A friend of mine shared this on Facebook this week: “Why on earth did I buy a 2020 planner??” I’ll admit, that got a smile from me, as all of us continually wake up to a world upended. Many people are scared, overwhelmed, confused, and could be thinking “Why bother? Just focus on the status quo for now, because honestly, isn’t that enough?
For the work I do, helping writers create and share their work, this is a question I obsess over. This is why my weekly podcast is called The Creative Shift. Because in order to create and share in a way that matters, you have to make an intentional choice to do so. Sure, it would be nice if the world made it easy for you to finish writing that book and getting it into readers’ hands. But the truth is, it’s a lot of work. Often more work than we ever imagined before we started.
Recently I have spoken to several writers and artists who are making a conscious choice to make their creative shift. To either create disruption in their life to expand their creative practice, or use unintended disruption as a source of energy to reorient where they are going.
I want to share some of their stories with you today.
Last week I wrote about the concept of before and after since all of us are now between those two thing. The “before” is a world where we could leave the house, meet with people, and plan activities days, weeks, or months out. The after is unknown and in between those two things is where we are.
For awhile I have been asking my friend Betsy Brockett if I could interview her. She finally said yes, and there could not be a more perfect moment. Betsy knows before and after.
At age 28, she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She needed an immediate surgery, followed by chemo, followed by more surgery. This is Betsy:
Before the diagnosis, she was healthy and living a very active life. She was an artist and photographer and worked at an arts center. This is a small sampling of her collection of hospital bracelets in the months that followed her diagnosis:
Betsy said she does view her life as before the diagnosis and after. But the theme that kept coming up in our talk was what it means to find clarity in what you create and in who you are as a writer or artist. Today she runs a small farm with her husband, and they have a focus on rewilding the property. I had to look that word up, it means: to return to a natural state.
That has been Betsy’s journey with her creative work. To rewild herself — to create and share who she is in a way that feels remarkably authentic. You can listen to my entire conversation with Betsy here.
I find that this is a common theme among writers and artists. To become closer to who they are deep down. To find more honesty in what they create.
I recently interviewed Tony Bonds, a writer who chose to leave his day job a few months ago in order to double-down on growing his own company. I recorded my interview with him via online video, he was in his new “office.” That would be his garage, complete with messy shelves, exposed pipes, and baby carriages hanging from the rafters. This is where so much creative work happens – in less than ideal places, amidst a ton of risk. But as Tony put it: “At least it’s my own desk, in my own garage.” This is Tony:
That is a key element of what it means to create and share what matters to you: that you are being proactive and intentional. You aren’t half-baking it from the sidelines, you are… (sorry for the mixed metaphor) um, fully baking while in the game? You know what I mean.
Tony is taking risks, but they are risks to invest in who he is and what can lead to a fulfilling life. You can listen to my full interview with Tony here.
This is a recurring practice. The action of getting more and more clear on your goals. Of honing your creative process. Of investing in yourself.
I recently spoke to artist Megan Carty about how she is leveling up her art and her business. After years or doing this full-time, she is making massive changes. These are not meant to be disruptive, but rather to focus on the art that matters most to her, and on growing her business. Taking risks like this never ends because as people who create, we are always growing and learning. This is Megan:
But growth is not always about leveling up, sometimes it is about starting again. Christine Koh did that when she chose to leave a successful career in academia in order to pursue a variety of creative ventures online. I mean, just imagine this… she spent years in school and was in the middle of a joint-appointment postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology. She was about to become a full professor. And she left. Why? As she put it: “I wanted to be creative, independent, and make stuff.” This is Christine:
I find this theme shows up again and again. When I spoke to award-winning children’s book illustrator Anna Raff, she was in the middle of a successful career when she made a huge shift to become an illustrator full-time. After taking some classes, she said: “I realized I was missing out and silenced a part of myself for a long time.” This is Anna:
I also love her advice on how what you create and share needs to be focused on who you are: “If you are sharing work that is an extension of you, it will be your best work.” You can listen to my full interview with her here.
I started this post by asking “why even bother?” I am borrowing that phrase from Jennifer Louden who has a new book coming out called Why Bother: Discover the Desire for What’s Next. It will be released later in April, and I’m looking forward to reading it. This is Jennifer:
In our recent interview I asked about when she started her business, and she said it came years after becoming a bestselling author. “For so long, I lived in the story of “Someone has to choose me.” Now she says she never ever wants to wait for someone to choose her again.
I want to end with one more story. This is musician I follow on YouTube, his name is Sam Battle. He actually invents these amazing musical instruments out of things like Furbys and old Nintendos, it’s actually pretty amazing. He usually has this large private studio he works out of, but to keep creating while on lockdown, he decided to move his studio to his home.
He lives in a basement apartment, and out his back door is this little, well, cave. This is it:
It’s small, damp, dark, and claustrophobic. The opposite of his normal large studio. This is the space after he cleaned it up and moved his equipment in, a total transformation:
Normally, Sam would be on tour playing live shows right now. He says: “I’ve been stuck in the cave at the back of my flat for the past week or so, its been a good time just to get down and constantly jam, write and practice for when shows are back on!” Here he is creating music in the cave:
Sam is showing up to his creative work. He is sharing that work, even when he is working within less than ideal circumstances. Every day, we each have this opportunity. To create and share what matters most to us.