The truth about putting things off until tomorrow

2016-01-09 19.46.49Welcome to part two of The Art of Taking Action series. In part one I wrote about the central ideas in the book The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, by Gregg Kech.

As well as Kech’s own writing, the book also features essays by other contributors which also have some great insights on the topic.

One of these essays is by the late musician and educator Shinichi Suzuki on the topic ‘To Merely Want to Do Something Is Not Enough’. Suzuki really gets to the heart of how we end up with the habit of procrastination and why it’s so unhelpful. He asks:

“Why is it that so many people think of doing things and do not do them?”

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The Art of Taking Action

“Consider the implications of a life in which you don’t have the power, focus, or single-mindedness to do what you say you will do. Imagine the countless times your wiser self decides on a particular course of action, only to be blown off course by the merest breeze of immediate desire. There’s a helplessness, a scattered, drifting quality about such a life.” 

Dan Rosenthal (quoted in The Art of Taking Action)

Did you start the new year, or the past week, or even this new day, with a clean slate? Unfortunately, I didn’t. I started it with a long list of overdue tasks.

I like the idea of ‘going with the flow’, but what if you’re floating down a river full of rocks and branches and other obstacles? What if you’ve also got your feet tangled in some river weeds and a hefty block of concrete chained to your torso? you’re not going to get anywhere fast.

It’s the same with unfinished tasks and unfulfilled dreams. They weigh us down.

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Are You Flying Too Low? Review of The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

the.icarus.deceptionEarlier this week I described how Seth Godin used Kickstarter and his army of fans to fund The Icarus Deception.

Now, finally, it’s time to hear about what’s inside the book itself.

And when Godin asks “are you flying too low” he’s not talking about whether you’ve zipped up your jeans or not.

Taking the Myth

The Icarus Deception centres around the myth of Icarus, who ignored his father’s instructions not to fly too close to the sun, resulting in over-heating problems with his home-made wings and a fatal dip in the sea.

The Icarus myth is often used as an example of when hubris or over-confidence can go badly wrong.

However Godin points out that there is another part of the story – Icarus’s father Daedalus also told his son not to fly too low as the water could also damage his wings.

According to Godin;

“Society has altered the myth, encouraging us to forget the part about the sea, and created a culture where we constantly remind one another about the dangers of standing up, standing out, and making a ruckus.”

However, as Seth says, settling for too little is “a far more common failing”.

Fly Closer to the Sun

The crux of the book is this; We all have the potential to be artists and to do great work. However to do so, we need to leave our comfort zones – to fly closer to the sun. What this requires of us is to have the hubris to take bigger risks and create new things. this requires facing up to the pain involved in the creative process, and being open to possible failure and criticism.

The  beautifully produced video below is a great summary of what the book is all about (and inspiring in its own right):

God is a DJ (but not exclusively)

Godin challenges us to consider ourselves on a par with the gods of ancient myth in terms of our creative potential.

He believes we can each take on a godlike quality (please note the small ‘g’) by becoming shamelessly confident. To do this, we must refuse to accept the shame that others bestow onto us for having the audacity to believe in ourselves and our art, and the willingness to be vulnerable enough to share it with the world:

“While someone can attempt to shame you, shame must also be accepted to be effective”.

This is clearly inspired by the message Brene Brown shares in her book Daring Greatly.

Crystallising Existing Concepts About Creativity

Indeed, the book could be seen as the distillation of all of Godin’s previous work as well as a raft of recent literature such as Brown’s book, into a powerful manifesto on the urgent need to be more creative.

Godin also echoes Dan Pink’s 2005 book A Whole New Mind, which argued that creative people were going to be the cornerstones of the new economy as their skills would be most in demand.

Godin believes that, as Pink predicted, we are currently in the midst of the ‘Connection Economy’, which demands we become artists and share more of ourselves with the world in order to succeed.

He also refers to Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and his concept of resistance as something we must battle each day in order to create. For Godin, the resistance is something to be embraced, because if you feel that sense of fear, uncertainty and pain when you come to make art, then you’re probably on the right track.

Getting to the Crux

A few people have commented that The Icarus Deception doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Godin even concedes in the acknowledgements that he has already tried out some of the ideas in the book on his blog – Indeed, it’s written in the same style – short, snappy segments which deal with one small element of the overall argument at a time.

It seems to me that Godin uses his blog and books as a way of digging down to the crux of how the digital revolution has changed both the economy and our lives. Each post, each short section of a book, each Sethism, is Godin’s method of chipping away at an underlying truth, in the same way that a sculptor brings to life a figure from a block of marble.

The Icarus Deception is a compelling and persuasive read that has really motivated me to create more and embrace the pain involved in creating new things as a necessary and integral part of the process.

