Interview: Michael Nobbs on Building a Sustainably Creative Life

Interview: Michael Nobbs on Building a Sustainably Creative Life

by |

Michael Nobbs is the author of Drawing Your Life and publishes an illustrated journal called The Beany. Michael is an artist, podcaster and tea-drinker. At the end of the 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS, a chronic illness that severely limits how much he can do each day. Over the years he’s learnt a lot about living the best life he can by accepting what he can’t change and working with what he can. 

At the end of May, Michael leads a course at Gladstone’s Library entitled ‘Building a Sustainably Creative Life’. Over the weekend Michael will share some of the techniques he’s learnt over the last two decades that have helped him build a creative life and career by focusing on what’s truly important. The course also includes a screening of 2011 documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Suchi.

Before the course, we spoke to Michael to find out more.

Hello Michael! Please can you explain the premise of ‘Important Work’?
Important Work isn't anything grand, it's merely the next thing that we need to prioritise on the road finishing our current creative project.

I call it Important (with a capital ‘I’!) to emphasise that it is the thing we need to prioritise in our day if we want to make progress with our creative aims.

Often we’re far better at procrastinating than getting on with our work. Give us a top tip for not getting distracted.
Actually, I don't think procrastination is a bad thing. I'd rather call it pondering though…it's a great creative tool!

However, as well as pondering we do need to take action and so at least once a day (five days a week) I suggest setting a timer for 20 minutes and taking a next step with your current creative project.

We love your One Thing Today podcast, a few episodes of which have been broadcast from Gladstone’s Library! Can you tell us a little more about what inspired it?
I started making the One Thing Today podcast around six years ago. I have a chronic health condition that on some days means I can do very little indeed. I wanted to find something I could do on all but my very worst days to give myself a sense of momentum and achievement and I found a short podcast was manageable.

I can't over-emphasise the boost it gives us to make consistent progress with our aims (I've made over 1,200 podcasts). Picking something manageable and sticking with it over the long term can lead to wonderful places.

In the podcast I encourage listeners to set their own timer and work alongside me for 20 minutes on that day's Important Work. Together we move our creative lives on a little each day. 

One Thing Today can be found at

You’re leading a course at Gladstone’s Library in May which will teach people how to focus on the most important things in order to achieve maximum creativity. What can people expect from the course?
The course will help people start to build a sustainable framework within which they can build a long term creative life.

Whilst I feel it is very important to treat ourselves very gently and to work within our limits, it is also vital to create habits and supportive structures and we'll look at that a lot over the weekend.

There'll be plenty of time to drink tea and have a slice of cake or two.

Who would benefit from it?
Anyone who struggles with limited energy or time (or both!) and would like to live a more creative life or develop their current creative practice into a more successful and sustainable one.

What makes Gladstone’s Library a good setting?
I love coming to Gladstone's Library. It's somewhere I come to when I need to retreat a little from the world, rest and feel just a little looked after. It has a wonderful atmosphere that encourages rest, but also exploration and study. The perfect setting for holding a gentle course exploring ways to live a more creative life!

What are you hoping people will bring to the course and what will they take away?
I hope people will bring an open mind and a few creative ideas to choose between. My aim is that they'll leave with the beginnings of a creative habit that will take grow and develop and even perhaps support them into the future.

We won’t ask you to reveal any secrets, but if you could give us one piece of advice right now to help us achieve this end goal, what would it be?
Pick something you'd like to do and work towards it little and often. 

Where can people find you online? is the best place to start to get to know me.

'RBuilding a Sustainably Creative Life' runs at Gladstone’s Library Friday 26th - Sunday 28th May. Residential prices start from £215, non-residential from £150. Discount rates for clergy and students apply.

For the full programme, please click here.

For more information or to book, please call 01244 532350 or email