25 Ways To Survive As A Creative Person

1. Give Yourself The Gift Of Time

Creativity does not live in a cave inside your head. That shit’s gotta come out and play. It has to splash in rain puddles. It has to climb trees. It has to build a ground-to-air star-exploding laser out of Duplo blocks and a repurposed iPhone. You need to give yourself the time every day to do the thing that you want to do. Our days and nights get crowded as life bloats and swells to fill the spaces, so you have to — have to — push all that aside with a barbaric yawp and give yourself the time to be creative.This is both in the day-to-day and in the “scope of your entire life” sense — in the day to day, you need time with your creativity. And in the long term, your creativity needs that time to get bigger, get weirder, get more awesome. Plants need water. Alpacas need food. Creativity needs time. We’re all dying. Fuck stagnation. High-five creation.

2. Work Shit Jobs…

You will survive by working shit jobs. That’s the nature of the beast. You don’t start out a fruitful creative person sitting on a throne made of fat stacks of greenbacks earned from your artistic endeavors. Unlikely to happen. You’re going to push a broom, sling some coffee, type eye-blistering numbers into a mind-numbing, soul-melting spreadsheet. This is how you eat in the beginning. This is how you pay rent.

3. …But Always Keep Your Eye On The Prize

That shit job is also how you get the motivation to think, You know, I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 50, and so I’d better learn how my creativity starts earning out. It’s a necessary part of the equation. Always look forward. Always have that end game, that exit strategy. Know where you’ve hidden the seat ejector button. Work a shit job long enough, it’ll start to feel like second nature. It starts wearing the mask of a career instead of a temporary pit-stop where you do something shitty so as not to die hungry in your parents’ basement. You’ve gotta keep your eye of the tiger on… well, on the tiger, probably? Because the other tiger will eat you? So you have to be the bigger tiger? I don’t know. Shut up.

4. Make Your “Oh-Face” And Reach Project Climax

Creativity demands creation and creation is more than just a few blobs of clay smacked together into something resembling half-a-dick. (Or, for the ladies, a partial vagina.) You gotta go whole-dick. You gotta go full-vagina. Creation means completing that which you begin. Even if you don’t finish it as strongly as you hoped, completing a project has untold, unexpected rewards — both in terms of massaging the prostate of your soul and in terms of offering real concrete benefits (for instance, you will not make any money off an unfinished project). Start small. Easier in the beginning to bring smaller entities to fruition. But don’t stay small. Always go bigger. Always change the game. And always finish.

5. Pay Even One Bill With Creative Work

The true revelation of your creative career is paying even a single bill with the money earned from an artistic endeavor. Buy yourself a cup of coffee. A meal. A cell phone bill. Holy shit, a mortgage. That’s when it all starts to feel real. That’s when it feels like more than just a couple of ghosts fucking each other way up in the clouds, out of sight. Make it tangible, even in a tiny way. It’ll give you a bonafide Mind Boner.

6. A Little For You, A Little For Them

Not all creative work is a Fred Astaire dance routine with an umbrella. It isn’t all smiles and satisfaction. It can feel just as heart-destroying as that spreadsheet (and creative work can still involve spreadsheets). Here’s how you get through it: first, recognize that it’s better than cleaning up some kid’s puke at Wal-Mart, or waiting tables at Applebee’s, or harvesting centaur ovaries for your evil pharmaceutical masters. Second, for every one project you do for someone else, give yourself one. One just for you.

7. Understand The Nature Of Satisfaction

It’s critical to have a realistic picture of creative happiness, because an unrealistic one will skin you like an eel. Know this: every day is not a child-like romp through a twilit park with sparklers and giggles and a puppy running at your feet. Some days are you, punching yourself in the face. Some days are the equivalent of hot crotch-coffee. Some days are the opposite of an epiphany — they’re like giant creative nadirs, where everything runs downhill into the diseased mouth of a mangy raccoon. But the overall scope of one’s creative life should be one of satisfaction. If you can see yourself doing something other than the creative thing you’re doing: hey, fuck it, do that instead. Life ain’t getting longer, hoss.

8. Enjoy The Process And The Product

You hear once in awhile that some artists love the finished product but hate the process. Or love the process but hate the finished product. To which I say, fuck that right in its briny blowhole. To really survive — and, ideally, to thrive — it pays to enjoy both. Again, that doesn’t mean every day and every creation is an A++ jizzplosion of delight. It just means that both should overall be rewarding in some way.

9. Embrace Healthy Emotions

Learn to work through all the emotions. Some days you’ll be sad. Some days you’ll be so frustrated you want to headbutt a hole in the universe and let it all drain out. Some days are lazy, others are muddy. Headachey! Bemusement! Amusement! Giddiness! You can’t rely on feeling good to work. You have to learn to work under all the emotional conditions your body and mind and soul provide. (Note: this applies to healthy emotions. Sometimes creative people are beholden to unhealthy emotions. You need to deal with those on your own terms. Otherwise, your artistic faucet won’t offer anything but a quivering, syphilitic drip.)

