Thursday, May 22, 2008

We’re not fish, after all.

For anyone venturing out into an independent career—starting a home business or becoming an artist—solitude can be a surprising challenge. But as I transition from an independent business career to becoming a full-time writer, the change has been even more surprising.

Even though I wasn’t really getting too much social interaction in the last few years as an independent marketing consultant and writer, at least I had scheduled calls and meetings with live humans every so often. This year, even those are gone and I am alone in my head. On the one hand, I can go deep, deep inside a world of my own creation. A place so quiet and fully-absorbing that I don’t want to answer phone calls or emails any more. This in itself is surprising. When I’m working on a marketing project, I usually check email every two seconds. Working on my creative projects feels like going underwater. I don’t want to be disturbed. But then it gets to be too much.

“Don’t writers need solitude?” my best friend asks me when I complain about how hard it is for me to spend the entire day every day completely alone in my own head.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” It’s a valid question and the answer is a loud NOOOOOOO!

“I don’t know about other writers but I’m losing my mind over here,” I tell her.

The underwater feeling is great, but we’re not fish. If we stay under for too long, we can’t breathe. We become weird. We start to look and act like the stereotypical unwashed, unshaven, unkept writers who are great on paper but no one can stand to be around.

Personally, I need social interaction in my day. Beyond someone to say hello to. I already work out of coffee shops on most days and it’s not enough for me to say hi to Everett at Joe’s Coffee—even though I love Everett and Joe’s. Going to my writing group once a week isn’t enough. I like to have at least one person to discuss what I’m working on, exchange ideas, collaborate when the occasion arises. Being around other creative people on an ongoing basis inspires and motivates me. So I’ve opted to share an office space with someone from my writing group and will be starting a creative group in the coming weeks.

Finding the right balance between solitude and social interaction is important for creative people. And the right balance varies for each person. Here are some ways to incorporate some social interaction into your days.

  • Share an office with other creatives. Think SF Grotto. Even though these guys didn’t have any money when they started, they are all super successful today.
  • Join or start a creative group that includes innovative people from different fields to exchange ideas and hold you accountable to completing your projects.
  • Work with a coach on a regular basis.
  • Set up a standing weekly meeting with a friend who you can talk to about your work.
  • Attend writing group and association meetings on a regular basis.
  • Volunteer a few hours a week or get a mindless part-time job.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is the year.

This is the year, I told myself. I was finally taking a year to finish my book—a collection of stories I’d been working on in my free time for the last three years. I enrolled in an MFA program in creative writing, where I could receive the feedback I needed to complete the manuscript. I cut back my marketing freelance writing projects to nearly nothing. I was all set to go. And then the year began to unfold.

Nothing was like I expected. It felt like I was spinning in space after being launched from a giant slingshot. I realized pretty immediately that the MFA program wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t learning any more than I had been on my own, and too much feedback was stunting my creative process. So I dropped the program.

I woke up one day without deadlines, financial income or daily social interaction. This creative transition was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Even the things that worked for me as an entrepreneur no longer worked. Self-imposed deadlines, for instance, weren’t working. How can you rush a creative story? Some days, I felt great. Other days, I felt like a big fat loser. Should I get a job? Should I volunteer? How was I going to put some structure into my days? How could I stay self-motivated? These were never problems for me before. Why was this transition so different for me?

I began to realize that I had to build a brand new life from scratch—which meant letting go of patterns and routines that actually made me successful in the past. Sound counter-intuitive? Actually, it’s not. It means listening to your intuition more than you ever have before. Without guilt and with renewed joy and motivation.

Transitioning to a creative career requires courage, faith and a whole new way of approaching life. This journey has made me take a look at everything in my life—from relationships to spirituality to my own creative process—in a new light. I’m learning every single day. And I’d like to share that experience with you. Join me on my journey. I’d love to hear what you have to say.