Prepare Yourself for a Career as a Full-Time Artist

This is a guest post by Cariad Eccleston, writer and blogger at Cariad.me and GetCodeLove.


It finally happened!

I’m not a part-time artist anymore. I just left my day-job and now I’m a full-time artist!

It happened much quicker than I’d expected. My plan was to write and publish novels as a side-hustle until that income could replace my day-job’s. But before I could get my act together and finish a book, I had an opportunity to leave my day-job and write for myself full-time.

I didn’t need to rush into an answer, but I knew right away what I wanted to do. I asked my friends and colleagues to check my sanity, and their responses varied from enthusiastic Do it! to I don’t know, but you’ll regret it if you don’t try.

So of course, I grabbed it.

The reason why I was able to say Yes! so quickly and confidently was because I’d spent the last few years preparing. And no matter how far your dream seems to be right now, you should prepare for it happening tomorrow.

Here are the four areas that I think you should be focussing on right now so that you’re ready to grab the career you want as soon as the opportunity arises.


1. Learn the Craft

There’s a difference between not feeling ready for a thing and not being prepared for a thing.

Not feeling ready is exciting! Not feeling ready means the challenge you’re about to embark on really is a challenge and not just a chore.

Challenges are difficult. Most folks don’t even attempt them. That makes them special. That makes them worth doing.

Not being prepared is foolish. How can you expect to be successful if you don’t know how to wield the tools you need to achieve it?

Do first-time sky-divers ever feel ready? Probably not. But are they prepared with a parachute and a safety briefing? You bet!

It’s great to kick-off your creative career feeling unready and challenged. But don’t turn up unprepared. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll “learn it all nearer the time”. Believe me, you don’t know when “the time” will be. And do not kid yourself that it’ll be quick or easy.

If you want to be a career novelist, stop noodling with ideas and fragments and start learning about structure. If you want to be a photographer, stop noodling in auto mode and learn about aperture, ISO and shutter speeds. And all you visual creatives, learn about composition. Learn about building the image you want, and not just the image you see.

One day, when your opportunity comes, your employer is going to pay you one final cheque as you leave to embark on your new career. When you get your next cheque will be entirely down to you.

Do you want to spend your first month of independence learning how to sing, or do you want to spend it recording your debut album with confidence?


2. Practice Your Craft

There are three levels of practice:

  1. Dipping your toe in the water and going through the motions of your craft until you’re comfortable.
  2. Deliberate practice of the aspects that you need to improve.
  3. Regular iterative deliberate practice for constant improvement and maintaining your mastery.

Now, real talk. If you’re not reviewing your work, comparing yourself to the expert pieces you’re learning from and identifying your weaknesses, then you’re not improving. This is the weakest form of dictionary-definition “practice”.

Let’s say you want to be a landscape photographer. It isn’t enough for you to just watch video tutorials on YouTube. That’s the start. Neither is it enough for you to take shots without using the knowledge you’re learning to identify your weaknesses. And if you’re not deliberately practising the aspects you haven’t mastered yet, then you’re not preparing. You might be having fun — and go right ahead if that’s what you want! — but are you really preparing for that big move to your new independent creative career?

And while we’re on this topic, I want to touch on gatekeeping and holding artists to standards that are none of your damn business.

There’s a prevailing wisdom that “you need to create x amount of art every day, or you’re not a real artist.” Writers in particular seem to be infamous for demanding “1,000 words a day”, if not more.

I was privileged to hold a day-job with strict hours and very few responsibilities outside of the office. I could dedicate a lot of time at home to practice, so that cultural expectation to produce didn’t have any negative connotation for me.

But when we push these expectations onto parents, carers and other folks with needs and responsibilities that we can’t even imagine, we nudge them out. I guarantee that Imposter Syndrome has held you back in the past, if not right now. Spreading impossible standards doesn’t help folks to improve; it demotivates and excludes them.

I want to see more diversity in our creative fields, and a part of that means working on including folks who are time-poor and wealth-poor. We can start by not being snobs.

So, I’m not going to ask you produce; I’m going to ask you to practice. Not frequently, but regularly.

Whether you practice once per night, week, month, quarter or whatever, I want you to find a routine, stick to it, and practice with intention to improve.


