Graphics by Ali
As you launch into 2018, I wish you plenty of energy, time and resources to pursue your dreams to the utmost. May 2018 be for you a year of breakthroughs and satisfaction, of positive challenge and solid growth.
The new year is a wonderful opportunity for doubling down or an exciting time of reinvention. For me, 2018 is both!
I start this year as a rookie free agent. I’ve retired from my career as a school counsellor, so it’s truly a new chapter of my life. With no salary or built-in support system, I have to imagine and create my own way to income, fulfilment and community.
I spent today, the first day of the new year, brainstorming possibilities. I uncapped my pristine .38 gel pens and created a colourful opportunity mindmap. I went wild and dreamed up all kinds of sources of income. Then, I shifted gears (and changed to my spiffy new Japanese dual highlighters) and picked out the themes and priorities.
Finding the theme was easy with two focus points jumping off the page: Greater Creativity and Regular Activity. My previous job with its heavy emotional load affected my energy levels and took a toll on my health, but now I find myself in a blessed place where I can build energy, improve my fitness and develop creatively.
My mindmapping exercise led me to another conclusion: in order to generate an income, I have to have goods to sell. The more stock, the better the trade. Because of the demands on my time in the past, I have few finished, market-ready projects but oodles of inklings and half-formed ideas.
So Priority Number One for 2018 is to generate products. I must convert my notebooks full of ideas into tangible goods – namely manuscripts, stories, articles, and content.
I set my intention with Julia Cameron’s quote (above): “Art isn’t about thinking things up; it’s about getting things down.” My task for the early part of the year is cut out for me:
Do you have any tips to share about setting off on the full-time freelance path? Please leave a comment to inspire me!
Big Magic is one of those books that every creative should read. Full of insight, ideas, encouragement—it’s worth keeping a copy on the writer’s desk next to the dictionary, style guide, and Strunk & White.
Gilbert’s take on a few topics was so fresh and true that I teared up. She put words around an elusive struggle of the creative process, and I found it comforting to have it articulated so beautifully. But don’t get me wrong: it’s not mamby-pamby, self-help slop. She has mined the travails of her own creative life and brought out some gems to share. Some are wrapped in kindness, others are tough love with a swift butt-kick thrown in for good measure. I didn’t resonate with everything, but the bits that got me, got me good.
I especially appreciated her thoughts about burdening one’s creativity with the job of earning a living. She’s big on not quitting your job. All in all, Big Magic is a keeper, and it’s probably a book I will give as a gift to aspiring creatives.
On a final note, I listened to the excellent audio version narrated by the author, but I would recommend instead buying a physical copy to allow for thumbing through in moments of creative confusion or artistic desperation.
View all of my Goodreads reviews.
Here’s to a week of living large and creating courageously.
Wishing all of you a productive week.
Photographer: Daniel Burka, CC 2.0
Modified by the author
Sometimes circumstances limit us. Sometimes it’s our piddly thinking. We set a big goal one day and talk ourselves down the next, not daring to believe we can pull it off. We trust our lack more than we trust our dream.
I dare you to dream big. Imagine the biggest, bestest dream you can, a dream that energises you and gives your life meaning and direction, a dream that will one day leave a legacy. Transcribe it all in your journal. Having a record is important, so don’t skip this step. As you write in your journal, consider some of the points below.
Ask yourself, “What is life expecting of me?” The mind might shy away, deny, downplay, or rationalise, but deep in our souls we know what our Big Dream is. In the movie Chariots of Fire, runner Eric Liddell said he could “feel God’s pleasure” when he ran. Racing in the Olympics became his Big Dream.
When do you sense transcendent pleasure? What gives you joy? Both hint at your Big Dream. Never forget: those two words, pleasure and joy, hint at fun. Don’t forget to have fun! It’s go-go juice for the dream.
‘Big’ means challenging. A Big Dream is one that is bigger than you—way bigger. It’s something that necessarily requires growth, determination, resilience and heaps of courage. You know the adage:
If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.
You have to be willing to go through the discomfort of learning and the pain of growing and even face the possibility that you may never fully realise your Big Dream. After all, if you know you can do it, it’s not a Big Dream; it’s an exercise or a task, like playing scales on the piano, and where’s the challenge in that?
Give yourself unreservedly to your Big Dream. Learn everything you can. Befriend like-dreaming people and find excellent mentors. Don’t hold back time or money or energy. Being stingy with your Big Dream is cheating yourself. Brown bag your lunch. Buy cheap shampoo. Pinch all the pennies you want, but don’t short-change your dream.
Remember that it’s your Big Dream, so don’t compare your progress to other people’s. Not only is comparison pointless, it will make you miserable.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
When the temptation to downsize your dream inevitably comes to torment you, be prepared. Meet it head on with your journal. Remind yourself what you want and why. Revisit the transcendence. If you run out of steam or lose your joy over your Big Dream, stop and reflect. Are you comparing yourself to someone? Or have you ‘gone grim’ and forsaken fun? Either way, take a break and schedule time to play and experience beauty. Resolve to focus less on results and more on process. This allows you to relish the now.
And finally, just do it. Don’t waste time wondering if you can or should. Don’t worry if you’re good enough. Stop sweating over other people’s progress. Just do it. Here’s a great pep talk from my friend’s talented daughter when she was three.
Isn’t she clever?
Wherever you are in the course of following your Big Dream, I encourage you to keep going no matter what. “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars.”
I spent three months earlier this year working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. First published 25 years ago with umpteen reprints, several spinoffs, and numerous nips, tucks, and facelifts, the perennial title continues to unstick stuck creatives.
