I meet with students, interns, people in their early careers all the time and they always want to know how to start and maintain a creative side hustle. I always tell them the same things. Here they are.
Think about why you are creating in the first place. It’s probably because you’re an artist and you need to make things, write, draw, play music, create to express yourself, to process how you are feeling, to amuse yourself. Don’t lose sight of that as you make things. You are doing this for you, and no one else.
Treat your creative life like a full time job. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will. Plan your workload for creative projects as if you were planning a wedding or doing it for work. Make spreadsheets, create deadlines, devote serious time to thinking about your creative work.
Creativity is discipline. Make time on a regular basis to practice and hone your craft. Even five minutes is good. You don’t have to finish anything. In these moments you are refining your style, getting out ideas, creating bits and pieces of drawings or notes that could be turned into something larger later. (This zine that I drew in 5 minutes was the entire genesis of my new graphic novel coming out in 2023.)
There is nothing stopping you from doing anything you want to do. The concept of gatekeepers is kind of old-fashioned, especially in the age of social media and DIY culture. Start an IG account to keep all your work in one place — people will start to notice (it’s how I got noticed to write my first book). If you can’t get published, who cares — publish your own book/ magazine/ comic. (I couldn’t take a food internship with Saveur Magazine after college because it was unpaid, so I started my own food magazine called The Runcible Spoon.) There are lots of independent bookshops, zinefests, art fairs and communities to share it with. (I even started my own art book fair in 2016 to help give more artists a stage.)
Don’t think, just make. So many people tell me that they are stuck and don’t feel inspired to create, or feel like they can’t make it perfect, so don’t bother trying. Try to think of a lower stakes way to complete what you want to do. If you can’t shoot a film because you don’t have money, turn your storyboard into a comic. If you don’t have time to write a full-blown personal essay, try doing a 30-minute freewrite on it. The goal is to just get the idea out of you in a creative way to help you process it. In fact, creating those kinds of constraints can also make the project more fun and challenging.
Keep doing what‘s fun and good things will happen. I didn’t get a book deal until I was 31, after 15 years of making comics and zines (you can see one of my first zines I created as a teenager here). I never did those things with the idea of a book deal in mind. I just did it because it was fun.