Editor’s note: I recorded this as a podcast long after I originally published this post. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’d like to hear more episodes of our Productive Flourishing podcast, you’ll find them in the Show’s archives.
Canvas your half-done creations, whether they are chapters half-written, paintings half-painted, business ideas half-formulated, or programs half-coded. How many of them are stuck at roughly the same spot?
I’ll bet that spot is where you started thinking about how you were going to sell or share that creation. I’ll wait here while you think about it…
Okay, we’re back. Let’s take a step back into why you started the creative process in the first place. Chances are, it probably had nothing to do with how you were going to share or sell the idea – it probably had everything to do with the fact that you were interested in playing with the idea. Something about the possibility of the idea dialed into that curious part of you and beckoned to be made into reality, and the rush from being in that nexus of possibility and actuality kept you immersed there, tugging at the conceptual ether like a midwife coaxing a newborn into the light of day.
But somewhere in the process, things got tangled. You labeled the idea and determined whether it would be sellable, or good, or bad, or worth the time, and the unseen cords you were pulling slipped through your grasp. Instead of coaxing the idea, you were left trying to pull it with no solid ground to stand on.
This is where the whole begin with the end in mind thing confuses people. As a creative, you’re not really creating because you’re trying to make money or share it with people – you’re creating because you enjoy creating. Let me say that again: the end of creating art is creating art.
(For simplicity’s sake, I’m calling every creative product ‘art.’ If you don’t think what you’re doing is art, think about your most inspired moments in the creative process and think about what word pops up. If you’re still unconvinced, substitute whatever creative thing you do in the place for ‘art.’)
Furthermore, creating art also helps you develop into the type of person that you want to be. Mind the form of the verb there: it is present tense intentionally. Creative people are not satisfied with having created something, really – they are most satisfied when they are creating something. That one fact alone explains why successful creative people keep creating well past the time in which it’s necessary for them to do so; they create because it’s a part of what makes them come alive.
The point here is that your art is for you. It’s your way of playing in the symphony of the universe, and whether or not anyone wants to hear it is neither here nor there. Create for yourself. (Tweet this.)
“But I’m trying to make money from my art!” you object.
I’m not saying you can’t sell it – I’m saying you have to create it first. And to create it, you have to create it for yourself. You have to be passionate about it. You have to be interested in it. You have to have your moment to cherish the newborn.
Keep in mind that a) you don’t have to sell it, and b) you’ll never sell everything you create. You may decide you want to keep it for you. You may be satisfied from a day spent in creative play. You may share it with someone, only to be surprised that they like it. Who knows?
But your art is for you.
If your art were like everything else you’re doing, you could just write it off as something you didn’t really want to do. But what makes it your art is that, deep down, you actually want to do it. And, even more, you need to do it. And the world needs you to do it. So it’s more than just a matter of finding the motivation or drive to do your art — you have to address the parts of your life that are keeping you from doing it.
Go back and review those half-baked ideas. Put a sign, physical or otherwise, on them that says “Not For Sale” or “Just For Me.” Give yourself room to play.
See what happens, but remember why you’re creating and who you’re creating for.
If you don’t know how to move forward on your creative project, or don’t know how to narrow down which one you’d like to pursue first, Start Finishing will help you get from your idea to done. In it, we address how to make space for it, how to fit it into your schedule, and how to finish strong.
Now get to it! You need your art just like the world needs your art.
(Thanks to Sarah Marie Lacy for reminding me of this and inspiring this post. I appreciate the conversation!)
“stuck at… that spot is where you started thinking about how you were going to sell or share that creation”
Oh, my worst moments are always right there. I love working in my studio. I love having flashes of insight and inspiration come at me spontaneously and for no other reason than my brain and heart are challenged and brightened by the prospect of working out the details! I love working with my hands. I love color and design. My work is meditative. And then…
When sales slump it crushes my ambition. Actually it makes me feel like I run a lemonade stand on a cold day. My main motivation isn’t sales but I must try to sell, sigh. And I also want what I create to find a home, to be wanted.