And because it contains the most up-to-date distillation of Godin’s philosophy about creativity and the digital/connected world we live in, it’s a great book for both those unfamiliar with his previous work and those who have enjoyed following along as his outlook has evolved.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk| Amazon.com (affiliate links). Read We Are All Artists Now (a free summary of the book)

Win by Creating!

I’ve got four copies of The Icarus Deception to give away and one signed copy of the accompanying picture book, V is for Vulnerable, illustrated by Hugh MacLeod. To win you simply need to help me spread Sethisms.

The more you spread, and the closer you follow the competition guidelines, the more likely you are to win! More details here.

Please note that the closing date has been extended until midnight on Monday 21st January.

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Clear-Minded Classic #9: The $100 Start Up by Chris Guillebeau

You may have heard of Chris Guillebeau. He is at the forefront of a new breed of bloggers and creative entrepreneurs who are making a substantial income from their creative output, and inspiring thousands of other people to do the same.

As well as writing for free on his blog and in his two hugely popular manifestos, Chris has published a number of Unconventional Guides * which offer up to the minute advice on freelancing, publishing and travel hacking, and even the art of building your own online empire. As well as pursuing his goal of travelling to every country in the world before the age of 35, Chris has worked tirelessly to build his platform and a community of people around him, and he’s made a fantastic living from it.

In his new book, the $100 Start Up, which is already out in the US and available in the UK from this week,  Chris provides a clear guide to getting started with your own business, using the examples of hundreds of members of his community who have done the same. He provides concrete figures too – he only features those who are earning at least $50,000 a year, but many of the businesses featured bring in several hundred thousand pounds a year. Most of them started with around $100 dollars.

That’s pretty amazing, right?

As Chris says in the introduction:

Small businesses aren’t new, but never before have so many possibilities come together in the right place at the right time.

One of the key points that Chris is making is that anyone can start a business if they can just grasp some of the key concepts in the book and apply them to their own situation.

Most of them aren’t geniuses or natural-born entrepreneurs. They are ordinary people who made a few key decisions that changed their lives.

The man himself

A New Angle on Creative Careers

The book makes a great companion to two previous Clear-Minded Classics: Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields and Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim. Both Jonathan and Pam are friends and associates of Guillebeau, and their messages are similar.

Whilst Career Renegade is a great ‘awakener’ to alternative career possibilities for creative people, and Slim’s book is all about the transition from corporate employee to business owner, the message of $100 Start Up is more straightforward and not necessarily aimed at creative types.

It deals with all types of businesses, from dog walking to language learning. But it isn’t hard to see that anyone who is able to turn $100 into a liveable annual wage is using a great deal of creativity. And Chris himself is a great example – a writer who is extremely successful, not just scraping by.

The Basics of Business

The “$100 start up” Chris is recommending could also be referred to as a micro, or freedom business. Your goal is to have freedom for yourself, but to do that you need to provide real value for others, and to communicate that value to them as clearly as possible.

Ultimately, Chris’s message is a simple one. He covers the basics of building a small business and emphasises that you don’t need more that, at least to get going. Taking action, and making that first sale, is all important.

The basics of starting a business are very simple; you don’t need an MBA, venture capital, or even a detailed plan. You just need a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid.

He adds that it helps to have an offer and a way of building interest, or hustling, and to use well proven techniques such as a launch strategy.

What the book goes on to outline is bound to make a few internet marketers sweat; people have been selling this information online packaged in expensive clothes for a long time now. Chris has brought the advice all together into one easy to follow book which will cost you around a tenth of his suggested start-up costs, much less than most of the information products which include similar info.

Throughout the book Guillebeau provides simple, but comprehensive one page checklists to help with choosing between competing projects, creating a basic business plan and market testing – as well as the essential ‘reality check’. You can get additional resources at the dedicated website for the book.

Of course, there are plenty of areas touched on in the book that you might want to investigate more deeply. But if you have any interest in earning money on your own terms, once you’ve read this book you’ll be struggling to come up with an excuse for not getting started right away. As Guillebeau says:

“The most important thing is to keep taking action”.

Buy the book at:*

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

This photo isn’t staged at all, honest..

How I Intend to Use the Book – Action & Commitment

I’ve bought a number of products from Chris in the past and have found them very useful in my transition from civil servant to freelance writer. His blog was also a key inspiration behind this one.

However the book is a great reminder to me that I have been stalling somewhat in using the knowledge I already have. I could potentially earn money in more ways than just copywriting for businesses, and I intend to more fully explore some of these other options.

It is also an eye-opener when it comes to how much money many of the people featured are earning on a regular basis and whilst my quality of life is more important to me, it has convinced me I need to be a bit more ambitious in terms of my financial goals.

Disclaimer

Chris is one of those ‘everyman’ figures – someone who seems relatively normal and therefore inspires others to follow his lead. However he is a very smart guy who works extremely hard. Not everyone can be him!

