Making the choice to be a creative professional, regardless of the actual field you pursue, is not an easy one. This can be difficult for the traditional professionals to understand, and there’s still a stigma against people who give up or never pursue a “real” job in order to take the time to hone their craft and create things. This stigma is held in spite of the deep appreciation these same people often hold for famous actors, filmmakers, and writers. Any person pursuing creative success is simply delusional until they aren’t. In part, our awareness of our potential lifelong delusion contributes to the difficulty of committing to the creative career in the first place.
If you’ve decided to commit anyway, to rise above the naysayers both inside your head and out, congratulations! You’ve heard the Call to Adventure, the first step to leaving behind the Ordinary World and embarking on your personal creative journey.
The Refusal of the Call
The next step, as Joseph Campbell fans will recognize, is the Refusal of the Call. It’s unbelievably easy to stop here and never embark, and you’ll have plenty of support in doing so. There will always be reasons you can’t start: you’re not talented enough, not enough people know or care about your work, hardly anyone makes it anyway, you’ll never make money and you’ll die alone and emaciated in a cardboard box under a third-rate overpass, and so on. It doesn’t help that many, if not all, of us were never given the tools to fight the reasons for the refusal. Our public schools focus on navigating us through a system of test-taking and exam scores in order to follow the established path of school-college-job-retirement-death. Art programs, such as they are, tend to be the first things cut when budgets get tight.
Even if you pursue a degree in the arts, from what I’ve gathered through personal experience and online commiseration among artists across all creative fields, you still don’t learn many practical skills necessary to a career. My art courses taught me plenty about painting my feelings and cleaning my brushes, but nothing about appropriate ways to contact a gallery or how to ship a painting.
The odds are stacked against you, the stakes are high, and the Other World of the creative career is dark and mysterious and maybe full of monsters. There is no shame in turning back. Only a madman would continue willingly.
But, if you are such a madman, the key to moving past the Refusal of the Call is not to plan or study or gather all the information available. It’s not taking classes or writing to-do lists or organizing your files. It’s simply to do something, something you can repeat until it becomes habit. The rest of it- the plans, the website building, the personal branding, the classes- is simply packing your bags. That’s not where the journey starts.
Accepting the Call
My “Do Something” is the Storytime Sundays, a plan I’d sequestered in the back of my mind for nearly a year before actually committing to action. Even though I’d accomplished some one-off successes (sold a painting, sold a story, wrote the first draft of a novel), those aren’t the key to really starting a creative career. A career is not built on a series of unrelated successes but on solid habits, and those are what I needed to start building.
I started Storytime Sunday as a personal challenge, hoping to prove to myself that I could stick to a long term project with deadlines that no one but myself would enforce. The illustration addition was an afterthought; I had not intended to include it as part of the challenge past the first iteration, but then I realized it was vital to start teaching my drawing to play nicely with my writing if I ever wanted to pursue careers simultaneously in both. If I were to someday be hired for a full-time art position, I certainly could not afford to have “just writing” months, or vice versa.
I’ve been writing and illustrating a story every week for six weeks now. This is on top of a full-time job, other illustrations, a working novel draft, and two longer stories that I need to finish by the 15th (not to mention social activities and the occasional adulthood responsibilities… looking at you, Laundry my old foe). It’s been challenging, and there are times when I want to quit or skip a week, but ultimately it’s been rewarding enough to make up for the lost sleep. I get to put in regular practice (perhaps even more than I could in school) on both the art and the writing, and I get to focus on a particular problem in each piece (”Hey, let’s play with dialog in this story!” “Ooh, so that’s what the back of feet really look like”). Most importantly, I have to learn to let go of the perfectionism that freezes me up on so many pieces in order to hit that deadline. It’s gotten easier every week.
My Journey is at its very beginning, and I’m still scared of those monsters in that dark and unfamiliar world. But I’m Accepting the Call by committing to this habit. If you’re in the same place, the best advice I have to give is just to commit to one thing, all in, no excuses. It doesn’t matter how great or crappy it is; no one’s watching you right now anyway. That should be the most freeing reminder throughout the beginning of your Journey; there are no eyes, no judgment on you. Now is the time to just do, screw up along the way, and learn and have fun while doing it.
How will you Accept the Call?