Finding order in chaos is easier than you think.
We artists like to think we are wild stallions, free to romp through the world and make our own way.
It’s a nice sentiment, but it turns out there’s a structure in every creative career, a path everyone follows. Each step in the journey is a right of passage.
Far from being discouraging, this path was liberating to me. It made me realize making a creative career doesn’t have to be a guess.
The is no question of “if” you will go through these phases, but “when” and “how.”
That is, if you’re willing to take the challenge.
Phase 1: Discovery
“Of all the subjects on this planet, I think [you] would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.”
J.K. Rowling had one nagging thought in the back of her mind, when she was attempting to choose a career:
“I want to write novels.”
Told by everyone (up to and including her parents) this was not a suitable or lucrative career, she put this dream off for a long time. But at 21, the second her parents pulled away from her University, Rowling raced down to the Classics corridor.
Buried underneath volumes of dusty books, she spent hours there. She skipped classes. She skipped meals. She skipped bedtime. She did anything she could to spend just another second reading, learning, discovering.
Discovery is an obsession. It’s the faint knowledge that maybe, just maybe, you are different from everyone else on the planet. Without discovery, there is no creative.
Had Rowling not spent all that time realizing, “yes, I was meant to do this,”glasses and a lightning bolt shaped scar would mean nothing to us.
If you are in the discovery phase: experiment. Learn. Play. Most of all, accept your calling as a creative. You are not like everyone else.
Phase 2: Discipline
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
In the late 1950s, a young man sat in his room reading comics. In a moment, a switch flipped in his brain.
Unlike most of us, this young artist’s discovery was instantaneous. He wanted to be a writer, so he wrote.
He published stories in a “newspaper” — a cobbled together delivery which came from his brother’s mimeograph machine.
He sold stories to schoolmates, republishing movie ideas and putting his own twist on them. (When the teachers discovered this, he was forced to return all the money.)
And still he wrote.
He published short stories nobody much read. They had titles like “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber” and “In a Half-World of Terror.” These stories didn’t have much of a place to go. After all, this was the 60s. Readers were engaged by “To Kill a Mockingbird” and fascinated with “A Wrinkle in Time.” Nobody wanted to read horror stories.
And still he wrote.
Throughout college, he put together odd jobs so he could publish stories in fan magazines. He scraped together money as a janitor, then a gas station attendant, then a laundry worker.
And still he wrote.
At 25, the would-be writer flung his latest manuscript in the trash. It was miserable, every word of it. Maybe he should take time off from writing and focus on a safe, promising career in education.
And then, Steven King’s wife pulled the papers out of the garbage, and urged him to finish the book.
The once-discarded “Carrie” became his first novel. Horror, for the first time, was a real genre — not just stuff kids read in their comic books.
When his environment told him to grow up, King kept writing still. He had the discipline to follow his vision to the end.
And the world of literature has never been the same.
If you are in the discipline phase: realize true creative success is a mountain of work. Create art when you are happy. Create art when you are sad. Create art when you are breathing.
Create art first. Do all else second.
Phase 3: Destiny
“I have never felt more isolated.”
In 2014, Markus Persson, probably sat back in his chair and smiled. His opus, Minecraft, just sold to Microsoft for $2.5 billion.
Billion. With a B.
A year later, though, Persson struggled with purpose. He went on a Twitter rant about the struggles of wealth and why, after becoming an object of jealousy for so many people, he was unhappy with his life.
Many Creatives are terrified of success for this reason — we have NO idea what to do with it.
Failure is normal. Failure is comfortable. Failure is what we read articles on how to deal with because failure, more often than not, is our lot in life from day to day.
But what happens when you don’t fail?
What happens when your dreams come true?
What happens when your “reward” for hard work doesn’t satisfy you?
It is at this point you will have to claim your destiny.
For an artist, destiny can never be about the riches of the fame. It’s not about the recognition of the book signings.
It’s about loving the work.
If you love the work during discovery, your destiny won’t feel hollow.
If you love the work during discipline, the years it takes to get good at your craft won’t be meaningless.
If you love the work during every phase of your artistic life, creation beats affirmation.
Every single time.
If you are in the destiny phase: Realize creative success is an honor, but not the endgame. Your destiny does not end with art. It ends with people.
I don’t say this enough — writers are nothing without people to read their work. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I go into the these three phases in much greater detail in my book — The Creative’s Curse. If you’re looking for a dose of motivation, encouragement, and instruction on building a creative career, it’s a good place to start.