10. The Many-Headed Hydra Of Creative Possibility

Explore multiple creative outlets. Your mind isn’t just one muscle — even the tongue appreciates many tastes upon its bumpy surface. Creativity doesn’t just want to make words, or paint canvases, or perform interpretive dances about the slash-fic love affair between Alf from Melmac and Worf from ST:TNG (oh, Alf-Worfers, your romantic due diligence never fails to impress). Creativity has many heads. Do other things. Cook. Write poetry. Take photos. Give yourself a paint enema and squat over a giant canvas.

11. But Pick A Goddamn Direction, Already

Exploring other creative outlets doesn’t mean you can do all of those at the same time. Organs and orifices tend to possess one primary purpose — we can’t eat with our assholes and ejaculate from our earholes (and thank the Dark Lord we don’t, because, ew). You can’t walk north, south, east, west all at the same. Pick a direction — a path — and walk. Words. Images. Songs. Whatever. That’s not to say you can’t change it up.  You can walk north for a while. Then east. You can train your asshole to chew bubblegum if you’re so inclined. (At least, I can. What, you can’t?) Creative people can become scatter-brained and distracted, like an upended box of crack-addicted cats. So choose a fucking direction, mmkay?

12. Behold Other Creative Meatbags

Creative people who spend no time at all with other creative people will start to feel profoundly alone. Connect with like-minded weirdos. Online. In-person. You are not a sad friendless little tugboat.

13. Ensure A Robust Support System

We can surround ourselves with people who support us, or people who vacuum out our hopes and dreams through our bungholes. Friends and family should not want to see you fail. Ah, but here’s a trick about a robust support system — it doesn’t mean you need endless, unqualified support. You need some realistic voices in there, too — people who don’t just encourage you to sit in your gestational creative omphalos without consequence or ramification but rather, people who want you to get off your ass, who want you to set realistic goals, who want to help you achieve something instead of spinning your tires in a delusional rut. We all need cheerleaders. But we also need coaches.

14. ABL

Always. Be. Learning. Our creativity is beholden to technical skills, talents, and crafts. There comes a point when you have to actually know what you’re doing. Writing isn’t just smashing words together. You have to understand how they work in the same way a plumber needs to know how pipes fit together. Painters have to know how to use their paints, their brushes. Photographers have to know what an F-Stop is, and how best to capture the golden sunset light off a naked, oil-slick buttock. You always have more to learn. Improve yourself in a training montage. Up your game. Cultivate new pseudopods of ultimate power.

15. Test Your Limits, Take Those Risks

Man, that sounds like part of the chorus of a bad 80s song from a bad 80s movie. (Probably featuring the aforementioned training montage.) Whatever. Point is, sometimes upping your game isn’t just about increasing technical aptitude. It’s about throwing caution into a woodchipper and taking some risks. It’s about writing something everyone says is unpublishable, about building something that defies logic, about pushing your talents into places you never thought they could go. Set challenges that are the artistic equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro, or taming the Mighty Humbaba, or forcing Karl Rove and Lady Gaga to breed and then turning their resultant hell-child into a crisp and refreshing soft drink.

16. A Room Of One’s Own

You need a place to work. A desk. A studio. A place to dance. A porta-potty (aka “honey bucket”) where you quietly masturbate. Maybe it won’t be big, maybe it won’t be top-shelf space, but every artist needs a room of his own. Preferably a place with a door. A Fortress of Solitude doesn’t work if everybody can come shuffling in and out, traipsing mud on your icy crystal Kryptonian carpets.

17. Live A Creative Life. . .

God, that sounds cheesy. But fuck it, there it is. Life a creative life. The hell does that even mean? It means: be open. Exist in a way where there’s no shame over being creative. It means walk around seeing everything as a potential component of your artistic existence. Material for a story, or a song, or a poem. Or maybe it’s physical material to be incorporated into a work — pine-cones and monkey blood and a hair-weave stolen off the head of that lady at the bank. Your antennae must be set to receive, and then to transmit. Living a creative life means just being who you are, and not giving one curly little hamster pube what anybody else thinks about it. (I bet hamster pubes are like, really cute. There’s probably a whole Japanese cartoon about them. Animated hamster pubes having adventures in a forest made of kitchen appliances!)

18. Uh, But Know When To Shut It Off

I know, didn’t I just say how important it was to live a creative life and now I’m saying to turn it off like it’s a goddamn desk lamp? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Suck it up, Squigglenuts. Sometimes you have to just… watch TV. Or pull weeds. Or sit on the beach staring at the ocean in a deep state of beer-drinking no-mind. Here’s the secret, though: our brains are slow-cookers. Sometimes you can set it and forget it. You turn off your creative brain, it’s still bubbling and broiling there in the background. The soup is still developing complex flavors while you watch squirrels fuck on your front lawn in a state of Zen-lacquered bliss.

