When the money runs out, my inspiration get’s pretty desperate. Entire creative cannons in motion and lit up begin to crumble as I doubt myself. And trying to push into the creative as an income stream, for me, has never worked. I’m not interested in being a starving artist. So one of the first struggles, for me, is making sure I have my bills covered.

There are a million paths to creative success, but money may not be one of them for many of us. Once you get that concept fully swallowed you can get on with the work of making your art, whatever that is. Sure, you’ll have to find the “day job,” but you can do that. That’s one of the base-levels of survival as an artist.

I’ve disconnected my art from my income needs. This was a major win for me.

Of course there are paths to use your creative craft as a job, but I’ve seen too many copywriters, too many cover band musicians who are doing just that: the job has become the creative outlet. Let me take a couple examples from my home town. Charlie Sexton is an amazing performer, singer, songwriter, guitar player. And how can you blame him for going out of the road with Bob Dylan? See the work, be semi-famous under the hot spotlights along side the legend himself. Sure, no problem. But where’s the next Charlie Sexton disc?

And it chatting one evening after a show by one of my favorite cover band leaders, I asked him, “So when’s your next record coming out?”

He looked at me with a smile, but he seemed to be hiding something a bit deeper. “When I feel a bit less content, I guess.”

That is also a hard one. Contentment vs Creative Drive. Can the two forces exist together. Can you be supremely content and still have the drive to create new works of art? Or is the creative production tied up in the discontent, the angst and struggle of life? I’ve had problems with this in the past. Where I needed some goal to get me out of my current situation as a catalyst. Like the situation I was in was NOT ENOUGH, so I needed to produce my art to affirm my ever-burning quest to be someone else, someone huge and successful.

But I was/am successful in my mind. I have two great kids. I’m growing creatively and as a parent. And while I’m somewhat content, I’m also driven to express my art. At this point in my life I’m not looking for any money from the effort. I’ve disconnected my art from my income needs. This was a major win for me.

I say somewhat content, because there are plenty of things in my life that are way out of balance. I’m working on those. And this week I signed a contract, not for a record deal, but for a work deal that’s going to fill up my work card for November in a big way. And this WIN is actually giving me some energetic leeway to drive forward with  my musical projects at the same time. See, having some financial success in my “career” is actually generating some creative energy in my other career.

And then there are the writers, artists, and creatives who have lost faith in their craft. This is the more common story. Somewhere along life, the act of growing up, begins to dampen our dreams for rock stardom. And unfortunately, that’s so rare, that most of my friends who are creative have left their instruments and paintbrushes behind. The focus on work, life, money, kids, housing… It’s not easy. But the formula is easy.

Survival + Passion + Longevity = A Creative Life

I’m not looking to be a rock star. I might have had those illusions back in my teens. But I was more interested in capturing the perfect song or short story. I learned to work to support my art and not the other way around.

If you can get your survival needs met, and keep your passion for the voice that is inside of you trying to express some kind of beauty you will either persevere or you won’t. And that’s okay. It is fine when people leave music, poetry, painting, writing, behind. It’s not for everyone. And if it was a hobby, then perhaps there are other things in life that give you more satisfaction. Parenting can have a profound effect on your life and your creative output.

Find a place for your art in the daily cadence of your life. And never give it up.

My kids however only inspired me more. I wanted to include them in my musical life. I wanted to surround them with songs, mine and others. I wanted to show them my songs, I wanted to serenade them all the time. (I even imagined a kid’s record, but there were so many that I loved already…) And in learning to work, parent, and continue to give time to my music, I started down a lifestyle formula that worked for me. Today my son is an accomplished violinist and my daughter sings in the choir. (She won’t join me on stage, however, because she claims to have performance anxiety. Oh well, maybe later.)

The part I got right is the survival. I do have a career. And when I structure things right I can work with a bit of flexibility that allows me occasional inspirational afternoons and nights, even in the middle of the week. (grin) When I get out of balance, I begin aspiring towards rock stardom again and I stop making my “work” the priority. That has been an issue for me in the past, but I’m pretty good at managing it these days.

The humorous rejoinder, “Don’t quit your day job,” has never been more appropriate. But the corollary, however, is more important, “Don’t stop believing in your art.”

Figure out how to make a living. Find a place for your art in the daily cadence of your life. And never give it up. You’ll be fine then, regardless of any outside, perceived, success or fame.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2014/11/survive-thrive/

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image: Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album cover, creative commons usage

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