Journey | Steps on the Path, part 6

Note: this page is part of the Cliffjump! Manifesto. If you’ve arrived from an external link, and haven’t read the previous parts of the book, you might want to start at the beginning


photo credit: Christian Haugen

We have now moved out of the realm of the individual creative act (project, painting, piece, invention, business idea, etc.) and into the larger sphere of the Creative Life. I should clarify that this is not necessarily about choosing to make a living as an artist, though that’s certainly one path, and the one I’ve taken. However, I’ve known amazingly creative people, in the arts and other fields, who have deliberately chosen not to make their living at it.

But of course many of us do, and there are upsides and downsides to not having to make do with whatever time and energy you have left over, after your ‘day job’ (or night job, as the case may be), to devote to your creative work.

In my view for most people this is more of a lifestyle choice than anything; if you’re in it for the money or the fame, there’s a more-than-reasonable chance that you’ll be disappointed and frustrated. Not because it’s not possible to make a decent living and build a great reputation if you are ready to work hard, but it’s a good deal harder and takes rather longer than most people imagine – unless you happen to be one of the tiny minority whose extreme talent or, more usually, good luck (in terms of connections or ‘being in the right place at the right time’ as the saying goes) has afforded them a shortcut.

Pass the pipe!

No, the dangling carrot of riches and celebrity are not generally a very good reason to devote your whole time and energy to art or music (or poetry or pottery, if you want to go up against even longer odds). You might be able to make a living, although even that can take more work and dedication than most people realize, but fame and fortune are little more than a pipe dream for most of us, and not really worth spending much of your mental energy on – it’s rather like buying lottery tickets with your last ten dollars with a week left until payday.

So yes, generally speaking and certainly (as far as I can tell) for most of the ‘professional creatives’ I know, it’s a lifestyle choice. In my case, I do it for the hours, the freedom and more than anything the personal and spiritual fulfillment it offers (I’ll have more to say on this topic a bit further on).

Regardless of whether you choose it as your vocation or your avocation, what the ‘creative journey’ is really all about for me is cultivating a creative mind and a habit of active, creative, inquisitive interaction with the world. The reason to choose the creative journey is that it is simply more interesting, more fun, more challenging and rewarding on a deeper level. That’s a big claim, but I’m prepared to back it up…

Choices, Beginnings, Rewards…

Here’s the crux of the matter: we get to choose, within the limits of our circumstances, how we go through life and interact with the world. How will you choose to be? Personally, I want to be engaged, curious, active, and especially fascinated by life. When I am fascinated, I am at my best – inspired, full of wonder, amazement; why would I not want to try to be in that zone as much of the time as possible?

So how do we stay in that zone, keep that flame alive, retain that spark? Creativity is the surest path I know. And choosing to travel that path, to undertake that journey, will radically affect your life whether you make your living with your work or not. The journey is its own reward.

And as with any journey, the best way to start is to start. The great mountaineer and explorer H. W. Tilman once said, in response to a young person wondering about the steps he might take towards getting on an expedition, “Put on your boots and go”… I’ve tried to make that a kind of mantra for my creative life, and I think it’s a good one. Don’t over-prepare. Act.

Hopefully the steps outlined so far in this manifesto will give you a roadmap through the initial stages, as much as is possible. They work for me, and I’ve come to rely on them. It may prove more helpful still, as it has for me, to take a much closer, harder look at some of the negative habits of thought that can clog up the creative process; I’ve offered my own laundry list of these in Part 1.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Like any journey, it is really not about the destination (in fact, it’s not even clear that there IS a destination…) It’s about the experiences and the challenges and the personal growth that happen along the way… and about the work itself… and where it takes us.

In more practical terms, the Journey is about establishing a rhythm, a daily creative habit. The Creative Coach and blogger Mark McGuinness breaks creativity down into three core processes: Routines, Systems and Spontaneity. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll just direct you to Mark’s superb article on this subject over at the 99%… (I will also take this moment to wholeheartedly recommend pretty much anything and everything Mark has ever written – notably on his own blog/site Lateral Action, and in various books and essays over the years).

Spontaneity is the ‘glamorous’ side of creativity, and is about taking yourself out of your familiar, easy comfort zone, responding to and experiencing the new and unexpected… but you can’t do that unless you have a comfort zone to begin with. That’s what the Routine and the Systems are about. How do you build them up? By committing to them, practicing them and refining them over time. The Creative Journey is all about commitment.

Take a Hike…

Experienced hikers will approach an unfamiliar trail very differently than a novice out for a day trip. Experience prepares them for the unforeseen, gives them the knowledge and self-knowledge to cope with it. With creative work it is the same: the routines and systems we build up over the course of our Journey allow us to be spontaneous in a deeper and freer sense. We have a perspective that the dabbler lacks; we bring to bear the subtlety and nuance that only experience can bring.

Accepting and embodying the Creative Journey quite simply makes life more interesting, because it makes your knowledge of yourself deeper, more complete. It is about choosing to live in a bigger world (more on this later), and engaging more fully with it. And yes, it is about leaving that world a little better and a little more beautiful than you found it – or at least having a go at it…

What’s your take? Does this make sense to you? Have you had creative experiences that confirm or contradict these musings? Please leave a comment in the Discussion section below, and start or join the conversation!

* used (with much appreciation!) according to a Creative Commons license: