Another Potential Journaling Hiccup: The Perfect Time and Place

January 17, 2022
TV room, brush pen and ink wash. Handbound 8 x 8 inch journal using the OLD Winsor & Newton GELATIN Sized paper. 90 lb. hot press. I have sketched the TV room a lot over the past several years—different media, different approaches, art and fixtures changing. How does this relate to today’s topic? Well, if you haven’t already fit your drawing and journaling practice in for the day and you find yourself sitting in a comfy chair about to watch a favorite TV show, take a moment and sketch first. Or if it’s family time and people want to turn the TV on, then sketch your family members (including pets) sitting around you. They’ll get used to you being the person who always has his sketchbook at hand. 

Blog readers and students often write to me about their hopes and deferred dreams for their journaling and their art life.

They live with the hope that if they can “just get through to retirement,” or “Just get through this current crisis [fill in the blank as to what that is]” that the clouds will part and their art life will be perfect.

I don’t like to throw water onto people’s hopes and dreams, but there is that realist in me that has to point out that maybe the dreams aren’t just what is necessary, and that there is something better than deferred dreams. I feel compelled to encourage people to start their art life now, and live in the present moment.

One of the biggest hiccups that journal keepers face is the idea that there is a perfect time, or will be a perfect time, to get their artwork done. And that of course there will also be the perfect space. Everyone defines perfect differently, because we are all individuals, but the perfect space often is described to me as something out of Architectural Digest. And it doesn’t sound like a place where much actual artwork will be born. 

After receiving one such note in which the student told me that she wasn’t finding time for her homework or any of her artwork and that she was unhappy because her dream of the perfect retirement was not going to happen and she was meanwhile mired in the dust of the present living situation, I wrote the following:

Recently I battled a wasp infestation for 8 weeks (with the help of an exterminator).  Believe me I know about dusty. Don’t worry about it, unless you have immediate health concerns—I was so glad when I could finally dust without being bombarded by wasps because I have allergies to the wasps and the dust.

I don’t know what your business is and what you teach, but I do know that we all have dreams that don’t necessarily turn out the way we had planned (in fact I can’t think of anything in my life that turned out exactly the way I planned it).

Life interrupts all the time. And as creative people we have to find ways to adapt to those interruptions.

Find the constant in your life that you can hang on to—for me it is making art—and make it manageable and doable even when everything else is going nuts around you.

Because sometimes the “idyllic” life we think we want is the worst thing that could happen to us and we actually get more accomplished when we “squeeze” stuff in.

There are so many “myths” about the artistic life that it’s best to make sure we’re looking at them clearly. A friend of mine wrote a book about finding time for art and I was happy to contribute to it. I recommend you check out Ricë Freeman-Zachery’s “Creative Time and Space.”

You might not get the garden studio and the beach hut, but what you might gain instead is an even more intimate and engaged relationship with your creativity as you strive to fit your work into the real constraints of your life.

I have a lot of friends who have dust free homes and perfect studios—they produce little.

An honest artist will always choose productivity over the perfect space, because she knows she carries the perfect space with her always. Good luck.

Between now and retirement a whole lot of creative work can be accomplished. Between now and when you have that perfect time and perfect space a whole lot of creative work can be accomplished—and because you are working now you are preparing yourself for any circumstances that come, good or poor, in which you can keep working.

Start Today on Your Creative Life

I can’t tell you how many students have come up to me during breaks in class and told me that they aren’t going to be working in the book we are making in class today because they are going to save it for when they have time.

AH, read the class description, it states we’ll all be journaling in our books today. We aren’t waiting until next week when we supposedly will have 2 hours to sit and luxuriate in our journal.

These are the same people who come later to my drawing classes and tell me that they never build up any momentum because they can’t journal during the week and when the weekend comes, instead of the 2 hours they set aside to journal they now have to take “Billy to the emergency room because he fell out of a tree and broke his leg,” or they have to spend the weekend looking for a nursing home with a memory ward because Great Uncle Ted just set his house on fire leaving his dinner on the stove.

Life happens. Good and unfortunate events interrupt us all the time.

If we plan to work only in large blocks of time several days distant you know that something is going to come up.