Dianas last blog post..One enchanted evening
Positively Present says
Love this! Your art is for YOU — such an important concept to remember in the creative process. Great post! 🙂
Positively Presents last blog post..ray-bans and rainbows: seeing life through a happy lens
Thinking of all my projects that are in not-quite-done mode, I wonder if I am so in love with the “creating stage” that I get scared to move into the sharing/launch stage… and end up always starting new projects, perpetually surrounded by projects in the creating stage… hmmm….
This is a really insightful post.
I’m going to take on some half-finished songs today with that thought in my mind!
Thank you 🙂
Mark V. McDonnell says
IMO, best post ever in this corner of the blogosphere.
Thanks, as always, Charlie.
I just wanted to let you know that for some reason your posts are showing up multiple times on my Google Reader RSS feed. O_o Not sure if that is a Google thing or something on your end.
Just thought you’d want to know. :}
@Felicity: Thanks so much for letting me know. Is this a recent thing? Is it some or all posts?
@Everyone: Is anyone else having this problem?
Nicky Tillyer @artrox says
Yes so true, but then what! I create because I love to create, sadly my husband does not love my creations as much as i do and they languish in storage…but I guess I need to focus on the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of planning and creating and watching the art evolve from nothing, from bits and pieces to something!
So yes, art is for me!
Great reminder Charlie!
Nicky Tillyer @artroxs last blog post..Seth Goden TED Talk on Tribes
Mark V. McDonnell says
Yep, Charlie, my feed reader had 6 instances of it, not all “in a burst” either, but over a ~30 hour period. But over with by Friday afternoon.
I’m a new reader so I can’ t say for sure, but it happened with a couple different posts. Probably every post I’ve seen. Over a long period, as pointed out by Mark.
Kirstin Butler says
Your blog post totally helped me get unstuck! (Or whatever the video equivalent of writer’s block is–un-paused?) Thank you for this timely reminder of what inspires me to do my work. I want to provide value to others, yes, but the motivation has to come from within.
Kirstin Butlers last blog post..may 13 | an ounce of preemption
I think this will also apply to academic writing. Must make a note so I can link to it in a future post.
(But in the meantime, apply this thinking to that *#&$%&?$ thesis of yours 🙂
JoVEs last blog post..Managing Your Research Career
David Dittell says
I forget who said it (John Cheever?), but I once saw a writer compare writing to swimming in his enjoyment of it — it was something physical and inherently pleasurable. I think that’s the attitude to have, and just as you can take pride in completing a new swim or upping your number of laps when you direct your swimming, you can take pride in completing a draft, etc.
David Dittells last blog post..Language Detective: Why Is A Sunday Drive Good, But A Sunday Driver Bad?
Caroline Roberts says
Charlie, you must have been reading my mind. I have a series of paintings in mind but I can’t seem to get past the doodling and idea creation stage. Now I know why – I was thinking “Will this sell?” instead of making these paintings for the sheer love and joy of it.
Maybe I’ll have to title this series “Paintings for my lounge” during the work process.
Caroline Robertss last blog post..Blasting off with a Dream
Mari C says
Your art is for you…so true! I made the mistake a couple of weekends ago to follow some tips that I had read here & there – you should have lots of items in your (Etsy) shop & you should list at least 1 item a day so you stay up the top in the search results. I was keen on having more interest in my work & more sales so I sat at my table for hours & hours over 2 days and what did I end up making…nothing! The creative juices weren’t flowing as I was putting too much pressure on myself. I went to bed that night trying to work out why nothing worked & realised that I was trying to create for the wrong reasons. Yes I would like to have more sales & more items in my shops but I now know that more success will come my way if I’m true to myself and create only when my heart is in it.
This post reminds me of something Wayne Dyer says that I always try to remind myself of- ‘Work on purpose, not on outcome.’
Meaning that you write because that is your purpose, you create because that is your purpose.
You don’t do it because of the number of books you will sell, but because you’re expressing a part of your true essence.