Why I stopped writing

For a very long time, I had established this daily writing habit. First thing in the morning, I would work on my next two books. Often I took a photo of it, which ended up looking something like this:

But last summer I stopped this practice. I stopped working on both books.

Today I want to talk about how this week I started writing again, and how a daily creative practice is the foundation for:

  1. Improving your craft
  2. Living up to your creative vision
  3. Growing your audience
  4. Getting published
  5. Earning revenue from your craft (if you so desire.)

Earlier this week, I opened the file for my book which said “Last Opened August 9, 2018.” Just that simple act felt kinda momentous. Like I was opening the door to some strange new place that was exciting, but terrifying.

Why did I stop writing? Well, I was overwhelmed by editing. You see, writing isn’t a problem for me. I have loads of ideas, and I’m good at living up to a daily writing habit.

What stops me cold is editing. Editing is my kryptonite. That moment when you look at the 70,000 words you wrote, and your pages and pages of notes and research, and you realize: it’s all in the wrong order.

This winter, I felt kinda bad that I had halted work on my next book. To get started again, I looked to my daily guitar practice. Last year, I began by playing at least a minute per day. Now I practice for an hour every day. How do I fit that in? I break it up into 15 minute increments.
I find that 15 minutes is long enough to get value, and short enough to squeeze in throughout the day.

When I considered my writing habit, I asked myself, “Can’t I fit in 15 minutes of writing?”

The answer is clearly “yes.”

To make it even easier, I scheduled those 15 minutes first thing in the day. Before email. Before I attend to the writers I’m working with in my mastermind, my programs, or private clients.

What can come of a simple daily creative habit? Well, let me tell you what happened for one creator who did this…

Meet artist, illustrator, and author Samantha Dion Baker:
Samantha Dion Baker

Like all of us, Samantha’s life was super busy with her career, her family, and attending to 1,000 things screaming for her attention each day.

Even though she had an arts background, she found herself tired of looking at screens.

One day, she decided to open up a journal and draw. What did she draw? A moment from her day. Then she did this the next day. And the next. Here is a page from one of her sketch books:

What could this possibly lead to? One small drawing per day? Well, this:

More than 30 sketch books filled. Pretty amazing, right?

But this daily creative practice lead to so much more for Samantha:

  • By sharing her process online, 80,000 people started following her on Instagram.
  • She got a book deal to publish not only her illustrations, but her share her process.
  • She also self-published several other books of her sketches, each of which sold out.
  • Illustration and design clients began seeking her out for private commissions.
  • She created an online store to sell prints and stickers of her work.
  • She began teaching workshops.
  • She now works on all of this as a full-time career, from her private studio in Brooklyn.

She and I sat down this week to chat, and I share our interview in my podcast. You can listen to it here.

The idea of investing in your creative practice has become an obsession of mine. If you would like help in developing your own creative practice, please considering joining me and a small group of other writers and creators in my next Creative Shift Mastermind, which begins April 1.

In the Mastermind you will experience:

  • Daily mentorship from me.
  • A clear step-by-step program to help you establish clarity and habits for your creative process.
  • Accountability with regular check-ins.
  • Collaboration with like-minded writers.

Register now to join us!

What is the smallest action you can take to start your own daily creative practice?

Thanks.
-Dan

“I Needed to Own My Style.” My Interview with Artist and Author Samantha Dion Baker

In this episode of The Creative Shift podcast, artist, illustrator, and author Samantha Dion Baker takes us inside her career. She tells us how a simple daily practice of drawing radically reshaped her career, and helped her stay true to her creative vision. She is the author of the book Draw Your Day. 

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Samantha in the following places:

Even successful writers struggle with this…

Something I obsess about is this idea of a ‘creative shift’ — how someone takes their writing and craft to the next level.

In the past week or so, I shared podcast interviews with three successful authors, and each shared something that may surprise you:

  • Seth Godin: Before he became the bestselling author we know today, he published hundreds of books for others, and launched multiple companies.
  • Rebecca Green: Even though she has more than a quarter million Instagram followers, she has a love/hate relationship with social media.
  • Miranda Beverly-Whittemore: Having her novel land on the New York Times bestseller list doesn’t remove the possibility of despair, exhaustion, and doubt in the creative process.


