Eric Maisel is a wise and generous mentor, the founder of creativity coaching, a man who has helped thousands of writers, artists and performers find their individual creative processes. In his new book, Making Your Creative Mark, Eric shares nine key ideas that would make every creative person’s journey more fulfilling–and fun. I have a fine collection of Eric’s books, and Making Your Creative Mark is one of my two favorite collections of Eric’s widsom.
And here’s Eric!
By Eric Maisel
If you want to live a creative life and make your mark in some competitive art field like writing, film-making, the visual arts, or music, and if at the same time you want to live an emotionally healthy life full of love and satisfaction, you need an intimate understanding of certain key ideas and how they relate to the creative process.
One key idea is that you must act confidently whether or not you feel confident. You need to manifest confidence in every stage of the creative process if you want to get your creative work accomplished. Here’s what confidence looks like throughout the creative process.
Stage 1. Wishing
‘Wishing’ is a pre-contemplation stage where you haven’t really decided that you intend to create. You dabble at making art, you don’t find your efforts very satisfying, and you don’t feel that you go deep all that often. The confidence that you need to manifest during this stage of the process is the confidence that you are equal to the rigors of creating. If you don’t confidently accept the reality of process and the reality of difficulty you may never really get started.
Stage 2. Incubation/Contemplation
During this second stage of the process you need to be able to remain open to what wants to come rather than defensively settling on a first idea or an easy idea. The task is remaining open and not settling for something that relieves your anxiety and your discomfort. The confidence needed here is the confidence to stay open.
Stage 3. Choosing Your Next Subject
Choosing is a crucial part of the creative process. At some point you need the confidence to say, “I am ready to work on this.” You need the confidence to name a project clearly (even if that naming is “Now I go to the blank canvas without a pre-conceived idea and just start”), to commit to it, and to make sure that you aren’t leaking confidence even as you choose this project.
Stage 4. Starting Your Work
When you start a new creative work you start with certain ideas for the work, certain hopes and enthusiasms, certain doubts and fears – that is, you start with an array of thoughts and feelings, some positive and some negative. The confidence you need at that moment is the confidence that you can weather all those thoughts and feelings and the confidence to go into the unknown.
Stage 5. Working
Once you are actually working on your creative project, you enter into the long process of fits and starts, ups and downs, excellent moments and terrible moments – the gamut of human experiences that attach to real work. For this stage you need the confidence that you can deal with your own doubts and resistances and the confidence that you can handle whatever the work throws at you.
Stage 6. Completing
At some point you will be near completing the work. It is often hard to complete what we start because then we are obliged to appraise it, learn if it is good or bad, deal with the rigors of showing and selling, and so on. The confidence required during this stage is the confidence to weather the very ideas of appraisal, criticism, rejection, disappointment and everything else that we fear may be coming once we announce that the work is done.
Stage 7. Showing
A time comes when we are obliged to show our work. The confidence needed here is not only the confidence to weather the ideas of appraisal, criticism, and rejection but the confidence to weather the reality of appraisal, criticism, and rejection. Like so many other manifestations of confidence, the basic confidence here sounds like “Bring it on!” You are agreeing to let the world do its thing and announcing that you can survive any blows that the world delivers.
Stage 8. Selling
A confident seller can negotiate, think on her feet, make pitches and presentations, advocate for her work, explain why her work is wanted, and so on. You don’t have to be over-confident, exuberant, over the top – you simply need to get yourself to the place of being a calmly confident seller, someone who first makes a thing and then sells it in a business-like manner.
Stage 9: New Incubation and Contemplation
While you are showing and selling your completed works you are also incubating and contemplating new projects and starting the process all over again. The confidence required here is the confident belief that you have more good ideas in you. You want to confidently assert that you have plenty more to say and plenty more to do – even if you don’t know what that “something” is quite yet.
Nine months ago, I committed myself to writing a short story a week for a year.
And then I spent that nine months on a sabbatical of sorts, doing all the things for my health and my life I needed to do before I could live up to that commitment.
I didn’t fall off the path. In the background, I collected and savored ideas, worked with other writers, thought about story and studied story structure, the creative process, the ways our minds make (and need) story. And I renewed my energy through and after a serious illness. Thank goodness that’s done :::dusting my hands:::
Nine months later, I’ve decided to change my life and start with an even bigger commitment. Some of those short stories need to be written, and so does a novel. After more than 40 years of psychic work, coaching, consulting and whatever came up first, writing in the cracks between other jobs, I’ve decided to make writing the big deal in my calendar and do as much psychic work, coaching, teaching, consulting and mentoring as I can without sacrificing writing time and energy.
That feels huge to me. My view of the last year is that I was dangling off a bridge, like an old railroad bridge across a high mountain pass. Dangling there, I worked on life structure, story structure, and shoring up whatever needed to be fixed to make the real creative journey successful.
The work was so personal and internal, I didn’t blog about it. Now the blog is back. I’m back. And the adventure began again today.
There’s no perfect launch date (except in fiction, of course). So August 8th started my short-story-a-week-for-a-year project. Astrologically, it was a good launch date.
I’m not quite two weeks into the project and still a story behind.
I knew I was going to do this in front of all of you…and that I’d already given myself permission to stumble, pick myself up and keep on going.
A good launch should bring hidden problems to the fore. Hidden problems were there all along; when you move toward a goal, they become visible so you can resolve them as part of the movement toward completion.
Ten days later I have a webmistress who’s going to save me oodles of writing time, new passwords everywhere because Facebook (bless their hearts) caught an attempted hack. I’ve been working deeply, making progress, working until I fell asleep night after night–and I don’t have a finished short story yet.
For One Year: A Short Story a Week
Ray Bradbury’s famous challenge to writers was to write a short story a week for a year. Over the years, I’ve heard writers who accepted that challenge talk about what it did for each of them.
Today I’m starting that adventure, and I invite each of you to join me. I’ll be posting a weekly blog about my progress, my wins and losses, and what I learn.
I just met a friend for Espresso–the kind you’ll find at your local library but not at Starbucks. Now I’m jumping up and down and wanting to visit with all of you about the “new espresso machine” that doesn’t make coffee.
I still remember the first time I saw blurry snowy black-and-white TV. A neighbor’s dad sold them and brought one home, and the whole neighborhood started hanging out at their house to see Dick Cavett on Omaha television. The men spent at least half their time adjusting the antenna until we learned that moving our chairs around the room improved reception too.
And now a new Espresso machine has shown up, and it’s as exciting for me as any of the other things that used to be science fiction before they became real.
As much as Sato wanted to beat Franchetti in the Indianapolis 500–and as much as Franchetti wanted his 3rd Indy win (which he got), there were no villains, only fierce competitors.
I watch so many cop shows and movies with good guys and bad guys, I sometimes forget the most heartwrenching stories are about two good guys pitted against each other in a fierce competition with huge stakes.
Franchetti and Sato will be back on the track, fighting for a win, in the next big race. But the competitors in our stories should win or lose something that changes their lives–that takes one of them out of that particular race or decides the contest forever.
I watched the Indy 500, only (of course) as research for writing. And no, I don’t mean publishing indies.
Understand that I live in Albuquerque, NM, home of the Unser racing family and the Unser racing museum. The Indy ranks right up there with apple pie and motherhood in Albuquerque.
Before television, I listened to the Indy with my daddy, who drove stock cars on dirt racing tracks before World War I. So I’ve been doing this “research” for a long, long time.
But this year’s Indy–well, if you didn’t see the ending, you’ve got to go find it.