I’m bundled up with three layers … a flannel shirt, an old gray hoodie sweatshirt, and my puffy down coat, which has paint on the pocket.
This morning I went behind the studio to gather some kindling, and I set it alight in the fireplace on the porch of my art studio. Crackling flames whirl around, and my chair is as close to the heat as possible so I can snuggle in.
Too Cold, Too Soon
I stubbornly refuse to admit it’s too cold to be out on the porch to write this morning; I hate to let go of spring and summer and being outside among my oaks, with my field of little yellow flowers (which just disappeared because of the cold) and my distant view of the purple-gray mountain.
The wind is howling, “Get inside, you fool!” and the smoke is swirling out of the chimney back to the porch, treating me to the soothing smell of burning wood.
The view from the studio porch is different from the back porch where I normally write, where I can see the mountain, the trees, the neighbors’ longhorns, and the little log home we call the Artists’ Cabin, where some of the best artists in the world have stayed during their visits for filming instructional videos. The guest book is filled with sketches and notes, and the cabin is filled with little paintings they’ve left behind. I feel like I’m living the dream.
Influences That Matter
When I interview artists on my Plein Air Podcast, I often try to understand the influences that contributed to their turning to art. I hear stories of visits to artists who were friends of parents, of visits to art museums and shows, and it’s my hope that one day my kids will look back and realize the people they met are today’s equivalent of a Wyeth, a Rockwell, a Bonheur, a Sargent, a Morisot.
The first artist to stay in the cabin was Katie Whipple, visiting with another artist friend during her first year of art school, and she is now becoming well known as an important painter. Next week California artist Karl Dempwolf will become the most recent. The cabin is home to over 30 artists a year, which keeps things pretty entertaining around here.
Thinking About My Opus
Earlier this morning I was cuddled up in my wife’s grandmother’s old rocking chair, inside my studio by the massive collection of art books. It reminds me of a lofty goal of one day creating a modern version of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, a book that chronicled the lives of artists in his time. Today, there are so many important artists developing, and this is such a special time in the world of art and the two major art movements we’re involved with — the contemporary realism movement and the plein air movement. But with all the other projects, how will I possibly ever get it done?
The Richard Schmid Method
Things get done by discipline and extreme focus. I remember asking Richard Schmid to come to one of my events, and his answer was very telling. “My number one priority is to get several books of my work published before I can do anything else. I need to stay focused.” And focused he is, producing beautiful books, including a wonderful revision of his opus Alla Prima II.
I often encounter people who have a major dream they want to pursue, but then I hear, “I’m going to get to it someday,” or “I’m gonna write when I have more time. I’m too busy now.”
Your Biggest Dream
Sometimes we’re so busy achieving our goals and paying our bills that we don’t achieve the big dreams we’ve always wanted to do. You know … the magnum opus … the book, the giant multi-figure painting, the thing you can do to change the world.
In fact, I just had this discussion with a friend, who told me that life was just too busy … running the kids everywhere, managing a house, getting up early and staying up late, weekends consumed with activities like soccer games and birthday parties.
I Refuse to Insult
I wasn’t about to tell her that she could find the time if she really wanted to. Frankly, raising a family and being insanely busy in a job isn’t easy for anyone. I would not want to insult her by suggesting she could find more time. In fact, if there were a Mom’s Hall of Fame, she would be in it.
So what do you do if you have something you absolutely have to get done in your life, knowing that there is simply no time?
Well, honestly, there really are only two roads you can take. Put the goal off and hope you can one day get to it, or find a way to steal the time.
I wrote my recent marketing book in the car as we spent a week driving with the kids on spring break last year. It needed to get done, and that was the only time I could find.
My friend Roy Williams says the way to write a book is to get up one hour earlier each day. Get out of bed and start writing before getting ready for work. Set a timer, and stop at one hour. He does this seven days a week, which gives him 365 hours a year for writing, which is equal to nine 40-hour weeks. He has written several New York Times bestselling books this way without disrupting his busy life.
Of course, you may not have the ability to get up a full hour earlier every day or stay up an hour later.
But could you find 15 minutes twice a day?
How to Write a Bestseller
My friend Mark Ford told me about a guy named Andre Dubus III, the author of House of Sand and Fog, who wrote his book while he was teaching full-time at a couple of different schools and working a construction job to make ends meet, while he and his wife were raising three young children. Since he did not feel he could get up an hour earlier, he tried a different approach.
Don’t Call the Police
According to Mark, “Each morning, he started his commute 20 minutes early — 17 minutes, to be exact. And each night, he came home 17 minutes late.
“At first, he pulled into an apartment complex parking lot and wrote in the car. But after 10 days, someone called the police to check on him.
“Fortunately, he knew the officer. Dubus relocated to a nearby cemetery. It was quiet, usually empty of people, especially at 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“Every morning and every night, 17 minutes at a time, writing in pencil in a notebook. In summer, sweating with the car windows down, in winter, with the heat on until he got a carbon monoxide headache and had to stop. All the way to the end of the book.”
The book became a bestseller in 2000.
Stealing Is OK
My guess is that all of us could find 15 or 20 minutes a couple of times a day if we want the goal badly enough. Maybe we steal time by avoiding social media, cutting phone calls or conversations a little shorter, or getting up earlier. If there is time for lunch, why not use that time to focus on that big dream goal every day?
I talk a lot about goals, but the key to any goal is to break it into little pieces so it does not overwhelm you. They say the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Define the goal and the pieces exactly. For instance, for a giant painting, it might be “order the stretcher bars and canvas by Monday,” “have the canvas stretched by a week from Monday,” “gesso the canvas by Wednesday,” and “sketch composition by the following Monday.” Rather than an exact time deadline, “by Monday” is good enough.
Begin Right Now
The other problem is that we’re always saying “someday” or “when I retire” or “when it’s not so busy.”
My friend Mark says, “When someone tells me they will start a new project next year or in a month or a week or even tomorrow, I’m pretty confident they will never do it. When it comes to initiating new projects, inertia is the enemy.“
I put every idea into a digital bucket and ask myself, “Is it for this year or the future?” If it’s next year, it stays in the bucket till I set my goals for next year. If it’s this year, I set a date, write out the steps, and start working on it immediately in small pieces.
“Someday” is the kiss of death for a project. So today is the day. Do something about it today, get the goal defined today, get the steps defined, and then work on it a little every day, even if it’s just a couple of times, 20 minutes at a time.
Also, never give yourself an excuse to skip your scheduled time. Do it religiously.
I don’t live in your world. I don’t know the stresses of your life, the circumstances, or the insanity of survival. It might be best to do something “someday.” Only you can make that choice.
You Have Much to Offer
But your big dreams are too important to not get done. You have too much value to share with the world by achieving your big dream goal. Time passes too quickly, and unforeseen circumstances can end our time suddenly. Your voice needs to be heard — your ideas, your dreams, your influence.
No one else can do this for you. Chances are, time will never be easily available and circumstances will always get in the way. If it’s important, can you find a way to steal moments to devote to your dream?
Today, not tomorrow, is always the answer to getting something done. I have no doubt you can do it, it’s just a matter of stealing some time.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope you didn’t get trampled trying to get a great deal in a big store somewhere. In case you did not see my Thanksgiving message, it’s here.
I’ve enjoyed the Thanksgiving break and the chance to declutter during our staycation. Guess it’s time to start a little Christmas shopping and get my annual planning done for next year. Now is the time.