Multimedia Journalist and blogger Adam Westbrook, who is briefly featured in the book, has a great summary of the kind of mindset needed for this kind of work – he highlights Courage and Commitment as the keys to starting a business. Clear-Minded Creative Type Melissa Dinwiddie also highlights the importance of mindset and talks about how she has been inspired by Chris Guillebeau.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I struggle with the commitment part e.g. when it comes to consistently working on this blog, and I’m actively trying to improve my own habits and work ethic.

All the information in the world isn’t enough if you don’t follow through, and this is a great reminder to keep pushing myself. Basically, if this book doesn’t inspire me (and you!) to get moving, nothing will.

(note: the above links are affiliate links which means if you buy them, Amazon might one day send me a gift voucher (I’m not holding my breath). The link above to the Unconventional Guides website is also an affiliate link, but Chris’s affiliate programme is a lot more generous so I might actually earn some cash if you use that one. There is more info on affiliate promotions in the book!)

Unconventional Guides

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Clear-Minded Classic #8: Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

The term “Cubicle” isn’t commonly used in the UK so previous to reading this book I was only aware of what a cubicle was primarily through films like the brilliant Office Space:

But this doesn’t mean that Pamela Slim’s book, which is subtitled “ From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur’ isn’t only useful for those based in the US.

Update: Pam came back to me on Twitter to let me know there is also a UK version:

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Clear-Minded Classic #7: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I’ve been intending to re-read this for quite some time, and as part of my Annual Review I’m currently working out my goals for next year (one of which is to ensure I get more creative work done without getting overwhelmed) so thought it was good timing to also write a wee review for the ‘Clear-Minded Classics’ series.

The Power of Less was written by Leo Babauta who writes the hugely popular blog Zen Habits. I enjoy Leo’s writing on his blog but have to admit the first time I read the book I was a bit disappointed. It seemed almost *too* simplistic. Surely much of this advice was common sense?

However in hindsight I realised this kind of information needs to be written as simply as possible, and there’s no doubt that Leo practices what he preaches when it comes to both the way he lives his life and the way he writes. The fact is, we action so little of what we read, or learn, that the best writing needs to be extremely simple if we are to remember and action it.

On my second reading, my main concern was that it was impossible for me, as someone with loads of different interests,  to achieve the level of simplicity that Leo suggests in terms of cutting down my goals/projects/commitments. There’s no doubt that for anyone with a full-time job where it’s difficult to be in control of what projects you’re tasked with, it can be tricky to follow his advice to the letter – but there’s still a lot of advice that’s worth following.

And because taking too much on/trying to do too much last year led to complete overwhelm for me, I thought it would be good to be a bit stricter with myself and actually follow his advice this year.

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Clear-Minded Classic #6: The Renaissance Soul (read this if you can’t choose between your creative passions)

Some creative types have known what they want to do all their lives. From the minute they start to crawl and gurgle something resembling a human language, they have made a beeline for that one thing that floats their boat – whether it be a paintbrush or a pencil, a drum set or a guitar, or a camera.

I hate them.

Okay that’s a bit strong. Perhaps more accurate to say, I’m insanely jealous of them (the lucky swine).

Because I’ve never known what I wanted.

Writing is the thing that comes most naturally to me, but perhaps because of the culture I was brought up in it never seemed like something to pursue as a career, like a doctor or lawyer.

So as well as writing, I drew cartoons, I played guitar, I messed around with a camcorder and made daft DIY music videos. I tried scriptwriting, I tried music reviewing, I even tried this really daft new trend they’re calling blogging, which has enabled me to write, take photos, make videos and record podcasts.

I even get paid for my work as a copywriter now, though not full time as yet. I really enjoy it, I find it rewarding and interesting and it’s definitely suited to my skills. It’s taken me until my early thirties to finally get paid doing something creative that I really enjoy – and it’s still not my full time job.

But guess what? I still want to play guitar, I still want to draw and paint and make daft DIY music videos etc etc. I can’t quite give up on all my creative dreams. I wanted to write a novel, I wanted to record an album of my maudlin acoustic guitar ballads and I wanted to make a short film or even a feature. Still do in fact.

Even now, with all my efforts to be more clear-minded, I just can’t settle on one thing.

Which is where this month’s Clear-Minded Classic comes in. It’s a book called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine.

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Clear-Minded Classic #5: Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields

I’m a big fan of author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, and I doubt this blog would even exist if I hadn’t discovered his book Career Renegade a few years ago.

After reading and massively identifying with the aforementioned Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, I started looking for more, similar information.  I can’t remember the exact path that led me to his blog and to downloading his free PDF The Firefly Manifesto, but I do know that I was blown away by the content and immediately pre-ordered Career Renegade (which at that point hadn’t yet been released).

