Like many people aspiring to do creative work, I wasn’t born into a family of artists, or into unearned income that would enable me to pursue my art full-time. I didn’t participate in any talent shows, I’ve dealt with years of underestimating myself, and I wasn’t taught how to be creative in school. I wrote, and rewrote, this book not because I’m a creative genius revealing a secret, but because it was the book I needed to read.
I have been obsessed with the mystery of the creative process for over a decade. Successful artists had figured out how to do great creative work. Why couldn’t I?
I sought out every chance to find an answer. In the first half of the 2010s, I pored through academic literature, biographies, and memoirs. I interviewed prominent recording artists and authors on their processes. I seized every opportunity I could to ask people about their creative processes and for detailed examples of what they did to make their work. I immersed myself in a study of each individual’s creative process itself—the observable parts of ideation, creation, and release.
Creative work sounds simple enough (“Just make stuff!”), but it can feel painful when you don’t know how to make sense of it. For many years, I experienced a version of the creative block that might sound familiar: numbness. I wrote at a media company, started an editorial studio, and supported other people’s creative projects with marketing. I felt I had to suppress my true creative urges in order to make money. I tried my best to make it work.
Because I had so little time for the creative work I wanted to do—to write and express my own ideas—I became completely attached to the results I could attain. I wasn’t practicing, I was pushing. After months and years of this struggle, I realized that I was missing a piece of the puzzle: my own creative purpose.
Finding my creative purpose involved letting go of every impulse and habit that made me successful at my work projects, and shifting my focus away from results into the process. Process is about consistently making time and energy to practice every day, rather than intensely pursuing a creative project and then burning out, falling out of love with it, and becoming resentful. It’s about creating a lot of work that meets a standard I set for myself. There’s a chance you probably feel the same way I did; that throughout each day, the thought comes to you, “I’m meant to do something, and it’s not what’s in front of me right now.” What does it mean when you find yourself creatively blocked? What if that wave of inspiration never comes, and how are you supposed to know how long to wait? What if you can’t get started, or begin but don’t finish, or are always too busy with everything else?