A year ago one of my closest friends quit school to paint. Around the same time I gave up a decent job offer to write instead.

Both of us have made some of our career decisions based on the need to impress others. Back then, we always won the unspoken what’s your major? contest when we answered with something super science-y-sounding like biochemistry. Or something as serious-sounding as business administration. When the other person answered that they were studying something “less practical,” we knew we’d won.

Until we realized we weren’t winning at all. My favorite painter and I–we felt the divide. The cognitive dissonance–the feeling that things weren’t quite right, that we were betraying our muses. Living like this shrinks your soul. And you can’t truly win this way.

My favorite painter recognized this and got down to business fixing it. I followed shortly after. Now Tabby’s building her (already incredible) portfolio and diving into the art community, all the while working at 2 local art galleries. And in my own writer’s version of this big career-changing process, I’m not doing such a bad job myself.

You may feel stuck in a job you don’t love when really you want to be a painter like Tabby. Or maybe you’re a writer, or photographer, or something else entirely. You might not love the career you’re in, but that’s okay. Things will be fine. Follow the rules of the Closet Artist to remind yourself that 1) you are a true artist, no matter your job description; 2) you should act like an artist; and 3) you can plan a way out.

Rule #1

1 practice

Practice is king. Even just 10 minutes a day makes The Muse happy.

In his book On Writing Stephen King talks about practicing alone–writing for yourself first–before ever getting anyone else’s opinion about it. The door is closed–it’s just you and your art. No matter what type of artist you are, remember: the first draft is for you; the second draft is for others.

Practice is not the time to worry about whether or not you’ll sell–that comes later.

To get you started:

Rule #2

2 study craft

Learn constantly: books, workshops, classes, mentors. Explore other creative styles. Try them on for size.

To get you started:

Rule #3

business fixed

Who makes money creating the kind of art you love to create? How do they do it? Find the link between art and business and set your course.

To get you started:

Rule #4

community fixed

Get involved: go to galleries, readings, workshops, and conferences. Seek mentors, peers, and lifelong friends. Encourage other artists and spread the love.

To get you started:

Rule #5

5 plan

If full-time art is the goal, plan your exit strategy. Plot your transition from salary/hourly to professional artist. Start saving now. Give yourself the financial cushion you need to make the leap.

Invest in the equipment needed to create at a pro level. Rent if you must; buy it now if you can.

To get you started:

Rule #6

6 current job

…even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing. Do your best at your day job–you never know how it can help your art career down the road. Don’t hide your inner artist at work; use it to enrich your current position when possible.

Be proud. When people ask what you do, tell them you’re an artist, too.

To get you started:

Rule #7

7 stillness

Seek both stillness and weirdness–a balanced approach to the “go out and live” mantra.

Be still. Take your time. Allow time just to sit, just to think; to capture with pen and paper whatever floats up to the surface.

Get uncomfortable. Do things you wouldn’t normally do, like open mic poetry night or rock climbing. Get a bit drunk. Eat a lot of sweets, or watch a bizarre movie, or try new music from a genre you dislike.

Balancing stillness and a quirky sense of aliveness will please The Muse. He’ll use them to fuel your art.

To get you started:

Exiting the Closet

To all the “me”s and “Tabby”s out there, I urge you: hold yourself accountable to these rules. When you do, time spent in the “not-my-dream-job” closet seems a little less burdensome and a bit more fun. Live by them, and you might find that the right time to commit to your art full-time comes a lot sooner than expected.