Longing to create a masterpiece but the man is gettin’ you down? Let singer/songwriter, illustrator and KDUR DJ Nathan Schmidt tell you how he juggles his work at Vantiv Payment Systems as a copywriter with his creative pursuits.
What does the average day look like?
I try to get up early, do a little reading. I’ve found that working out a schedule where I’m up early and being productive from the get-go before I have to show up to work feeds the things that I enjoy doing. I work till 5 and then have the rest of the evening to do what I want.
So tell us about the schedule. Is it hour-by-hour?
Every day’s a little different. It may be picking up the guitar and humming a new melody, or picking up the pen and ink to see what comes out. I find that just making the effort to put pen to paper or picking up that instrument – something’s going to come out. I think that’s really a roadblock for people. The expectation is that if they set aside the time to do these things, than they have to have a finished song or some kind of masterpiece at the end of it. I think that’s totally the wrong perspective. Just to do it is enough. If you’re not having fun with it, you should probably find some other hobby.
Does the creativity feed your work life, or do you get through the work day to make stuff?
The steady job provides me the freedom to have an apartment and put groceries in the fridge. I don’t think there’s anything romantic about starving, and I don’t think panic helps the creative process at all. I think having that section of my life taken care of, having that sense of security, allows me to experiment and take chances in another section of it. The ideal is a Frank Lloyd Wright. You know, to get your interests aligned with a profitable career that pays the bills – that’s just a win-win. But for the majority of people, that’s not going to be the case.
How do you keep work at work?
Amnesia? I’m lucky enough to have a job that is pretty compartmentalized. It’s not like being a teacher where so much has to be done outside of work. I’m lucky. I enjoy working. I like my day job. I’m not one of those guys who goes to work, comes home and sits around. I think that’s a waste. Hopefully, you have a job that doesn’t drain you of life. If that’s the case, find a new job. Even if you don’t want to create art – find that job that doesn’t drain you.
I heard once that artists don’t eat five-course meals. They eat PB & J sandwiches to make more time for art.
I’m a terrible cook. Ham and beans, fried eggs. I’m trying to eat better. Some grilled salmon and asparagus. [laughs] I have the advantage of not having kids, not being married. I don’t have pets. I have a few thriving houseplants, but apart from that – look, there’s a lot more to being an artist than they show on Instagram. If you want to make and do things in your life, you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes you say no to your friends. Sometimes it’s a PB & J.
What motivates you to discipline yourself and make those sacrifices?
Hopefully, it’s fun, something you enjoy and that you can lose yourself in. If you’re happy and having fun, what other motivation does there need to be? If you’re in it for notoriety or to impress people, then yeah, you might have to find some extra motivation. Not to say that there aren’t parts of it that I hate doing. You get something worked out and then you spill ink across it, you know?
What’s more exciting to you? Beginning a project or finishing one?
Well, if you finish one, then you can put it in the mail to your mom or grandma and she can hang it on the fridge. There’s your gallery space! Looking at a blank piece of paper is scary but it’s also freedom. You can make anything. That’s liberating.
What percentage of the day do your creative pursuits take up?
Work is a third, sleeping is a third – maybe sleeping’s half. [laughs] I’m not good at math. For me, every day is different. Some weekends, you go out to the desert and camp all weekend and you don’t do a single thing, and that’s OK to take those breaks. To make it a routine is important. Decide how to prioritize your time. Perfect example: my work space is neat and tidy, everything in its place. The dishes? Those don’t get done until I’m pouring cereal into a Tupperware container.
What about for those of us who are terrible with time management?
I’m awful at time management. As square as it sounds, keep a calendar, keep a schedule. Tack it up on your wall. Give yourself deadlines. It sounds counter-artistic. The stereotype is, “When the muse hits me, I’m gonna write this song” and that’s bullshit. Or at least, you’re going to have way less songs if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike. Like I said, even if you’re dragging yourself to sit down at the desk or piano or whatever, keep your pen moving. Even if it’s just stream-of-conscious. Something’s gonna come out. Just make sure you’re there in the chair or at the easel when it does. Put yourself in the position to make something.
Cyle Talley is delighted that baseball is back. Go Cubs. If there’s something you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]