Whether you are a writer, a painter, or any other type of creative artist you know that your life and your art are constantly evolving. Like any other journey this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end (so to speak) and each stage comes with its own set of rewards and potential pitfalls.
At the beginning of any journey, you need to find the courage to begin.
You have to make the choice to create. No one is going to force you to write a novel, practice your instrument, or fill up that empty canvas. It’s up to you to find the time and the motivation to create.
Becoming a better artist is not just about getting the right degree or knowing the right people, it’s about having the courage to sit down and work on something that most people aren’t going to care about it.
You may not feel like you have the time or even the skills to do what you want to accomplish–but you do it anyway because you know that it’s not as much about what you create as who you become along the way.
In order to begin, however, you have to be willing to look like a bumbling idiot along the way.
Everyone makes mistakes and feels awkward at the beginning. It’s simply part of the learning process where nobody is probably going to admire your work or pat you on the back for being awesome. Not surprisingly, this is when a lot of people give up their creative dreams. The reality no longer lives up to the fantasy. Suddenly the mystery and magic of the creative process starts to feel a lot more like work.
The ones who end up making it through this apprenticeship phase are the ones who have the passion and the desire to create even when nobody else seems to care. They are willing to look stupid because they understand that it’s a necessary part of the creative process.
Beginnings are always filled with hope but tempered with fear
Some creative artists fall into the trap of believing that once they are out of the beginning stage of the process, their problems are behind them. They think once they’ve put in the time and paid their dues, the hard part is over…. If only that was true.
Once the initial excitement has worn off, however, we start to see beneath the shiny veneer of being a creative artist and realize that it’s not all just book signings and gallery openings. We discover that there are some downsides and sacrifices to creating art as well. Like many other professions, there is often intense competition, unrealistic deadlines, critical colleagues, and unfair pay.
This is when expectations meet reality and hope transforms into to self-doubt.
We start to second guess ourselves and our past decisions. Maybe our art or our creative career hasn’t progressed as quickly as we imagined it would. Perhaps our work has been rejected one too many times and we begin to hear that little voice inside of us changing from “When I do it!” to “Can I do it?”
We begin to wonder whether or not we actually have what it takes.
We have good days and not-so-good days and we sometimes wonder if anybody would really care if we just packed it up and went away. We find ourselves needing something to keep us going—a kind word of encouragement, a positive review, or anything that will give us the courage to keep going one more day.
Sooner or later if we last long we enough in our creative profession, we may begin to feel as if we’ve explored every nook and cranny of our little niche and we’re now simply going through the motions.
We begin to see that mastery comes with its own price, and one day we find ourselves coasting along in the comfort of our own creative competence.
By now we’ve become good enough in our chosen art form to get the attention, the money, and pats on the back for a job well done. We have built up our skills and our audience to the point where it becomes all too easy to coast on our reputation or our past work.
Writers, artists, and musicians often rely on their past work to pay the bills and discover that the motivation to take new risks and potentially alienate their existing audience is not worth it. We discover that we no longer have to be vulnerable because we know exactly what our audience expects from us — predictability and consistency are how we begin to live our creative lives.
With predictability, however, comes the inevitable stagnation. Instead of branching out and trying new techniques, our work becomes predictable and formulaic because we want to protect what we have already achieved. We find ourselves more interested in recycling our past work than creating something new.
We’ve forgotten why we started to create our art in the first place — that sense of curiosity and exploration. That sense of not having a clue what we’re doing and then trying to do it anyway. Sure it’s partly the ignorance of youth, but it’s also the power and energy of discovering something new — exploring some hidden crevice inside ourselves.
In order to rekindle that creative spark, we need to start over again.
This is of course much easier said than done because it forces us to leave the comfort of the familiar behind. In order to explore new worlds, we must first be willing to let the old ones go. The one advantage we have is that we’ve been through this journey before and we know that it can be done.
So we gather up our courage and begin again.
Which of these 3 stages are you currently at in your creative career?
Which one has been the most difficult for you to get through and why?
Do you think there is a reason not to start over and just continue to refine your art?
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.