I’m often asked some form of the question “Is there a trick to this lettering thing you do?” Well, yes, there is. And that trick, friends, is practice.
It sounds so simple, but you wouldn’t believe the look of horror that washes over someone’s face when I tell them I typically practice lettering 1-3 hours per day. I can see the wheels turning in their head, and I know what they’re thinking: “Must be nice, but I don’t have time for that.”
Guess what? Neither do I.
Between my full-time job, almost one-year-old son, husband, family, friends, my love affair with naps, reality television, and social media, I don’t really have much of what we all refer to as “free time.” Yet, I still practice lettering for 1-3 hours each day. And no, I’m not superwoman and I get the same 24 hours as the rest of us.
So, how do I make time for lettering practice – and more importantly, how can you make time for it? First of all, you have to want to make the time. If you’re just getting started and you aren’t yet sure if this is your thing, you’ll have to dabble a little and see – take 15-20 minutes here or there to sit down and practice to see if you like it.
Don’t give up too quickly though if it doesn’t come naturally. It didn’t come naturally to me, I promise you that. Once you figure out if this is a creative pursuit that you want to continue working at, you have to decide whether you are willing to make the time for it. And you will have to make the time. You won’t simply stumble upon those hours, finding them like you’d find the lost remote wedged in the sofa cushion. You’ll have to make time for practice by making small sacrifices each day.
For me, that means I sometimes wake up a little early or I stay up a little late. More often that not, I eat lunch at my desk with a sketchbook and brush pen beside my sandwich. On the weekends, when I’d love to take a nap every time my son sleeps, I’ll sometimes (but not always) forego that time to rest so I can squeeze in some time for lettering. Since he was born, I have not had the luxury of sitting down to letter for more than 1 hour at a time on any given day.
So hear me now: when I say that I practice 1-3 hours a day, I’m not doing it all at once. I’m doing it in bits and pieces – siphoning time when I can and where I can.
Typically once my son goes to bed and we’ve finished getting his things ready for daycare the following day, I’ll post up at the kitchen table for 30 minutes to an hour and practice while my husband and I watch something on TV to decompress from the day. Sometimes I continue practicing for a bit longer, and sometimes I’m wiped out from the day and choose not to use that time for practice.
I admit that I have the luxury of lettering neatly folding into my everyday responsibilities at work, so I am sometimes able to devote bits of time to practicing during work hours. However, I am a relentless rule follower and always incredibly conscious of what I do during work hours so I make a point to ensure that the lettering I create at work actually serves a work-related purpose outside of pure practice for my enjoyment. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but it’s doable.
I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and it seems like every other page I was jotting down notes that rang so true to me that I could have written them myself. One of the things she wrote about making time for your passion really stood out to me, and made me put down her book while on a plane last weekend so I could start writing this blog post (that’s some powerful stuff after I worked non-stop for the preceding few days, y’all).
I’m going to refer to some of her words here because they just so perfectly sum up this topic that I couldn’t do it justice by trying to make them my own. In her book, she talks about living a creative life and discusses the sacrifices that people who are passionate about their creativity will make for it. She says: “People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of sacrifices for it.”
This is how you make time to practice lettering (or any other creative pursuit!). It has to matter enough to you that you’re willing to make sacrifices for it. If you’re not willing to give up a lunch break every once in awhile, or wake up early every once in awhile, or skip a nap every once in awhile – you’re not going to get better. You have to practice, and you have to be willing to make the sacrifices needed to make time for practice. More words of wisdom from Elizabeth Gilbert on that subject: “It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”
I want you to improve, so I want you to practice. Regardless of your personal circumstances, I wholeheartedly believe that you can find some time to practice each day. And if not each day, then maybe every other day – go for quality and consistency over quantity. If you discover that lettering is something you’re truly passionate about, you’ll magically start finding more and more time for your practice as that passion grows.
And if it doesn’t grow, move on to whatever it is that lights your fire. Maybe it’s illustration, or traditional typography, or photography, or something completely unrelated. Whatever it is, find it and practice it relentlessly. And for those of you who are stuck and thinking there isn’t any possible space in your life that you can free up, I’m going to challenge you to reset your thinking.
Here are 12 ways you can incorporate lettering into your daily life:
- Wake up early (15 minutes, an hour – whatever you want, just make it earlier than you normally set your alarm)
- Stay up late (but not too late – 30 minutes max – you need to make sure you’re still taking care of yourself and getting rest)
- Skip your lunch break and letter at your desk, or take your lunch to a nearby coffee shop and practice there
- Take advantage of naptime if you’re a parent (this does not apply to moms within the first 2-3 months after giving birth – nap AS MUCH AS YOU CAN during this time!)
- Devote time in the evenings specifically to lettering (you can multi-task here and watch/listen to TV at the same time)
- Or, skip a TV show and instead devote the time to lettering that you’d be using sitting on the couch watching TV
- Skip surfing Instagram or Facebook (or whatever social media app is your time-suck of choice) every once in awhile and instead use that time to letter (who knows how much time you could get from this alone!)
- Letter during meetings (only if you won’t get in trouble! I doodle in meetings nonstop because it helps me think and pay attention – some bosses/managers are fine with that, and some aren’t, so gauge that based on your own personal situation)
- Letter during other commitments where you want to retain information (for me, this is church – I can letter while I’m listening and I use the sermon as my inspiration so it serves a dual purpose)
- If you commute on a train/public transit of some sort, bring a small sketchbook and a pen with you to practice while you go back and forth to work (I live in the Atlanta area and this isn’t an option, but I know for a lot of people who live in cities with great public transportation, this could be a viable way to squeeze in some practice time)
- Letter in the car (obviously as long as you’re not the one doing the driving. It’s definitely more difficult but you could practice with pencil to work on muscle memory and finding new ways to form your letters)
- Bring a notebook and pen with you anywhere you go (this sets you up to have what you need to practice when you end up having free time that you’re not anticipating. Stuck waiting for 30 minutes at the doctor’s office for a checkup? Pull out your tools and practice. Getting your oil changed? Pull out your tools and practice.)
Depending on your own personal circumstances, I’m certain there are other opportunities to infuse practice time into your everyday life than I can’t even think of.
Think about this for a moment: the time you spend scrolling endlessly on your phone looking to Instagram for inspiration is time that you could be lettering and developing your own skills. Reset your thinking and you’ll realize there is enough time – you just have to want to make room for it.