(Links to these podcasts below.)

These were each long conversations, and they are wonderful reminders that there isn’t a simple path to success with your creative work. For what Seth, Rebecca, and Miranda each shared, they (each in their own way) highlighted the value of:

  • Having collaborators to help you stay focused and work through difficult decisions or challenges.
  • Continually reassessing the creative clarity that drives you.
  • Establishing creative routines, even amidst your otherwise busy life.

None of these things are one-and-done decisions. They are creative practices that you need to attend to each day, each week, each year.

Earlier this week I ran an online workshop for the attendees of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writers’ Institute. They are such a wonderful community of writers!

One person asked a question in the Q&A portion (I’m paraphrasing):

“If an author just finished writing their first book, aren’t their efforts better spent learning the craft of writing for the 2nd book, instead of focusing on marketing?”

My reply was: “I love the idea of focusing on craft first. Except what I find is that many authors struggle to establish a writing practice. Instead, they “kinda” write. They write when they have spare time. When everything else gets done first: the dishes, that new series they are watching on Netflix, when they feel confident, when everything is just right. In the end, they end up not focusing on the foundations of marketing (communication and trust with their ideal reader), nor do they really get the writing done. They get stuck in creative limbo.”

Now, all I do all day is talk to writers and creators. I literally sit in this room from around 6am – 5pm and talk to them on the phone, on Skype, in email, on Slack, on Zoom, and through social media:

What I hear is their struggle to establish a creative practice. Not just beginners, but those who have created for years. We work through strategies and tactics to make writing and creating central to their life, and then connect their work to readers via human-centered marketing.

Honestly, a lot of this has become the foundation for my three-month Creative Shift Mastermind program as well. We dig into:

  • How to establish rock-solid creative habits.
  • How to define your creative identity.
  • How to get radically clear on your priorities of what to work on and why.

Instead of struggling alone with these things, I work directly with you as mentor — every day — and you are joined by a group of 9 other motivated writers and creators just like you.

I’ve run this program again and again, and have found that it makes a profound difference on people’s ability to create and connect with their ideal audience.

The doors are now open for Creative Shift Mastermind session that begins on April 1st. If you are curious, check it out here.

Also: the links to the podcast episodes I mentioned are below.

Thanks!
-Dan

P.S. Here are the links to the podcast episodes mentioned above:

Seth Godin on His Career and Creative Shift

I’m excited to share my interview with author, entrepreneur, and teacher Seth Godin. He just released a new book, This is Marketing, and has spent his career sharing advice in his 17 other books, 7,000 blog posts, and many other resources. In this podcast, we dig deep into Seth’s career, and the many decisions he made in order to create a staggering body of work. 

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can find Seth in the following places:

“I don’t want my art to be good or bad, I want it to be me.” My interview with Rebecca Green

In this remarkably honest interview for The Creative Shift Podcast, author and illustrator Rebecca Green gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how she continues to find her creative direction, and navigate growth in her career as a full-time author/illustrator.

Some topics we dig into:

  • How she finds the clarity to grow with her creative work, instead of feeling controlled by the market.
  • How she is preparing for a growth spurt in her career
  • Her love/hate relationship with social media.
  • How she uses collaboration to help her strategically reach her creative and business goals.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

Some highlights of our conversation:

  • How even someone as successful as her feels frustrated, and that she is still searching for her style: “I’m constantly frustrated. I was telling my husband, ‘I feel like I’m on the cusp of something great, I’m about to arrive and make the work I want to make.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but haven’t you been saying that for 10 years?’
  • The process she is using to shift from one style to the next: “It’s very difficult to change and grow within the confines of having client work. I feel like this past year was a huge transition for me, a transformative year. I came out of it on the other side feeling that something new is coming. It’s been a struggle to work [for my clients] in my old style. They hired me for something I had done before. They wanted, not this new work, but something they have been expecting. That has been a struggle for me. I’m finishing these projects, and clearing the next couple of months so I can completely transform my portfolio and present something new to get jobs in the future based on that new work.”
  • How she is trying to infuse her creative process with joy: “Making art is fun, but it’s not. One thing I’m trying to do is to not make struggle feel like a necessity in art, so that when I do have fun, I’m okay with that too. I think for a long time, I held onto the idea that it has to be hard, otherwise I’m not doing it right. I’m trying to let that go.”
  • How she is judging if her creative direction feels right: “I don’t want my art to be good or bad, I want it to be me. I want it to say something, I want it to have emotion.”
  • She is using collaboration with a close friend to help her create a strategy for her work moving forward. She has weekly calls with Meera Lee Patel (whom I’ve interviewed twice on this podcast here and here). This is how Rebecca is approaching it: “I have a plan. I’ve been working with a friend, Meera, Skyping on a weekly basis. We have spreadsheets with our three main goals for the year. I have been putting down what is my vision, resources, incentives to follow through on a goal, and what is my timeline. As a freelancer, as an entrepreneur, as an artist, often we can wait for the opportunities to come our way. But they will never be quite what we want. I’ve been very strategic: a portfolio reset, and a website reset is one part of that. I’m trying to be better at business.”
  • Why she feels collaboration is important: “You have a sense of accountability, you are not just floating on your own.”
  • How she stays focused on her own growth as an artist: “Every project or growth spurt or time I saw a positive shift, it is because I came back and asked, ‘what do I have to offer?”
  • How social media can stir up some complex emotions: “On Instagram I see other people’s successes, what is trending, and what is booming for other people. Sometimes that is really inspiring, but at other times, it feels really defeating to see all these other people really being successful while I’m not sure what I want to do. So there are times I feel I should be more business minded, and do things that I see other people succeeding at. But I never actually go for it. I have such a love/hate relationship with Instagram. I want it to feel true to me.”
  • I asked her if she knew how she went from 225,000 Instagram followers a year ago, to 258,000 now. Her reply was so honest with regards to how metrics like these can be confusing: “It’s funny, it seems like a jump from 225,000 – 258,000, but every day I look at it and think, ‘Well, I’m not at 300,000. I’m not at 550,000. I’m not at a million.’ That never stops. I remember when I was like, ‘I got 100 likes, OMG! I rule the world!’ Now, I’m like, OMG, I only got this many people… I try not to let it effect me emotionally. But I would not have a career without Instagram. The way that I grew it was meeting people face to face, moving to new places, and being in a lot of diff industries [such as magazines, books, retail, all sorts of collaborations.]”
  • How success on Instagram can leads to it’s own uncertainty and fear: ““I get nervous sometimes that IG is just going to disappear and I will be in this cave and not have the access to the outside world.”
  • How she manages the expectations that other people have on her art: “I remember the first time, it was probably 10 years ago, working for a client. I gave them what I thought they wanted, and they came back and said, “This isn’t your style. It’s not actually your work.” It was the first time I remember saying, “Wait, I define what my work is.” I have always been conscious about fitting myself into client projects. Sometimes it is amazing. Sometimes it is difficult. So far, following what it is I truly want to be making, that has always led me in the right direction.”
  • How she managed her time and expectations when she was first starting out: “When I first started, I would send out emails, I applied for agents, and I heard nothing for months. I would send out three emails, and I was like, ‘Nobody wants to work with me.’ So I was always went back to the studio and said, ‘I will focus on what I can control, which is the artwork.’”
  • How she kept creating and doing client work, even as she moved from Nashville to Japan. She described it this way, “Japan is so different from my life in the US, that it feels like a break from reality.”
  • How, amidst one of the biggest periods of growth in her career, she has adapted her creative process to her lack of space in her apartment in Japan. “I’m keeping it simple, but I dream of having a big studio, more than I’d like to admit.”
  • How living abroad is effecting her art: “Living in Japan has changed the way I think about art.”
  • Her advice about the value of the creative process: “There should be more of an emphasis on process and not the end goal. I don’t think you ever arrive. I don’t think you ever get to the place where you think, ‘Well, now I’m done.’ I will think to myself, ‘Why am I not where I want to be 10 years in, why do I still feel like a novice? How do I still feel like an amateur, like I don’t know how to draw?’ I think there needs to be more of an appreciation for the shift the change the process and figuring it out.”

Last year I shared my first interview with Rebecca, where we discussed navigating creative burnout.

You can find Rebecca in the following places:
http://myblankpaper.com
https://www.instagram.com/rebeccagreenillustration/