If something external doesn’t come up I can guarantee you that your internal critic will take the lead, give you a little sly talk about something else that needs doing and how you feel to pressured to make the 2 hour window count anyway because it isn’t enough time to illustrate that children’s book you’ve been dreaming of doing.

Look, if you start today, and repeat again tomorrow and the next day and the next day and so on, only 30 minutes of sketching time (more if you have it is great, but start with something manageable), you’ll not only build momentum so you can by-pass the road blocks the internal critic sets up on the weekends and WORK ANYWAY with flexibility despite what other events pop up on the weekend.

Today is the day to start your daily deposit in your creativity bank.

Let the interest grow.

If you get to the weekend and have two and a half hours of thirty minutes a day built up from Monday to Friday are you going to be upset? No? You’re going to be primed to work another 30 minutes if events make your long session impossible. Or you’re going to be primed to work anyway when something interrupts you—because you’ll be able to pivot and work at a different time.

And the work you did during the week gives you a leg up on the weekend—it’s that many more minutes, more sessions, of INTENTIONAL, focused work on your goals; developing the skills you need to have to make your plans move toward fruition whether you get that longer session on Saturday or not.

How To Practice for Momentum

How do you practice for Momentum? Simple.

First Schedule

Have a calendar and schedule your 30 minutes a day journal practice.

Second Show Up

Then show up.

No excuses.

You don’t call the doctor and say, “Sorry I can’t come in to get my pap smear today because I have to grocery shop.”

Same thing with your journal practice.

You just show up and do it.

If things happen during the week and you’re scheduled on Monday for a 1 p.m. slot that finds you in the Emergency room with a loved one adapt. Immediately write on your even schedule an alternate time and then show up for it. NO EXCUSES. Even if you feel exhausted by the days events, at that alternate time you are seated and working.

If your brain is making excuses or arguing with you about how what you really need is to put your feet up, DON’T LISTEN. That’s your internal critic trying to derail you. Do your journal practice and then put your feet up.

Make it your mantra to “Show up and do my work.”

I tell my students that by the time they argue with themselves and go through the excuses they have they could already have finished their creative session!

If you find yourself thinking of excuses tell yourself to “Stop it,” and get back to work, or start working if you haven’t already.

Next Practice to Work Through or Around Interruptions

Practice a flexible mindset which doesn’t require the perfect setting (room, space, studio, weather, etc.) for working creatively.

Do this type of practice by placing yourself in locations and situations where things are not going to be “peaceful,” “tranquil,” “ideal,” etc.

If you find it only possible to work when  it is silent and you’re at home, make a point of going out two times this week to some place noisy (where it is safe during COVID to do so!). Work there, whether you feel comfortable or not—for the full 30 minutes.

Make time each week to have two or more sessions where you know you’ll be interrupted. Maybe in the lunchroom of your work place, maybe at home in a “family space.” If people come up to you to chat, practice telling people (without judgement and irritation in your voice) that you’re “off the clock right now” and GET BACK TO WORK.

Being able to restart yourself after interruptions will increase the amount of time, and the situations, in your life when you can work creatively.

Change Your Attitude

First Remember—Poor attitude, victim attitude, negativity, “woe-is-me-acceptance,” anger, jealousy, comparisons to others—all this attitudinal energy is death to creativity. If you find anything like that popping up tell yourself to get back to your creative work.

Spending time wallowing in any of those attitudinal puddles is fruitless. Get Busy!

Second Remember—The universe is not against you. The universe couldn’t care one way or the other if you are sketching, it has too much other stuff to do. DON’T TAKE INTERRUPTIONS PERSONALLY.

Whether you are out and about or at home, if something interrupts you be gracious, do what is necessary to resolve the interruption, and then get back to work instantly!

The more you practice this attitude of positive attitude and not taking interruptions personally the better your sense of humor will become and the more productive you’ll be creatively.

It takes practice. Daily practice. Just like your drawing.

But chances are you’re already expert at not taking things personally because your job requires it when you interact with co-workers and your role as a parent, significant other, adult child caring for an Aged P all do.

What is different is that you are consciously applying that approach to your CREATIVE LIFE. You are saying that your creative life is important enough to be given the same attention, focus, and space in your life.

To overcome the obstacle of the belief in the perfect time and place to work creatively you need to develop the attitude and mental resources (through practice) that allow you to work anywhere at any time.