3. Learn the Business of Your Craft

Learning and practicing your craft is fun, right? Of course it is! If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t be working towards making it happen.

Even if you’re procrastinating on your deliberate practice of the boring bits (and stop that now if you are!) there’s joy in learning.

But if you turn up for day one of your new independent career and you don’t know how to make money from it, it’s going to be a short career.

I know, I know, we don’t like talking about money. Having someone else take care of the marketing, the ads, the (*gulp*) sales would be lovely.

And maybe you do want to find someone to take care of that for you. Some folks don’t want to be completely independent, and that’s fine. Some of the best authors I know could make a killing if they self-published rather than paid cuts to their agents and publishing houses, but they’re not interested in running a business. They want to write, and they’re happy to share their income in return for an easier life.

When it comes to your craft, the world’s your oyster. Go nutty! Express yourself! Damn the haters! But when it comes to business, your options are finite. You’d be smart to understand them. And you’d be super smart to understand them sooner rather than later so you can be sure you’re on a path that you’re going to enjoy.


4. Relax

This isn’t trite advice that I’m tacking on just because I want you think I’m kind and caring.

I’m bloody serious.

Working yourself to exhaustion isn’t smart or interesting. All you’ll achieve is a false sense of productivity, and no-one wants to hear about it.

I’m willing to bet that every single one of you reading this has suffered burnout. You’ve pushed yourself too hard for too long, and you know what it feels like. Not great.

When you’re making a living from creativity, your creativity is an essential asset. And what happens when you burn out? Your brain dries up, your soul gets heavy, nothing makes sense and anxiety runs churns your veins.

That doesn’t feel like a state conducive to creativity, does it? So don’t do it.

Singers need to take care of their voices to avoid damaging their vocal cords. Typists need to be mindful of posture to avoid carpal tunnel. Actors have the smarts to not go cliff diving the morning before a show. Our physical health and physical ability to do our jobs often goes without question. We know not to hurt ourselves. But we still care far less about our mental health than we should.

When the roof over your head and food in your belly depends on your creative work, burning yourself out is idiotic. Don’t kid yourself that you need to work until it hurts. Take a damned break.


I Wish I’d Done Some Things Differently

That’s some cracking advice I’ve shared up there!

How much of it did I actually follow?

Oh boy. Given the opportunity, I’d go back and change a lot.

I wanted to be a career novelist, but I wasted years listening to self-doubt, snobs and Imposter Syndrome rather than learning about structure, characterisation and plot. It took me far too long to even accept that I was “allowed” to try, let alone actually doing it. If I could go back in time, I would implore myself — as I’m imploring you — to learn your craft right now.

In contrast, I’m pretty happy with how I practiced my craft. I was lucky that I had time in the evenings and weekends to get my butt in my chair and write. If I’m going to berate myself for anything, it’s going to be my lack of actually finishing work. I’m still working on overcoming my inner saboteur, and I wish I’d kicked her out before I left my job.

If there’s one aspect of this where I know there’s so much that I don’t know, it’s the business side. I just haven’t looked into the details of advertising or marketing at all — beyond knowing that I need them, at least — and that’s just not smart.

Remember the difference between feeling unready and being unprepared? I’m solidly unprepared. Luckily, I’ve got resources like this blog to give me hints on how to make money from my art.


You Can Do This!

There are days when an independent creative career can feel so far away, if not impossible to ever hold. It sucks.

I can’t help get you from here to there. You’ll want to stick around and keep reading The Part-Time Artist for that. All I can do is implore you to keep the faith that things get better and work on preparing for that glorious day.

Don’t wait to learn the craft. Don’t wait to master it through practice. And don’t wait to figure out how you’ll earn a living from it. You might not need to lean on it for a long time, but what if opportunity calls tomorrow? Do you really want to be forced to turn it down because you’re not ready?

And make time to relax.

Prepare for the independent creative career that you want now. Hit the ground running when your time arrives.

You can do it!

So, where are you on the path to the independent creative career that you want? How are you preparing for it? If you had the opportunity, could you switch to your new career tomorrow? Leave a comment, I’d love to know!


Do you want to write for The Part-Time Artist? Check out the submission process!


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