By pre-ordering I also got access to something called Career Renegade Flight School which was a series of videos recorded by Fields to further illuminate the topics covered in the book, and made me feel a connection with him that the book wouldn’t have achieved alone. I also listened to his brilliant Renegade Profiles podcast series, which was my first introduction to people like Chris Guillebeau and other inspiring bloggers and creative entrepreneurs.

So, what’s so good about the manifesto/book?

Career Renegade came out at the height of the economic downturn. In the Firefly Manifesto however, Fields had a slightly different angle on things to the usual doom and gloom.

He proposed that being made redundant, whilst a painful and difficult process to go through, could have within it the seeds of opportunity. What better time to rebuild your career from the ground up, and make a living from doing something you enjoy?

Now I hadn’t been made redundant at the time, but after over a decade of jobs that had the opposite effect of making me want to leap out of bed in the morning, I was equally ready to try a different approach.

And what Career Renegade does is help you look at your creative talents/interests in a whole new way. It asks: how best can you use your talents to provide value to others?  This is the key to making your creativity sought after, and rewarded financially, instead of ignored and keeping you poor. Here’s what Fields says:

 The simple truth is that you can turn nearly any passion into a big, fat heap of money. However, it often requires mining aspects of those passions you never knew existed or bringing them to life in markets and ways that defy the mainstream.

At the time I was putting a lot of time outside of work into writing about local music and recording a podcast. But I wasn’t the only one – the number of people doing similar things was increasing all the time and soon I didn’t even feel that I was adding anything new to proceedings.

Not only was there a lot of competition, there was nobody there waving a cheque book and offering to pay me, and putting on gigs and running a record label felt too daunting a step to take.

I had never, ever been in it for the money, but as much as I enjoyed the camaraderie and community of what I was doing, it was taking up all of my time outside of work, and didn’t seem like it could lead to me leaving the job I was doing for something more suited to my talents and interests.

Basically, I needed this book.

How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love

Fields’ own story of going from high strung lawyer to yoga teacher and health club owner following a health scare has been well documented elsewhere, and is also outlined in the book. He also highlights several other real life examples of people who have found a lucrative outlet for their passions.

Fields argues that we all need a good standard of living, and being creative doesn’t mean we have to be completely broke all the time. Which was good news for me, as I have a mortgage to pay and shiny gadgets to buy…

The first step is to identify what you love to do. Here, he brings the concept of Flow into play, from the now much quoted book by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  To summarise this concept crudely, ask yourself what makes you lose track of time and lose yourself in the sheer enjoyment of it, because that’s probably what you were put on the earth to do. There is much more to it than that though, and he goes into further details in the book.

Secondly think about the people you want to have around you. This has a much bigger impact than most of us imagine on how much we enjoy our work/lives.

In the next stage, he talks about a variety of ways we can “move beyond the mainstream” and create a path for ourselves that will lead to us making a living doing what we love.

One of the best examples of this is how to “redeploy your passion in a market that places a higher value on it” – Fields shares the example of an artist who paints vineyards and sells them to the customers of the vineyard, thus targeting her paintings at an audience who are keen to buy them and have the means to do so, rather than letting them languish in her studio forevermore.

Now some might see this as selling out, and prefer to go down in history as the unappreciated genius who never sold a painting. Whilst that may not be as romantic, it does require a lifetime without recognition or reward, which doesn’t really sound that attractive to me – but whatever floats your boat.

The other topics covered are a lot to do with leveraging technology to both identify a market for what you do and to package your existing expertise in a way that’s desirable to other people. It’s a treasure trove of tips and insights and for me was a window into a whole other world of online opportunities and resources.

Gargantuan

Almost singlehandedly, this book inspired me to completely change the way I thought about my writing and my work. For over a year I went heavily into R&D (research and development) mode and read a huge number of blog posts, books and info products, all of which provided more proof that making a living doing what you love is possible. Now I just had to take some action – not always my strong point.

Eventually however I have taken slow steps towards creating a more rewarding career. Of course I wouldn’t claim that it’s been an easy process or that I’m all the way there – as Fields himself puts it:

Creating your life and livelihood to deliver maximum passion and prosperity is a gargantuan challenge.

But since starting out on this path I’ve been promoted to a job where I work with the web and digital communications, started working as a freelance copywriter and have started this blog, so I have a lot to be thankful to Jonathan Fields for.

As do a lot of other bloggers and creative types – I’ve seen his book mentioned many times by other people I admire as being a key inspiration to them also. Of course that just means that the competition out there is even greater than ever. So what are you waiting for?

Do you feel it’s possible to earn a decent living doing something you love? Have you read the book or do you intend to? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Download the free Firefly Manifesto (updated version)

Buy Career Renegade at Amazon.com: paperback Kindle edition

or Amazon.co.uk: paperback | Kindle edition

 

And look out for the next book from this author on the topic of turning uncertainty into creative success which is due out later this year.

