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My Life Design Does Not Involve Coordinated Throw Pillows

At its simplest, life design means customizing your life to suit your purposes. Fashioning your livelihood, your home, your family life, and your daily schedule in such a way that you have the best conditions for your creative work.

In the past few years, life design (or lifestyle design, as it is often called) has come to be associated with certain techniques for gaining freedom. I’ll talk about those in a minute. But I first want to make clear that the methods you use are not the point.

The most important thing about life design is the deliberate approach: knowing what you want to achieve as an artist and giving yourself what you need to get there.

That said, I’ve chosen particular avenues to create an art-committed life that will get more air-time here because, well, they’re mine. And also because they’re counter-cultural and under-publicized.

Revolutionary changes in technology, work and family life, even in the last five years, have given writers and artists many new ways to make space and time for the studio while still supporting themselves and caring for their loved ones. I’m taking advantage of these shifts and I want you to too.

1. The Internet and connective technology

When I started in the software industry 12 years ago, I couldn’t do my job without going into the office. Then, slowly, remote work started to gain a foothold. First I had a laptop so I could work at night and on weekends. Then I had VPN so I could access the office network from home. We got video conferencing so we could have meetings with coworkers in Seattle and San Jose. Now there are programs that let us share computer desktops so the IT person in India can fix my config problem in Ottawa.

All of this connectivity and functionality has gotten so cheap and easy that my five-year-old can Skype with her grandparents using an iPad on our living room couch.

Freaking brave new world, am I right?

This technology is not gimmickry or passing trend. It’s fundamentally changing the way we work. Which means that incredible opportunities are opening up for writers and artists to reach their audiences and sell their skills and wares.

2. Freelancing and entrepreneurship

At a certain point I faced the painful reality that my responsibilities as an employee and the demands of my writing life could not co-exist. Armed with my laptop and email and VPN, I was able to leave my software job and freelance from home. I had greater control of my schedule and dropped a lot of administrative paper-shuffling that I never liked.

The next step has been moving from contract work for clients to selling my own products and services as a creativity coach. While this may look like a step backward (there’s more effort and overhead involved in running a business), I get a tremendous boost of meaning and energy from this creative work. Which in turn stokes the fires for my fiction writing.

With the global marketplace opened up by the Internet, I believe that entrepreneurship is becoming an essential skill for writers and artists. We need to be in control of our intellectual property and know how to get the most value from it. Branding and marketing become an extension of our artistic endeavours. And if that scares you, I’m here to say ~ creative types like us have everything we need to shine in this arena! We just need to learn how to apply our skills, and that’s a whole lot of fun.

3. Location independence

Digital work means you can live anywhere. Self-employment means you’re in charge. Which is wonderful news to us travel junkies. More and more people are turning to the nomadic life ~ Shawn and I tested the waters in Beijing a few years ago and we’re eager for more. Singles, families, professionals, wanderers: you’ll find all kinds on the road for a multitude of reasons.

Some use their location independence to relocate permanently in a small town for the peace and quiet, or close to family for support and company. Others use it to reduce their cost of living ~ Western dollars can go a long way in other parts of the world.

Living in interesting but less expensive areas has great advantages for writers and artists who want to see the world and work less. Travel is both simple and complex in a way that does amazing things for one’s creative process.

4. Minimalism

Which brings me to minimalism ~ trading stuff for experience and streamlining domesticity. Years of student-hood and frequent moves helped us keep our possessions down, and we chose a modest downtown condo that lets us live car-free. All of which means we spend less time cleaning and organizing our house and paying off the mortgage, less money shopping and decorating.

We could move even further towards the radical end of the minimalism spectrum ~ it fits hand-in-glove with location independence.

The bonus for writers and artists here lies in freeing up time and money that can be reinvested in art-making, as well as clearing distracting clutter in our homes and minds.

5. Shared parenting

Thank heavens for feminism and a parenting culture that embraces alternatives to full-time motherhood. My husband and I are equally involved in the day-to-day care for our children, an arrangement that has had big benefits for all of us.

Shawn and I each work four days a week and spend one weekday with the kids (Tuesdays for me, Fridays for him). This opens up lovely breathing space in our schedules and, honestly, keeps us sane. The children get structure and socializing at school/daycare, plus free play and parental attention at home.

This approach to parenting applies to singles as well as couples: whatever mix of childcare that enables you to spend quality time with your kids, earn a living, and practice your art.

Shared parenting challenges the long-standing dictum that women can be artists or mothers, but not both. When we’re only responsible for part of the child-rearing and housekeeping, it’s much easier to hold mental and physical space for our creative work.

I’m keen to share more about these life design approaches with you in the months ahead ~ and to profile writers and artists who are taking advantage of them.

Have suggestions or examples? Share them in the comments.


{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Buffe April 2, 2011, 5:39 am

    HI Alison,
    Just discovered you via Abbey Kerr. How delightful. I’m in the process of trying to undo some entanglements of a fairly botched attempt at being an internet marketer to reclaim and fully actualize in a more integrated way online and internationally my relatively successful and very meaningful career as a visual artist.
    Am thrilled to finally be uncovering treasures like you and other creatives online. Looking forward to reading more of your ideas.
    Buff Elting
    p.s. I raised 2 sons as a single mom working from home as a fulltime artist and loved the freedom, creativity and challenges…even if the checks were sometimes a little too distantly spaced apart!

  • Susan April 5, 2011, 6:25 pm

    I really enjoyed this! I am constantly telling anyone who will listen that creativity is a point-of-view put into action, not necessarily a bunch of paints or colorful throw pillows.

    And I couldn’t agree more. Entrepreneurship is really the key to making a business out of creativity. Or at least to creating your own opportunities. I think may people still have these fantasies about publishers who promote your books, and art dealers who sell your paintings while you work unencumbered in a studio. That’s really not how it works anymore, and no one is going to -make- you successful.

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