Which creative journey is yours?

Professional writers, artists and creative business owners have the mind-boggling task of going down three paths at the same time–with a common destination in mind (sometimes) and (sometimes) three totally different destinations.   Whew!   No wonder we have to take good care of ourselves!

The first path is creativity for pleasure.   We discover a creative pursuit that’s more fun than almost anything else, and it’s both avocation and recreation.   For some people, it is the one path, the whole creative journey.   I remember surreptitiously writing poems in high school classes that were otherwise boring…and later in long, long boring school board meetings.   Family and friends use creativity for pleasure and life enhancement without ever yearning for the other two paths.

The second path is usually the path of craft.   At some point, we want to be the best poets or novelists or painters or entrepreneurs we can be.   We practice sentences and brush strokes and musical scales.  We take classes.  We’re devoted–maybe devoted to more than one art form or to an intellectual or spiritual pursuit to the level of mastery and flow.  Now we’re deeply committed, but probably still able to straddle both paths because the learning itself is as pleasurable as the art form.   At this point, in fact, most artists just see it as one path with two levels of commitment.

The third path is the path from passion to profit.   Maybe there’s not enough time to hold down a job or pursue another career and do artistic work–or maybe the contrast between the day job and the creative avocation becomes intolerable.   As the creative work takes on the third path, being effective become as important as being wildly creative, and the internal conflicts become difficult.  Do scales or write new music or get that demo off to an agent?   Start the new story, write a love poem, or edit one more draft?   Write for the sake of the art or find a way to get readers so you can pay the rent and feed the kids?

Sadly, there’s no one answer.  If you want to be a professional, you have to go down all three paths day by day.   What you can do is establish a rhythm for the work, a rhythm that lets you hop easily from one path to the other.   Then you get pleasure plus immersion in craft and profits.

Two authors have taught me a lot about those rhythms lately:   Tony Schwartz, author of How to Be Excellent at Anything, and Todd Henry, author of Accidental Creative.   Schwartz focuses on managing your personal energy, which you have to do if you want to travel all three paths (or have a life in addition to a creative pursuit).  Henry focuses on making the best use of your creative time to launch projects, businesses, almost anything for which you take personal responsibility as both the creative talent and the CEO or project manager.

We live long lives, with creative development extending into our eighties.   Only a small percentage of us follow all three paths consistently over a long lifetime.   So it’s not about choosing forever.   It’s about making a clear choice and committing to it until it becomes obvious you are ready to make a different choice and commit to that.   In the end, intention and commitment may be the most important words on a creative life path.