Disclaimer: This page is littered with affiliate links, which means when you buy the book I get a small percentage of the profit. And by small, I mean miniscule, e.g. if 100,000 people were to buy a book via one of my affiliate links, I might be able to buy an iPad (this is not based on any actual calculation).

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Clear-Minded Classic #4: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

Ignore Everybody is a brilliantly inspiring little book by former copywriter turned artist (he’s most famous for his witty cartoons on the back of business cards),blogger (at gapingvoid.com) and internet marketer Hugh MacLeod.

How to be Creative

The book started out in life as the free manifesto “How to Be Creative”. This manifesto is still available for free, without the need to handover your email address, at the wonderful Change This website (which a few other superb manifestos for clear-minded creative types which I’ll be talking about here soon also).

According to MacLeod, it has now been downloaded a staggering 4.5m times. Wow! Clearly a lot of people out there have an interest in creativity.

Short but Sweet

Ignore Everybody is an expanded version of the free ebook. Do you need it if you’ve already read/downloaded the PDF? Well no, you don’t need it quite frankly, because you’ve got the bulk of it already, but it does have a fair bit of extra stuff that makes it worth getting if you found the ebook inspiring.There are 26 tips in the PDF, and 40 in the book, and the extra ones are equally worth reading.

Plus, who wants to sit at a computer screen reading a PDF when you could be reading it with your feet up on the chaise longue sipping an extravagant cocktail?

It won’t take you long to read the entire thing of course, but then again it’s the kind of book you can turn to again and again when you need some inspiration or a short sharp kick up the arse (creatively speaking).

Speaking of which, it would be perfect for the bathroom bookshelf, should you like to read on the toilet (not that you would publicly admit to such a thing, of course). And it would certainly make a great gift for someone else in your life who’s in need of creative inspiration.

Sex and Cash

The thing about MacLeod’s advice is, it’s hard-hitting, and no nonsense. All that copywriting experience hasn’t gone to waste – not a word is out of place or unnecessary, and he really hits the nail on the head with every sentence.

The original Change This manifesto

He tells us that we are all born creative, but that matters little unless we put the work in. He also suggests that having full ownership over your creativity is the most important thing you can do.

And for that reason, MacLeod actually advises you to keep your day job, so that you keep your passion about the creative work you really care about.

His ‘sex and cash’ theory describes the former as “the kind of work that pays the bills” whilst the latter is “the sexy, creative kind”. Now in his own case, this may have been good advice, considering he was a copywriter in a New York advertising agency – at least his day job involved a fair amount of creativity and was presumably very well paid.

Not all of us are so lucky – if you’re miserable in your day job, this particular piece of advice is perhaps up for debate.

I think if you’re creative, you should aim to find work which allows you to use that creativity as much as possible. You just might not get paid for doing your favourite form of creativity.  I know when I play my songs on the guitar that as much as I enjoy it, it will never be something I do for a living, because I have never invested the time to get really good at it.

So I get what he’s saying in that respect. Having said that, lots of people do manage to make their living as an artist, and enjoy it, so I think he’s perhaps a little bit wide of the mark on this occasion.

No bull

Apart from that small niggle, there is a lot of great advice. One of my favourite headings is “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.” Brilliantly put.

But this is no softly softly, self-help feelgood love-in. Like MacLeod’s frequently foul-mouthed and often dark cartoons, this can be hard-hitting stuff. How about this quote from “Being Poor Sucks”:

To deny the importance of the material world around you (and its hard currencies) is to detach yourself from reality. And the world will punish you hard, eventually, for that.

Or this subheader to “Allow your work to age with you”:

You become older faster than you think. Be ready for when it happens.

And of course, this from “Nobody cares. Do it for yourself”:

Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, screenplay etc

Personally I find his no-bullshit style totally refreshing and invigorating. I prefer to hear the truth, because kidding yourself, or deluding yourself about reality means you will never improve it. And I think the honest advice in this book, which clearly comes from at times bitter experience, could really help you improve your reality if you are struggling to come to terms with how you can be both creative and happy in this complex world.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you download How to Be Creative for free from the Change This website – and then if you want more and you want it in ye olde style dead tree format you could always buy Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity  from Amazon.co.uk
or Amazon.com. It’s also available on the Kindle Store UK and Kindle Store US (all Amazon links are affiliate links).

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Clear-Minded Classic #3: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

When I was about 20 years old, I was totally and utterly lost. I was in my fourth year of studying for a degree and I was disillusioned with the whole process. I could see no clear way forward in terms of finding a job or career at the end of it, and I was drinking heavily.

When I was younger I’d always been creative. I used to make and sell my own comics, and then my interest moved into acting and making videos. One of the reasons I came to Edinburgh to study a Communications Degree was because the course curriculum included film-making. The prospectus had featured photographs of a pretty girl with a video camera and daft as it now sounds, that pretty much sold me on coming over from Ireland to check out the college for an open day.

