Discipline of Creating

This question was posed as a writing prompt for a class I’m currently taking (the class mentioned in my most recent post): How do you relate to the term “freelancer” versus “entrepreneur” in your own work? The impetus for the question was the episode “Freelancers” on Seth Godin’s brilliant Akimbo podcast, in which Seth discusses his thoughts on what it truly means to be a freelancer.

Naturally, as a self-managed, recently-post-academic artist, I had a LOT of thoughts, and I encourage you to go listen to the episode, whether you identify as a freelancer or not. What I want to discuss here is what Seth calls “the discipline of prospecting.”

Seth talks about how, as a freelancer, we are largely responsible for the business side of our work, in addition to the creative work itself. We can get so caught up in the creative work—in my case, singing, teaching, what have you—that we’re suddenly left with no gigs, no students, no work for the foreseeable future, because we neglected to attend to our business.

In order to remedy this, freelancers need to practice the discipline of prospecting. In other words, putting in time every single day to develop one’s craft and actively reach out to acquire more work.

There are any number of ways to do this. Taking classes to develop a skill, sending in applications or proposals, and reaching out directly to people with whom you want to work are all viable “prospecting” options, and there are an infinite number of additional options.

As I was mulling over this concept, I realized that lately, I’ve been really good at the discipline of prospecting. I’ve put in hours and hours to develop and maintain my online materials, I’ve taken performance and self-improvement classes galore, I’ve stretched myself into the discomfort zone on many different fronts.

What I’ve been largely lacking is a discipline of creating.

As a perfectionist who struggles daily with a fear of failure, the messiness of creative work is daunting to me. I experience a lot of internal resistance when it comes to developing new work, because there’s no right answer. There’s no certainty of success. There are no to-do lists to complete, because the work is never truly complete.

Self-management? No problem! I can make a website: check! I can go to a class and complete homework: check! I can answer emails and reach out to potential collaborators: check and check!

I don’t mean to downplay the discipline of prospecting. It’s necessary and so very important! I’m also very grateful that this aspect of freelancing is one that I’m good at and enjoy doing. It makes certain aspects of being a freelancer much easier.

However, I realize that I’ve been using prospecting as a surrogate for creating. Instead of using prospecting as a means to the end of creating new work, I’ve been prospecting instead of creating new work. Because it’s easier for me, and much less risky. It doesn’t really require me to “be in the arena,” as Brené Brown would say.

So in the new year, I want to start building a discipline of creating for myself. Intentionally and consistently building time into my daily schedule for messy, unstructured creative work—in addition to the highly structured business-of-singing work I already do.

Do you struggle more with the discipline of prospecting, or the discipline of creating? If you’re a freelancer, I’d love to hear how you build time into your schedule for both of these disciplines. If you don’t consider yourself a freelancer, how do you build unstructured creative time into your schedule?