It’s a 12-week course designed to “discover and recover your creative self” by exposing and dispelling the myths (I’m not talented enough), the limiting beliefs (Doing art is not serious enough for adults), and the crippling mindsets (perfectionism and work addiction). With these saboteurs routed, the blocked writer or floundering artist can build self-confidence and new attitudes that support a flourishing creative practice.
The Artist’s Way sat on my TBR list for years because I couldn’t quite commit to the Cameron’s mystical language and spiritual terms that meant other things, important things, to me. The past several years has seen cracks form in many of those previously rigid mental constructs. Suffice it to say I discovered the usefulness of expansion joints, which I’ve judiciously applied.
While I completed the course, my writing productivity nosedived. My blogging screeched to a crawl. The rewrite of my novel with my ASA mentor drifted into slow-mo. My reading schedule crashed and burned. I wrote my Morning Pages (Cameron’s “primary tool for creative recovery”) and edited articles for work, and that was it.
However, to be fair, during the same three months, Big Stuff of Life happened. I found a new house and that very day had emergency surgery followed by two weeks of bed rest, renovated the old house, put it on the market, sold it, packed up essentials and siphoned off 15 years of detritus, moved to a new city, downsized my beloved career, and took up the day-to-day care of an elderly relative, all of which equated to a ‘significant score’ (336) on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.
Little wonder I did so little creative writing for three months (and then some), and yet, crazy as it is, I still feel lousy about my low writing output.
I don’t know which derailed my productivity, The Artist’s Way course or the Big Stuff of Life, but despite everything that was going on, the course led me to several important insights. Before I share them, I have to point out something that continues to amaze me: The a-Ha moments came prior to Cameron covering them in the book. The grappling and reflecting in my Morning Pages after each chapter became a springboard to some cool personal insights, which, like magic, she covered in the next chapter. It’s hard to convey how meaningful this made the experience and how much more I valued the insights I gained.
And speaking of insights, here are three of many:
Journalling in the Morning Pages led me to the realisation that I held some mixed up core beliefs that were a source of creative conflict for me. Somehow in my psyche I had conflated creativity with selfishness. I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but I had picked up the notion that expressing my creativity, whether writing fantasy for children or creating funny short stories or even hoping to be a published author, was a self-indulgent waste of time, unrealistic and just plain silly.
I worried I was cheating God, or, as Cameron puts it: “We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical, something that God wouldn’t approve of for us… …many of us unconsciously harbour the fearful belief that God would find our creations decadent or frivolous or worse…”
For me, it was both liberating and healing to begin to accept that creative dreams and yearnings start with God; they don’t steer us from God. Talk about a-HA moments! Mental shackles fell away when I read aloud the affirmation: “Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.”
Another discovery from my journalling was just how stodgy I’d become. Gah! What a great, greasy bore I’d curled into! I was so hung up on ‘mastering the craft,’ that I’d forgotten to steer the ship toward adventure. Where in the world had all this rigidity come from? When did the grimness set in?
Cameron’s mantras were, again, healing: “Think mystery, not mastery,” because “mystery is at the heart of creativity.” And: “Go for progress not perfection.” Oh what sweet relief.
Weekly Artist’s Dates are her prescription. An artist date is a block of time set aside to nourish the inner artist—a play-date with your creative self. I confess this was the hardest part of the course for me to carry out, and I failed most weeks. Writing three pages daily in my journal came easily compared to setting aside time for fun. Cameron warns: “Commit yourself to a weekly Artist’s Date, and then watch your killjoy side try to wriggle out of it.”
It’s nice to know I’m not the only killjoy on planet Art. “For most blocked creatives, fun is something they avoid almost assiduously as their creativity. Why? Fun leads to creativity. It leads to rebellion. It leads to feeling our own power and that is scary.”
That word ‘rebellion’ (emphasis mine) stared and continues to stare at me, goading me to just.cut.loose.
It’s slow progress but it’s happening! It has been good for me to be playful. I rediscovered my love of bike riding, sunshine, and bright colours. My wardrobe is morphing from safe, muted corporate tones and shapes to a vivid palette and flowing forms, and by jingo, it feels fabulous to ditch the dingy straitjacket.
The hardest hitting insight was how important attention is to the creative life. As a grown up, I’ve turned into a master tasker—frantically ticking off to-do lists, so task-focused that I regularly miss the wonder glinting and winking around me.
I keep going back to this sentence in particular:
“The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”
The capacity for delight…the phrase rings so true.
I now consciously practise tuning in, paying attention, and delighting in my environment, whether it’s soaking in the thrumming yellows of the hibiscuses and roses in my garden or drinking in the peachy-lavender hues of the sunset shimmering off the Maroochy River.
The poet William Meredith observed: “The worst that can be said of a man is that he did not pay attention.” Since early June I have shared my home with such a man, the grumpy old man dear elderly relative I mentioned earlier. At times, as I watch him absently treading time, his determined misery torments me. His sullenness is a portent to me to pay attention, to exercise curiosity, never to abandon engaging with Wonder.
Thank God for the gift of creativity.
My writing productivity has yet to fully bounce back, but I’m gradually accepting that. After all, I’m in the midst of a drawn-out period of major upheaval in my life, and I’m still coming to terms with some of the losses (my treasured school counselling career, proximity to the State Library of Queensland, and immediate access my beloved writing friends) and some of the additions (twice weekly long commutes to work and the new role of carer). And anyway—there’s a difference between recovering productivity and recovering creativity.
The words will flow freely again. My writing productivity will soon stagger back to its feet and flip the bird/two-fingered salute to the Big Stuff of Life before steering decisively in the direction of adventure. With the help of The Artist’s Way, I have recalibrated, and I know now: I’ve got this.