What if Dr. Frankenstein had given up after his first failure? Well, he’d probably have lived a much more pleasant life, but the world would be deprived of his greatest creation: the Monster.
Many creative people give up on their aspirations because they don’t see any measurable progress. It reminds me of a South Park episode with the Underpants Gnomes (Season 2, Episode “Gnomes”).
The kids of South Park delve into the mystery of the Underpants Gnomes and why they are stealing underpants. The reason for the theft was outlined by the leader gnome thusly:
Phase 1: Steal Underpants.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit
They had no notion of what phase 2 might be, but then knew, for certain, that the plan would result in profit. I think this is how most creative types start out. They want to create art and then jump straight to a career as artist, without understanding the intervening steps.
The Three Steps of Creativity
STEP 1: The Desire
It all starts with the need to create. Most kids are born with this but for one reason or another it dwindles away as we age. It can sometimes feel like chasing the white rabbit down into wonderland. But the need to express yourself is a commitment. You must dive in and see where the journey takes you.
STEP 2: Exploration
This is the step most of us skip. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and want to skip the ride in the dark. But what kind of artist will you be? What types of creation get your juices flowing? Most of us don’t know exactly what the creative muses have in store for us.
Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like an Artist) has some great advice about this step in expressing your inner artist. He emphasizes the verbs of creation over the nouns.
If you say you want to be a novelist, that’s fine, but you’ll have an idea of what a novelist does and you’ll try to do that. Whereas if you just say I want to write stories, that is more open. You might end up a screenwriter; you might end up a copywriter for an insurance company.
You need to keep your options open. If your urge it to string words together, then the options aren’t limited to simply novelist. You might create podcasts, write scripts, teach writing, or write advice in the vein of Kleon himself.
This exploration process can take years. You have to give yourself time to explore. Start new projects and see if you have the yearning to see them through. The more you experiment, the more you can find the area where you truly shine.
Exploration and experimentation is progress. It may not seem as tangible as a string of published stories or a portfolio of artwork. You can always switch your tact to a new type of creativity, so long as you never give up on your inherent creative desire.
STEP 3: Making a Living
This is a hard plunge to take. Mostly because making art is not always a stable enterprise. There are various steps to going full time. You might start by selling your work and getting some professional recognition. This can accelerate all the way up to being able to make a living in your specific niche.
The philosopher Sun Tzu has this to say in his treatise The Art of War (these quotes are from the Stephen F. Kaufman translation).
The wise and great warlord never goes against Heaven’s decrees. Heaven makes itself obvious to the man of wisdom…Heaven, but its very nature, will see his truth and will rush to bring about his dream. This is the nature of the universe. It has no choice but to cooperate with a man of true belief.
Forgive the male-centric wording (that came with the translation). But the message is an inspirational one. Simply substitute artist for warlord and Muse for Heaven. The creative Muse will honor and support your endeavors if they are true to who you are. In other words, if you have sufficiently explored and experimented to figure out the kind of artist you want to be.
So like Dr. Frankenstein, you have to explore and delve. The good doctor began as a physician but soon the ideas of galvanization and reanimation hooked his mind. He fully committed to pursuing these ideas to their utmost extent. The end result was something horrifically magical.