19. Get Organized

We like to think that creativity is the product of chaos. And sometimes, it really is. Sometimes it’s about stepping on a butterfly or setting your hair on fire to see what will happen. But a lot of creativity comes out of the pragmatic. You can foster creativity and survive the rigors of a creative life by getting organized. Files. Bills. Desk drawers. Paint palette. Wine cellar. Whatever.

20. Learn To Love Failure

Failure. Never before has a thing gotten such a bad rap as failure. And why wouldn’t it? It’s failure. In a video game, failure means to fucking die, to drop into a pit of lava while the princess remains unsaved (oh, sexist video games, when will the lady plumber save the prince instead of the other way around?). You fail a class and it’s like — *poop noise* — you failed, you’re held back, time is wasted, money is lost, you suck, you stupid person. Hell with that. Failure is brilliant. Failure is how we learn. Every great success and every kick-ass creator is the product of a hundred failures, a thousand, some epic-big, some micro-tiny. We learn the right moves by taking the wrong turns. Failure should not drag you into the pits of personal despair but rather leave you empowered. Failure is an instructional manual written in scar tissue.

21. Murder Self-Doubt In Its Bed While It Sleeps

Self-doubt is unproductive. It’s heavy mud on your boots. Knock the soles against the curb, shake the mud free, and get running. Whenever you find self-doubt crawling up your pant leg and sinking its tick-like mandibles into the milky flesh of your inner thigh, don’t address it, don’t negotiate with it, don’t give it any more power than it’s worth. Just flick that little dickhead into the toilet, piss on it, then flush.

22. Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em

Just the same, you have to know when to quit. Not the whole enchilada — I don’t mean, stop being a creative human. I mean, you have to develop the intuition to know when a project just isn’t ready to be born. This isn’t about self-doubt; it’s about the merciless, icy resolve necessary to say, “I’ve taken a long look at this one thing I’m doing and, right now, the fucker ain’t ready to fly, yet.” This doesn’t come easy. This doesn’t come early. If you’ve only been doing this for a year, you probably don’t know your ass from a muddy hole — but as you work harder and longer, you start to know when to set some projects aside so that you can return to them when they make more sense.

23. Quit Fuckin’ Around

Obliterate distractions. Our creation is one thing in a sea of other options, and most of those other options are fucking bullshit. That’s not to say you can’t spend time reading a book or playing a game or sorting your wampum collection. But it means that when the rubber hits the road, you have to make a choice: fuck around some more, or dive head-first into the primal waters of creation. I know my choice. Do you?

24. Art Harder, Motherfucker

The work is itself purifying. And work gets you to a lot of the other things on this list. The work solves so many of work’s own ills — it’s like a self-repairing machine. So: work hard. Then work harder. Make your fingers bleed. Make your brain explode. Develop an exoskeleton calluses. ART HARDER.

25. Middle Finger To All The Bastards With Boots On Your Neck

Final note: don’t let the bastards get you down. The world is chockablock with bastards. They’re like jungle vines, these bastards. Go at ‘em with a machete. A rusted one, at that, so maybe they can get tetanus. You’ll encounter bastards who say you can’t do this. Who want you to do something else. Who failed at it themselves and cannot abide the success of others. Who want to tear you apart, drag you down, make you feel like what you do isn’t yours, isn’t special, doesn’t matter. Mmmnope. Don’t let ‘em in your house or your head. At the end of the day it’s you and your creations and the audience outside. Just hammer up a sign that says: NO NAYSAYING RUBBERNECKING FUCKSTICKS ALLOWED. Then get back to work.


Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?

500 WAYS TO TELL A BETTER STORY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

500 MORE WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING: $0.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY: $4.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY: $2.99 at Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), B&N, PDF

78 comments

  • I really enjoy this blog. I found it after reading “500 ways to be a better writer”, which was suggested to me by a friend.
    I would definitely love an audio book. I can think up a soundtrack already.
    I love, ” The many headed hydra of creative possibility.”

  • The best way “to capture the golden sunset light off a naked, oil-slick buttock” is frequently.

    Oh, speaking of, next time we use more oil Chuck. I wasn’t getting enough lens flare last time.

  • Thanks for all the excellent advice. Now to put no 13 in action and get active support instead of active disruption from my family (husband) – Thinking of puting a printed ‘do not distrub sign’ on my door. Yes I am fortunate I have a door I can close but no one in my house respects a closed door. Maybe I could booby-trap it?
    must go… things to do

  • #21, “Learn to love failure”, reminds me of this quote by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

    And I would add this: Fail SMARTER. ANY fool can fail. Failing stupidly us the easiest thing in the world. What did you LEARN from it? Can you get smarter about your projects, your project choices, how you prepare, how you adjust along the way? Never fail without asking yourself how the failure informs your path forward.

