but I want to talk a little about the whole notion that an artist can't both work and have a life. Or the idea that an artist who has a life won't be as "good" as an artist who only works, or the idea that an artist who only works will wither away in loneliness…


There's a lot of nuance.. The phrase "having a life" is already pretty subjective, and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What makes "good" or "bad" art is equally subjective, and depends entirely on the context of the work -- what it'll be used for, who will be looking at it, what it needs to achieve, and so on.

I do get kind of bummed out when I read posts from artists who are clearly well-meaning, but criticize spending all of one's free time working. I think one phrase I saw (of many phrases from many posts) was that it sounded "miserable and lonely", and that bothered me.

It's not miserable to me! It's not lonely, either! I'm happiest when I'm working. I'm happy when I get to work on my projects with other people, too. (Namely my husband.) Everything about my work makes me happy, and even when I'm not actively putting pen to paper, I'm thinking about my work or talking about my work.

Obviously, the artist who said that wasn't really speaking for every single artist, but I think it could put a kind of murky cloud in the minds of people who function like I do -- people who genuinely just like working on things nonstop, people who exist to hone their skills and express themselves and who don't want to ever not be doing that. I could have seen myself thinking "is there something wrong with that? Why shouldn't I do that?" if I hadn't already reached this point where I know precisely how I feel about work.


As a disclaimer: I know my limits. I don't (tend to) work myself ragged. However, I'm only able to discover my limits by seeing how hard I can push myself. I don't want to sacrifice my health, mental or physical, but I also want to see what I can do if I don't give myself excuses to not do my best. I'm not advising people should go around staying up for 48+ hours in a work-crazed frenzy all the time or anything like that. I tend to sleep ~7-8 hours a day and work for at least 10 of those, every day, but I'm really not recommending other people pull 70-80 hour work weeks like me. (Unless you both want to and can. Then by all means!)

It's kind of weird when you're self-employed, or when you do a job that's also a thing you like doing a lot in general. Work and leisure blend together, a lot. For me, I get to tell stories and make music and draw things that I want to do, anyway, but I have the benefit that it also counts as working time. It often doesn't really "feel" like work because work is "supposed" to be not fun, or it's "supposed" to be boring, or whatever, in the minds of so many people. While it's really challenging to keep pushing myself, it's also fun. It's hard, but it's fun, and it's what I want to do.

And so that's what it comes down to. My natural inclination is just to spend a lot of time doing this. Even if I didn't have to worry about money ever again, you can bet I'd be doing exactly the same thing every day: working on my projects, creating things. Sometimes I do have to buckle down and figure out how to mentally get through a long work session, but that's mostly if it involves a lot of mindless rendering or inking or something. (And the solution to that problem has, as of late, involved listening to podcasts.)  I don't ever really have to "make" myself work, because I gravitate towards it... because that's part of my routine I've been building for years. That's the habit.


When I think about the posts that float around saying, "you're going to make boring art if you don't get life experience," I get a little agitated. No one explains what "life experience" is. Also, I'd like to say, you kind of get life experience simply by existing. So, it sounds an awful lot like telling people "if you're the kind of person who likes to stay at home, your art will be boring," and, as a person who primarily stays home, I really don't like that. Life experience isn't always going out and, say, visiting another country. Sometimes it's just about talking to a friend online once a week for half an hour. Even once a month. Sometimes it's just about owning a cat, and dealing with pet ownership. Sometimes it's a skype call. But yes, sometimes it can be about going outside, or taking a walk, or visiting a friend, or going to another country. It just sucks when others are dismissive of people who like being at home and working.

Boring is a pretty subjective word, anyway. Plenty of people find it boring to make things, hone your skills, or work hard. Not me! But it does feel isolating to not see this kind of viewpoint pop up, and it does feel kind of alienating when I see posts that suggest that artists "shouldn't" work all the time, and that they need some certain kind of experience to make worthwhile art. But then, I don't think I've ever really liked people telling other artists how things should or shouldn't be.