When I arrived, the beauty of the city itself sealed the deal, plus the promise of decent gigs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was also keen to get as far away from home as possible, as my parents had recently separated and I wanted to be as independent as possible. I was 16 when I moved.

Unfortunately it turned out that making videos was only a small part of the course, and by the time the opportunity came I was already drinking too much to properly focus on it. I could have made more of it if I’d had the right mindset – but I was already sucked into a kind of apathetic black hole where I just wanted to blot everything out rather than face up to reality.

At a certain point though, I had a moment of clarity and realised that if I continued in this way I was going to be in a seriously bad situation when I left college, if indeed I managed to complete my degree at all.

Thankfully, when I was browsing the shelves in Waterstone’s I spotted a book called The Artist’s Way and I found the real kick up the arse I needed.

Now I was not your typical purchaser of self-help books. After all, my whole persona at the time was centred around being a drunken cynic and nihilist.I can’t actually remember doing it now, and what was going through my mind at the time, but I’m guessing it was a sense of desperation that led me to buy the book.

As it happens, it was the perfect book for me to read at the time.

What’s the big deal?

The Artist’s Way is undoubtedly one of the most popular books ever written about creativity. A number of people have mentioned it in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series of interviews or when commenting on this blog, and time and time again it will pop up in conversations about the topic. There’s even a whole online forum devoted to it.

But not everyone is sold on it, because of its heavy focus on spirituality. It’s basically a recovery programme for people who have lost their faith in their own creativity, and so has similarities with recovery programmes for addictions, such as alcoholics anonymous. A key part of it involves believing that creativity has a spiritual origin.

Now although I am not a member of any religion I do have spiritual beliefs. But I don’t want to impose my views on anyone else so I’ll just say this -if you’re a truly committed athiest or agnostic who cannot stand any foray into this type of thing, then the book isn’t for you. Having said that, there are some great methods for getting more creative and clear-minded you could still take from it, which I’ll detail below.

What’s Involved?

Working with this book you will experience an intensive, guided encounter with your own creativity – your private villains, champions, wishes, fears, dreams, hopes and triumphs. The experience will make you excited, depressed, angry, afraid, joyous, hopeful and ultimately more free. Julia Cameron

So, to reiterate, the Artist’s Way is more of a recovery programme than a book which you sit down and read and then put away and forget forever. It involves making a commitment to read a chapter a week for 12 weeks, and to establish two key new habits in your life:

  • Daily “Morning Pages”
  • A Weekly ”Artist’s Date”

Plus there’s a bunch of other tasks at the end of each chapter. Now I’m not sure how much of these additional tasks I did when I first went through the book, but when it came to the morning pages, I committed and stuck to them like my life depended on it.

The whole idea is to write for 3 pages every morning, without censoring yourself. You just keep writing, even if it’s the first daft thing that pops into your head. They aren’t meant to be re-read, and Cameron strictly forbids you to share them with anyone else. The point is to be completely honest and real. She describes them as a form of meditation, the sole purpose of which is to get all the crap in your head out onto the page and thus leaving you more clear-minded.

We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation we acquire, and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. Julia Cameron

You don’t need to be a writer, as this isn’t about creating something literary or clever. This is a splurge of words, which creates the space you need to allow the spark of creativity to be re-ignited.

An outpouring of words

Doing the morning pages led to an outpouring of writing for me. I would get up and start writing the moment I woke up, and often I would be writing poetry with images from my dreams, which were still fresh in my mind. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and some short stories. I was delighted to be writing again and it gave me renewed hope for the future.

Last year I started doing this again, via the site 750words.com. Based on the idea of the morning pages (750 words is about 3 pages) this brilliant site is cleverly designed to encourage and reward those people who manage to write every day. Over the course of a few months last year I clocked up 100,000 words. Some of it was just plain journalling, as Cameron suggests, but sometimes I would write a blog post or something else if I was inspired to. I worked a lot on the idea for this blog and what I wanted to cover on it.

Cameron goes on to describes the artist date as “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and commmitted to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist”. She says this is equally as important to the morning pages as a way of opening yourself to inspiration.

The Censor = Resistance

As we saw in the previous Clear-Minded Classic The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identified the enemy of creativity as ‘resistance’. Cameron sees the problem as ‘the censor’ – another internal barrier we need to overcome.

We are victims of our own internalised perfectionist, a nasty and eternal critic, the censor – who resides in our (left) brain and keeps a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth’ Julia Cameron

As with the resistance, the inner censor is a clever foe, and it takes a lot of work to get around it. but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that..

There’s a lot more to The Artist’s Way than I can go into here. If you’re already firing on all creative cylinders then you probably don’t need this book, but if you’re willing to do a bit of soul-searching and feel like you need to recover that creative spark inside yourself it’s most definitely worthwhile.