  • I second the audio book. If you can’t read it yourself, start beating down Henry Rollins’ door. And when he comes out, punches you senseless, and locks the door – get back up. Because Henry Rollins would make sure no one would forget this advice.

  • Awe.
    Some.

    So awesome that I’ll be rereading this from time to time.

    So awesome, in fact, that I baked you an Internet pie, just to say thanks. Here it is, steaming from the oven (hope this posts right):

    S S
    S S
    S
    S S
    S S
    S S
    S S
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    \||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||/

  • This is genius. And completely true.

    I especially like #5 (I paid my mortgage with writing money, and felt like the man…then I felt like shit, because I’d just spent all of my writing money).

    13 & 14: Vital. Hell yes.

    16: Yeah, that would be nice. Honey Bucket FTW!

    21: Toughest thing on the list.

    This is epic stuff.

  • We had an election today in Missouri, and I’m an election judge. Therefore, my brain is half a dozen deep fried Twinkies right now. However, I wanted to let you know about #2. I am all over #2. I eat, sleep, breathe, and shit #2.

    On the list, I mean.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I really needed to hear this. I’ve been thinking about changing the day job and this reminded me it isn’t the day job that needs changing – it’s my commitment to making the creative thing happen so THAT can become the day job. Epiphany gratefully received, Chuck.

  • Dear Chuck, Rambled through here via Cate Russell-Cole’s blog. Wonderful stuff. As a very new writer/blogger, but ancient violist, I am familiar with the process of creation, just not as a writer. I am currently devouring all I can find. This has become my redemption and passion. I can no longer play professionally. I love your blog and your writing style. Your passion and word choice are unmatched, I’d wager. I’ll be back to visit, Chuck. Thanks for the tea. Mary

  • My favorite lists of 25 are the ones that I don’t get through. Specifically, when I get to number… eh, 7 or so, and then feel the kick in my ass to get back to writing. This was one of them.

    Got to 12 this visit. I’ll be back. Cheers!

  • This is excellent stuff. Just what I needed on a day like today, where the hours spent in the hive with all of the other drones is sapping my will to live, much less create.

    I needed this kick in the ass.

    Art Harder. Fuckin’ A.

  • Oh crap. Too late. My first project is a book. Oh well. My next project will be a bigger book or a trilogy!
    I can relate to the mud puddling creativity. I was a professional illustrator back in the day and now have finally found my passion in writing. I think I jumped into the the puddle head first! I tend to be a little on the exuberant high energy side….

  • Creatives face a massive challenge. And that challenge is that no one will pay for creativity – per se! Buyers know that they need it, but when the buyers aren’t creative themselves, they find it hard or impossible to see exactly what value the creative individual can bring to their business, project or enterprise. AND, most creative geniuses are brilliant at what they do, but – with respect – couldn’t even sell themselves into The Brilliant Mind Freak Show! So it’s a Catch 22!

  • I put off reading this post for 2 days because this week I’ve been getting in from work, going straight into the garden to continue building new chicken run, then snatching some eats, off to bed & up again to carry on again the next day.

    Last night I finished the chicken run & moved the chickens in there so rewarded myself by sitting down to catch up on your blog. Read point 1 (specifically: “You need to give yourself the time every day to do the thing that you want to do. Our days and nights get crowded as life bloats and swells to fill the spaces, so you have to — have to — push all that aside with a barbaric yawp and give yourself the time to be creative”) & went “DOH!”

    Though I could fudge it & say turning a garden shed & old greenhouse into a house & run for chickens is a different application of creativity…?

    Nah, sounds like an excuse to me!

  • Oh man this made me laugh so much! I accidentally came across this and absolutely love your writing in it. It’s like you “get” me. Haha well done! :D

  • Particularly inspiring. You’ve got a knack for pulling the guts out of something and showing them to everyone, to see how they work. I salute you, good sir.

  • Fantastic. Wish I’d had this to read a couple weeks back when I was grinding out the final edges on a particularly challenging submission. Particularly loved “Failure is an instructional manual written in scar tissue.” Truer words – they have not been spoken. Thanks for this one.

  • I’ll just start with HOLY CRAP! Between ‘sad friendless little tugboat’ and ‘Art Harder,’ plus a dozen other hilarious, agonizingly true observations on the creative condition, you just made my week. Thank you, thank you for popping the artist’s blister of misery with a whoop and a holler. I’m off to bury myself under a grateful dungheap of words that promise to become my next goddamn poem if I just let them steam awhile.

  • I’m in love with your words!! I’ve been inspired I was feeling so sad and lost with what I wanted to do. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the butt and I so needed it!

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