When you start to master this approach you will find yourself in situations where you notice things that are new to you, or notice something special about a situation you never realized before. In other words you prime yourself to always be working creatively, to always be curious and alert. It’s a baby step from that to living in wonder.

Everyone knows a state of wonder is the big reservoir of creative momentum.

Isn’t it better to live in that state than wait for a two-hour catch up session on Saturday?

The existence of a perfect time and a perfect place to do your creative work is a myth. Plain and simple. Sure there will be times when you’ll have a particularly “easy,” fluid, enjoyable work session, that lasts as long as you need it to last and leaves you craving more of the same.

But remind yourself that you had that session because you put your practice in. You prepared for it.

And when you prepare in the ways I’ve mentioned then even the short, interrupted sessions you have throughout the week will feel as delicious and fantastic as the “dream” session. That’s what daily practice gives you.

    • Jeanette
    • January 17, 2022

    So many important lessons in this post! I’m so deeply grateful that I started a journal practice long before I reached the “right” time to do it (during retirement). I stumbled on to many of the techniques you describe and have developed from my starting point of 20–30 minutes of daily drawing to my retirement practice of huge chunks of time drawing, painting, EVERY day!
    I had to smile at your guarantee that the inner critic will provide a stumbling block! It’s hard for me to see your body of work and believe you could possibly have an inner critic like me😉, but of course we all must deal with that!

    1. Reply

      Jeannette, your comment that “I’m so deeply grateful that I started a journal practice long before I reached the “right” time to do it” is exactly right.

      I’ve been blessed, or perhaps cursed, with life experiences that allowed me to have very early discussions with my internal critic and tell him to…well, even at a young age I swore quite a bit so let’s just leave it at that.

      There are always 10,000 things to deal with, and each is different for everyone. I am glad that my life has allowed me to help so many students kick their internal critics to the curb (which is what a good friend of mine says about bad partners—kick them to the curb—and I always laugh, because what is the i.c., but a very bad, abusive, undermining “partner” after all.)

    • Ann
    • January 17, 2022


    1. Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Ann. Glad you liked this one.

    • Trudy
    • January 17, 2022

    Thanks Roz, I really do know all this…nothing I haven’t heard before and nothing you haven’t told me before, but it sure doesn’t hurt to hear it again, and think about it again. It is still so easy for me to get sidetracked, despite best intentions. So I pick myself up and start again. It is getting easier though, and I am having more studio days and art making days. Thanks for your reminders, and now I need to go start that drawing I planned on doing today.

    1. Reply

      I know you know all this Trudy and you know that I know that you know etc. And so it goes, but remember, everyone gets to have his own timing. And so yes, it doesn’t hurt to think of it again.

      Sometimes the thinking of it again allows us to see it from a different angle.

      I think that’s why you find when you pick yourself up and start again it’s easier.

      Keep going.

    • Sharon+Nolfi
    • January 18, 2022

    Great stuff, Roz! I appreciate your reality-based advice every time you offer it. It’s great guidance, not just for a creative practice, but for life in general.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Sharon!

    • TedB
    • January 21, 2022

    Brava, Roz! A very important message all need to hear and be reminded of. If one really thinks something is important enough to do, they will make the time and do the work required to do it well. Of all of the many, many excuses I have heard over the years, they essentially boil down to two things: laziness and lack of commitment. I suspect many take classes for entertainment.

    Forty-two years ago, in an evening watercolor class in Houston, there was a shy, middle-aged man, a recent Vietnam refugee who was struggling financially in his new world. But everyday he would take his used paper coffee filters, iron them flat, and practice his Asian style brush strokes on them. His work was beautiful. I gave him a pad of rice paper that I had bought and used only a couple of times. His reaction was as though I had given him a sack of gold. At the last class session, he gave me a beautiful little hand painted card – a small treasure that I still have. If you do the best you can with what you’ve got and practice faithfully. you will always exceed those around you who dabble their way through life with excuses.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Ted. I think you’re right that it boils down to a few things. Besides what you’ve mentioned I think sometimes encouragement is also needed. I like to give that. I love your story about the calligrapher. Doing the best with what you’ve got and practicing faithfully sort of sums it up!

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