Now I reckon it’s about time I started doing my 750 words a day again…

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.co.uk

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.com

Have you read/used the Artist’s Way? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

warofart_cover_front

Clear-Minded Classics #2: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Image: Turf Wars – The Art Police by Pranksky

By turning the title of Sun Tzu’s ancient battle strategy The Art of War neatly on its head with The War of Art author Steven Pressfield is making a bold statement. But it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the book is every bit as fundamental and essential a read for creative people as the Chinese text has long been for the military (and the cunning business types who later adopted it).

Now a well respected historical novelist and screenwriter, his background as a US marine suggests that the word ‘war’ is not one that Pressfield takes lightly. But this is an internal battle, against the forces within us which keep us from moving forward.

Here’s how he describes his beliefs on writing and creativity on his website:

My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R. The technique for combating these foes can be described as “turning pro.”

Now I’ve read a lot of books on creativity, and indeed many other topics, but I can say that none have had the dramatic effect on me that Pressfield’s book has. It was an instant wake-up call, making me realise that every day that went by that I wasn’t being creative was a wasted day because for whatever reason, I need to do it to feel good about myself.

It made me realise that the best way to stop being my usual miserable self was to get to work and practice my writing (and other creative skills) as often as possible. Now there has been the odd relapse, but I have written for approximately half an hour most days during the last six months and the effect on my confidence has been enormous.

Going Pro

What Pressfield is saying is, if you really want to conquer resistance to doing your creative work (or any other major thing that you want to achieve, whether it be run a marathon or start a business) you have to get serious about it. You have to accept that this is a daily battle against the forces within you which would rather take the easy way out and keep you firmly within your comfort zone. Deciding that you will do whatever it takes to win that battle is what Pressfield refers to when he talks about “turning pro”.

Whilst viewing things from this perspective may seem daunting at first, it’s actually a great relief to realise that you no longer need to blame or criticise yourself for your lack of progress in the past. Resistance is a fundamental aspect of human nature, and you’ve simply been lacking the correct strategy to overcome it. By identifying it and committing to fighting it, the book offers you the means to conquer the internal forces that seems determined to stop you achieving your goals.

The Daily Battle

The War of Art unfolds over various short passages exploring different aspects of what constitutes resistance and ways of combating it by committing to being a pro. One of the most affecting for me is ‘What a Writer’s Day Feels Like’. Nothing I’ve ever read before has so accurately captured the feeling of frustration I have if I go for very long without being creative:

I wake up with a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact, I’m present. But I’m not.

(–)What I’m aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

As long as he can get his creative work done each day, Pressfield describes how he can then relax and enjoy life and spending time with his family. Beating the resistance within himself feels literally like a weight off his shoulders:

The tension drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.

In the final section Pressfield explores the spiritual aspect of creativity, what he calls the Muse. Again from his website, here’s a summary of what he believes:

I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists.

My conception of the artist’s role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of “where it all comes from” and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.

I can understand how this latter section might put some people off if they don’t share the same views, but most creative people at least acknowledge the mysterious nature of inspiration – even if it is only 1% of the creative process, as per Thomas Edison’s famous quote that “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”.

The War of Art is essential reading for anyone who has ever procrastinated and delayed doing something that they know will improve their life, whether it be creative or not, because it lets you identify resistance and gives you tactics to defeat it. I also recommend following Pressfield’s Writing Wednesdays series in which he shares his continued battle against resistance – he is also currently sharing some of the processes involved in the publication of his latest book.

Buy The War of Art from Amazon.com|Amazon.co.uk (Kindle edition) (affiliate links) or download the ebook (pdf & epub)

Have you encountered resistance to being creative or to achieving other goals in your life? Have you read the War of Art? Let me know in the comments.

Note: for weekly updates on the current Clear-Minded Creative Challenge, and for extra tips and links on Clear-Minded Creativity, please sign up to the newsletter which goes out every Monday.

CMClassic 1

Clear-Minded Classics #1: The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People

"We're not like the others."

My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”

“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”

The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.

“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”

O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

The quote “we’re not like the others” from the above passage has always stuck in my mind, and it’s a remark that could easily be shouted from the rooftops by many of us creative types. We often feel like a square peg in a round hole, especially when it comes to work.

I’ve worked numerous jobs where I’ve felt seriously miserable, yet others around me seemed to be fine. I mean they would probably prefer not to be there, but it wasn’t seriously messing with their soul or anything.

I felt isolated and wondered if this was some terrible personality flaw of mine. I will own up to having my fair share of such flaws. But it’s not just me who feels like this at work, there’s a lot of us out there who feel the same.

Let me out.. yeah, let me out by meddygarnet

Stuck in a rut


A few years back I realised I was going nowhere fast. Ok, I’d gradually moved up the ladder in the civil service and got better paid jobs with more responsibility, and it looked fairly realistic to say I could continue to do so in the future, but the fact was I didn’t want to. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse.

