Side Hustles: Keeping Up With Your Art in College

Finding that time is essential to your creative process.
November 12, 2016
11 mins read

If you’re an artist of any kind studying something that doesn’t quite relate to your passion, it has likely become apparent that there’s often very little time to pursue a passion in college.

There doesn’t seem to be enough time for anything. You sit down to write some fiction, to draw something cool, to write a song — all of a sudden, it’s midnight and none of your homework is done. So you decide to take a break from drawing or playing guitar for a while. Three weeks go by, and you haven’t created a single damn thing.

It’s the homework, you tell yourself. The stress of study. There always seems to be something else going on, and there’s just no time to get lost in creative thinking. And what’s the point anyway? College is the main goal right now. That should be your focus. Right?

Right and wrong. Here are some tips on how to keep up with your art in college, and why it’s so important to make time for your own special brand of creativity.

It doesn’t get any easier after college, so make time for it now!

If you to choose to sideline your art of choice in college — all while telling yourself that once you have your degree, you’ll have more time for it — you may be surprised to find out that you find it even harder to focus on creating after graduation. Even graduates of MFA programs find that, without the sound social environment of a university, it’s harder to stay inspired and even harder to set aside time.

Even without the homework, time flies quickly and energy is spent on other responsibilities. You may be working a full-time job, dealing with student loans, moving to new cities. These things are not exclusive from being an artist—they’re universal.

This doesn’t mean that art dies after college; it’s simply a sign that making time for art is always going to be a challenge. When life throws a lot at you, whether you’re in college or not, your drive to create art will be challenged.

Deciding to wait until after college is only putting off the inevitable lesson to be learned: Time management. Set aside an hour or so a day. Time spent watching YouTube videos could easily be spent on something more productive. Get up earlier. You’ll be surprised to find that you have a lot more time than you realized. If you’re passionate about it, if it’s your dream, you’ll make time for it.

But don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself skipping out on your projects.

It’s never too late to start, and you’re not a “bad artist” for neglecting your art. Once you start to feel guilty about not creating, it just means it’s time to ask yourself what your goals are as an artist. What drives you to pursue work in that field? Does the act of creating bring you joy on its own, or is there some sort of validation you’re searching for?

Sure, these are the kind of thoughts that can start to drive you crazy. But they’re crucial in discovering what makes you tick. Part of life is learning how to deal with our own procrastination problems and fears, and figuring out why it is you do what you do.

“If I’m a writer, why don’t I ever write?” I asked myself one day. I would chastise myself nearly every day for failing to write a single word. I called myself a writer — I dreamed of being a writer — so why wasn’t I writing? As it turns out, I was bored by my own stories. I was writing things not even I wanted to read about. It sounds crazy, but in a world full of artists, we so often look at our own work in light of others we’ve seen.

While we do draw inspiration from everything we consume, there comes a time to realize that there’s a certain way you’re going to do things, and that’s just how you’re going to do it. There’s no right or wrong way, just your way. You have to like your art before anyone else will.

Art is something you should find yourself naturally drawn to. Ever notice how you eat when you’re hungry? The same can be said about art. Create when you’re hungry for it. No use stuffing your mouth when your stomach is full.

Think in years, not days.

It’s like working out. We often expect results overnight, and due to the inevitable disappointment of waking up looking very much the same, we lose the ambition that took us to the gym in the first place.

There are successful artists because they (for the most part) have put hundreds and hundreds of hours into their craft. More than that. They have failed miserably countless times, and they persevere. That is why they are successful. They see the failures as work hours, not wastes of time. Any time you spend on a project that doesn’t turn out the way you want it to is never time wasted. Nobody wakes up a brilliant piano player.

Understand that things take time, and as long as you’re working toward bettering your craft, that’s time well spent. You may not have an album by tomorrow, but hell, you might just have the first song.

Here’s an exercise for when you feel like you’re wasting time working on your art: Ask yourself, “Well, what the hell else am I supposed to do?” Really. What the hell else can anyone really do? You’ll likely find soon enough that what you’re currently doing is very much it. It just kinda sucks sometimes. Sitting down and learning guitar means hitting some bad notes. But every failure lays the foundation for a success down the line.

“What the hell else am I supposed to do?” You’ll find this statement relieves a lot of the angst.

Find an audience (even if it’s just one person).

Stephen King believes that every novel is really just a letter directed at one person. That person is your first reader—the first person you want to think of when you want to show somebody something cool, the first person you want to entertain with a great short story. And believe me, everyone needs a first reader. Sure, art is self-fulfilling and all that jazz, but art also works as a beautiful form of connection between human beings. Having an audience makes all the difference in the world.

But you’re just starting out; you have no audience! That’s easily remedied. Luckily for you, there are artists at your level (thousands of them really) all across the country. Groups of them gather at coffee shops (I’ve seen them). I’m sure they would be happy to look at your work, provided you look at theirs of course.

You’ve likely got friends who’d love to see what you’ve been toiling away at on weekends. Don’t hide your art until the day you die; let it breathe. Show it to people. Get used to it being seen. Letting other people feel, look at and talk about your art is an almost heart-stoppingly exhilarating experience, and it is a crime to rob yourself of that.

Find an audience: whether it be your girlfriend, your best friend or your worst enemy. Even having one soul to experience something you’ve created is a huge motivator and can make those years of progress seem all the shorter. It will also do well to tide you over until you have a much larger audience sometime in your undoubtedly successful future.

Alec Esteban Cudmore, St. Edward’s University

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Alec Esteban Cudmore

St. Edward's University
English Writing & Rhetoric

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