Okay, I hear you: you’re creative, you’ve got a great idea (or ten), and you’ve always wanted to do something with your life.
You think that if you could just make it happen – write that book, launch that project, get yourself out into the world in a big way – that you would change the trajectory of your life. You’d be stepping onto a whole new path – one that you think you might be destined for.
So…what’s keeping you where you’re at right now? Why aren’t you writing, recording, rehearsing, launching? Why is that idea still just an idea, and not an action?
Ever since I started writing, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I did it. But I also have a lot of people who ask if I got a publisher before I started working on it. Even now, when I get asked what I’m working on and I say I’ve got a first draft on the go, people want to know, “Who’s putting it out?”
Well, no one, because no one is going to buy a book that hasn’t been written yet. But these questions are important, because they often hint at what’s going on under the surface.
What I regularly learn about the folks who ask if my projects were safe bets – that is, if I already had a publisher lined up before I started writing – is that they aren’t really wondering about the process of writing a book.
They’re wondering about the risk involved. Because creating is a gamble. It takes a long time to see a project through from start to finish, and then to get it out into the world on top of that. It takes sacrifices and compromises, because everyone is working with the same 24 hours in a day, and we’ve all got bills to pay, and friends to see, and families to love.
There is no guarantee that your idea is a good career move. But then, there are no guarantees in life anyway. You could get a great promotion at work – a good career move – but then get laid off a month later. You could move in with the woman of your dreams and find yourself single a year later. You – well, you get what I’m saying.
You just don’t know what’s around the corner, but when the right scenario shows up – that great job opportunity, that great girl – you probably don’t hesitate for long, right? So why snub your own great idea? Why question it? Why not just go for it and tell yourself, “let’s see what happens?”
Because creating is a risk like any other, and you have to put in the work before you’ll be able to reap the rewards – if there are even rewards to reap. But the same could be said about going to college or university. People sink a lot of time and money into going to school without any promises of actually getting a job because of it. But still they go, because they trust that it’s a step towards their desired direction.
You need to approach your creativity with the same mindset: as a step you are taking towards a bigger goal, not as a means to an end. And yeah, it is scary to make a commitment. You’re investing a lot of time and energy into a creative project, just like you do with a job, an education, a relationship, even TV shows.
Are those somehow safer? Well, the TV show might be, because you know that for that hour, you’ll at least be entertained, but we put our time and energy into every aspect of our lives because time and energy is all we have.
So why put off that creative goal? Yes, writing is going to take you away from other things you love. So is a band, because you have to practice, write songs, rehearse, play shows. Painting takes time. Photography takes time. It all takes time, but everything in our lives take time.
If you’re waiting to know whether your efforts will be worth it in the end, then you’ll never get started. No one knows whether they’ll be successful with something or not until they try. Even big-budget Hollywood movies bomb sometimes. You will never know, though, if you should have waited for another job offer. Or to live in a different house. Or to have a different set of friends.
You’ve made choices in other areas of your life, so why not creatively? Sure, your project could turn out to be a total waste of time. But it could also turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. You won’t know until you try.
Procrastination is a decision in itself. Deciding to wait until “the time is right,” or “until you’re sure it’s the right idea” doesn’t only push back your goals indefinitely. It is a conscious decision to simply not move forward with something that you really want to do.
Writing for The Globe and Mail, author Russell Smith talked about the frequency with which aspiring authors ask how they can get their book published, even if the book isn’t even written yet.
“Concentrate on completing an excellent book – the kind of book you yourself would love to read – before thinking of what to do with it,” Smith writes, explaining that, “The truth is that most books are still written by individual authors in isolation.”
You can’t worry about how a project is going to get out into the world until you’ve actually made something. Yes, I agree that it would suck big time to work really hard on something and see it die before it even saw the light of day.
But you know what? A lot of established, successful artists struggle with that unknown at all points in their careers.
I remember reading that one of my favorite authors, the late Tanith Lee, a prolific, award-winning sci-fi and fantasy writer, said a few years ago that, “If anyone ever wonders why there’s nothing coming from me, it’s not my fault. I’m doing the work. No, I haven’t deteriorated or gone insane. Suddenly, I just can’t get anything into print,” before adding that some publishing houses she had queried (and this is well into her later career, with much acclaimed work to her name) would not even respond to her.
I’m not sharing this with you to make the future sound dire. It’s important to understand the possible outcomes – good and bad. Accept all outcomes as a possibility and then remind yourself that first, you need to do the work.
Worry about the business side of things when the time comes, and remember that, because you are a creative person, you need to trust that you’ll be able to come up with your own solutions to any obstacles you encounter. You are the only one who can decide to take “no” for an answer.
You also need to focus on what you can control: the work that goes into it, the quality you bring forward, the completion of the project, the commitment to exploring every avenue to make your dream a reality once it’s done.
Carry these wise words from Danielle LaPorte as you go forward: “Be open to it being way better than you imagined.”
Remember, short-term commitments are easy: You buy an ice cream, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it. It’s hard to go wrong with ice cream.
But if you want to live bigger, you need to take risks, and with risks come commitment and a willingness to be vulnerable while accepting that the future is yet to be created – just like your art.
So what commitment are you going to make to yourself – and your creativity – today?
Until next time,