I decided a career change was going to be necessary but I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice – I’d already spent four years doing a Communications Studies degree and didn’t feel it was at all worthwhile in career terms as it was a pretty vague and woolly subject with little in the way of vocational training (also I was very young and unfocused at the time).

I decided to research possible careers as thoroughly as I could before making the decision to go back to full-time or part-time education. Especially as I couldn’t afford it and was reluctant to get back into debt.

The truth is, I’m still working the day job, and still researching, still trying to learn new skills in my free time, from books and the internet. But some of the resources I’ve found have really helped me on my mission to become either more clear-minded or more creative, and in this new series I want to feature the best of them.

When looking into changing careers I first read the Guardian book How to Change Your Career, which gave me some initial encouragement. They even have a quote from psychologist Dr Charles Johnson who says: “being stale at your work is a way of ageing quickly.” At last, an explanation for my receding hairline and premature grey hairs. They also said that age shouldn’t be an obstacle to changing careers, so being in my 30s wasn’t necessarily a problem either.

The book has some useful info in it, with lots of details about specific jobs/career paths. But none of them seemed right for me. I mean journalism was the obvious choice, but I’d already done quite a bit of arts journalism in my spare time and found it hard to find work, and I wasn’t interested in news or sports. Plus, the journalism industry was now in disarray due to the ubiquity of the internet.

The next book I picked up at least made me feel a lot better about myself. The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, by Carol Eickleberry, spoke directly to my experience. (note this is an affiliate link – for more details see foot of post).

Eickleberry focuses much more on the psychology of finding the right career/job and for me this was a breath of fresh air compared to most other career books which only really skim the surface. On the first page the author invites the reader to start their own personal adventure. She says: “the adventure begins when you set out to develop your own unique potential instead of following conventional expectations to become like someone else.”

This was a different approach to careers than those I’d seen before which you could paraphrase as ‘pick a profession which sounds like it might be ok and risk years of your life and a small fortune on the chance that a) you might enjoy it and b)  there might actually be some jobs available in the field’.

Holland’s Theory

Jool's Theory, by Milo

Eikleberry goes into detail about Holland’s theory, that “there are six basic personality types in the world of work, and six corresponding work environments”. She provides exercises to help you determine which type you most closely correspond to (please note that the theory comes from a psychologist named John Holland, not Jools Holland, former Squeeze musician turned TV presenter).

Arty

It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that I scored most highly in the ‘artistic’ category. I also scored fairly highly in the ‘social’ category, which included possible job roles such as counsellor or teacher. Eikleberry explains that knowing this second category is useful if you’re confused about what artistic avenue to pursue or are drawn to a number of different directions.

She also quotes statistics which show that there are a lot more artistic types out there than there are artistic jobs. Again, I started to understand better why I hadn’t yet found a job I really enjoyed.

The Reasons Why You Hate Your Job

In fact the book goes a long way towards explaining my seemingly incurable workplace malaise:

“Creative work requires a very high level of skill. It feels bad to have a high level of ability but not use it. One major study found that underutilisation of abilities is positively related to job dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and depression.” I certainly felt this way about the lack of writing/creative opportunities at my job at the time.

She also says that non-artistic types (the majority) can consider artistic types (the minority) in a negative light, or even choose to ignore their talents and accomplishments completely because they’re unwilling to see an alternative to their own value systems and beliefs. This lack of understanding, whether intentional or not, can mean constant misinterpretation of what the creative person is all about:

“Many creative people look like chronic malcontents to outsiders, because they are always searching for what can be improved.”

Coupled with our desire to do things our own way, and therefore difficulty in bowing to authority, it’s no wonder some of us don’t fit into traditional workplaces! And the news wasn’t good when it came to mental health either:

“Because psychological adjustment is defined, in part, as the ability to fit in, it’s not too surprising to learn that artistic types as a group demonstrate the least confidence and the greatest psychological distress of all six types.”

Composing Your Ideal Career

Once it has laid out the reasons why a traditional job is not suitable for creative types, the book goes on to give plenty of advice on working out your abilities, interests and motivators (there are plenty of resources for this on the accompanying website) as well as how to ‘compose your ideal career’. Eikleberry also suggests some specific roles you may want to look into further, based on what you find out about yourself.

The book didn’t give me all the answers by any means, but most importantly it made me realise I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t ‘broken’ in some way, I was just different. And it’s made me determined to find work that suited who I am, instead of trying to fit into to a role which someone else expected me to fulfil.

Was this post useful? Let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in buying this book, I’ve included links below to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. These are affiliate links which means if you buy it I will receive a tiny amount of money for recommending it, but it won’t cost you anymore than it would otherwise.

amazon.com
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback

amazon.co.uk
Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Kindle Edition

Main image by meddygarnet