In the past year, I've found more than one person who feels like I do. And it's a relief! It does make you feel a little weird, sometimes, to do this thing that so many people say is bad because it'll burn you out, or whatever. But man, not everyone functions the same. Not everyone burns out in the same way. Not everyone can detach themselves from work so easily. Not everyone likes working for only 4-5 hours.

I was talking to my friend Kate when I visited her and her partner Rian last December, and I remember Kate and I got into talking about work, and our schedules, and what we needed in order to feel creative. And also, I remember we both felt kind of amazed, because we had no idea how alike we were before that moment. Our ideal schedule for work was essentially: wake up, eat a simple thing, work, work, work, remember to eat something later, keep working, get too tired to, go to sleep. That was it. No interruptions, no nothing. She'd been talking to me about how the transition to living with someone was difficult because her schedule got completely thrown off, and I completely empathized.

Schedule and routine are super important for me, but what's also important is mentally allotting time blocks to working on different things. I categorize my days by chunks of time, and I get really mentally agitated if I get interrupted before I've completed a "task", for whatever definition of task. Kate and I talked about how relaxing it was to organize the next day in our head as we fell asleep. It was really weird, but kind of funny, because we had so many similar quirks about time organization and about needing huge blocks of isolated time in order to get things done. It's hard for either of us to just sit down and go "oh I'll work on this until I'm interrupted" or "oh I'll get 10 minutes of work in now" -- it just, it really messes with us!

I laughed at how much of a 180 Rian was from either of us, and the look of pure confusion on their face when we were talking about how much we'd love to just work for 12+ hours in a dark room. I think what really got me is how segmented Rian divided their work and free time. I don't have a division between the two! I always feel like any time could be "work" time, but I also don't see work in quite the same way. I know it's super important for so many people to have that divide, but I just don't feel like it's personally necessary for me.


It's not that I don't take breaks, or that I don't go "I need to step away from my work," but sometimes that just means I tell Marl "hey let's go to the store when I finish this page", and then we do that. My breaks are always at completed chunks of work. After a page, after a panel, after a sketch, after I work out an idea. Being interrupted in the middle is a huge drain. It's like my thoughts are spilling out of my head, and when I resume work, I have to spend a bunch of mental energy just trying to put them back before I can continue. It sucks. (Kate and I were both mystified by Rian's ability to not be fazed by interruptions. What the hell!)

When I do actually make the time to do something else, I tend to go all-out, which contributes a little to being an extreme person who annihilates something or won't even touch it. When a new game comes out that I definitely want to play, I disappear for like a week. (Not before specifically setting up a queue of work to be posted, though!) I just really like being absorbed completely in things, and normally I don't have large blocks of time to set aside for a game or whatever! So it's not even worth it, to me, to play a little bit of a game each day. I can't mentally get into it unless I know I have enough free time to complete the game experience, however long it'll be. It makes it really hard to do small leisurely things, because I'll always feel interrupted if I have to stop before I'm done with it. And if I feel interrupted, I won't enjoy it, so…

Anyway! No one should feel bad if they don't or can't work for long hours on art or creating, but no one should feel bad if that's all they want to do, either. Certainly, you can always aspire for more, or you can always cut back a little if you're at your limit. Creating should be fun, even if it's challenging. You should feel engaged with whatever you're doing, or you're doing it wrong!

I want to talk about burning out in its own post sometime, but I don't think there's ever really a danger of burning out as long as you're working on things you're passionate about, in a way that's healthy for you. Burnout is different for everyone, but for me personally, I experience it when I don't work. (I found out Kate is basically the same there, too!)


In conclusion: I'd love to see less posts telling artists to not do a thing just because it doesn't work for you. That stuff always drives me up the wall, and can really mess with people who aren't like you. Everyone operates differently, and we each have our different limits. Telling people to respect their own limits is fantastic, and is naturally the same as telling them to take care of their bodies and their mental health. Telling people that the (perfectly normal, perfectly different, perfectly fine) way they work sounds awful... is much less fantastic. Work and life don't have to be mutually exclusive to everyone, though of course sometimes they are. Just be respectful of what others need to create. And be respectful of what you need to do your best work, as well.