The Key to Creative Success

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Like most writers, I used to write stories as a kid. Then I grew up.

A couple of bad experiences in a creative writing class with a teacher obsessed with Science Fiction (about the polar opposite of what I write) left me doubting I could do it at all.

Still, I always had the lingering feeling that maybe I could write stories and maybe they could actually be good.

But I didn’t try.

I was so paralyzed by fear of failure that I was stuck.  I figured if I didn’t try for my dream and lose, or have it taken from me, at least I still had my dream. And it was precious to me and well-guarded.

So I felt jealous. I was jealous when people who were pursuing their dreams had success. I was jealous when a crappy musical play about bagpiping and cougars was produced at my town’s community theater. I wish I was making this up. I’m not.

Side note, my husband still says that play was amazing just to get my goat. And it always works!

But back to the point, I started to see it like others got to do things and I just didn’t get to. 

But my friends, having come out the other side of this kind of faulty thinking, I can now see the main thing successful creative people have is something pretty simple: they have a little bit of natural talent, and the tenacity to not give up.

They are people who develop themselves and seek out ways to grow. They keep putting themselves out there and getting better until they become, like Steve Martin says, so good they can’t be ignored anymore.

Successful creatives possess the drive to work hard to improve their craft, and they find the right venue for their natural artistic abilities. It’s not magic. It’s not a special calling or blessing from the Cosmos that says they get to do this and other people don’t.  

So if you find you are jealous of the success of others (or mean, spitting, and hateful), take a moment to ask yourself, “What is it I wish I could do?”

And once you’ve named this, why aren’t you doing it?

No matter where you’re at, you can take some small steps to start down the path. For me, the small step was letting myself peruse the writing section at the library. It’s amazing to me now how much courage it took just to acknowledge to myself writing was something I wanted to do. And then I took my another step and actually checked out a book called On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner. A great book.

I think you’ll find, even if you are still a long, long way off from your end goal, you’ll find joy just in moving toward it. Stop plopping in the road and grumbling at all the people who are passing you by. Get up and start walking.

So, what exactly do you wish you could be doing that you aren’t pursuing yet? And what little step can you take today to get closer to it?

And let’s face it, no matter what you write it can’t possibly be worse than that play.

Creative Jealousy, Frustration, and a Cattle Dog

“I’s not jealous.”

If you’re like me, you’ve felt the green-eyed monster’s bite on occasion. This, of course, is Jealousy.

While I’m not typically jealous of other people’s possessions, I have been jealous of other people’s creative endeavors. It’s hard to admit, but I’ve been surly to see the success of creative people, and I’ve belly-ached over why it can’t ever be me. It wasn’t pretty.

I would think, “How come THEY get to do all this creative stuff, and I don’t ever get to?!” 

I was baffled and envious. How come other people could pursue their artist things and have success and how come I couldn’t? And it was doubly worse if they got paid to do it; it was the final straw on my straw pile of self-pity.

As a side note, in case you’ve never seen a straw pile of self-pity, it isn’t pretty.

The real question I should have been asking was, “Why does the artistic success of others bother me so much?”

It bothered me because I was frustrated.

I wasn’t pursuing my own creative dreams; I wasn’t using any of my creative abilities for much beyond the occasional sewing or craft project.

I had something in me that wasn’t being used, let out, developed. And I was frustrated.

To better understand frustration, follow me back a few years to the sad tale of Moondog.

My husband and I lived in a big city with no kids and one aging dog and we decided, on a whim, to adopt a 5-month-old Australian Cattle Dog.

At first things weren’t that bad. We went to dog parks, went on lots of walks, and he was just a puppy.

But as he matured, we just couldn’t give him enough outings, mental stimulation, and exercise. And make no mistake, a dog bred specifically to herd cattle for 10 hours a day in the rough terrain of Australia NEEDED exercise. These dogs were herding dogs bred with wild Dingoes to give them the stamina they needed, because all the regular sheepdogs kept dying. This was a serious working breed.

But of course we didn’t know any of that when we adopted him. And we didn’t know that these dogs were very smart and needed mental work as much as physical work.

Without this need fulfilled in some meaningful work, Moondog was neurotic. Although sweet to us, he was nervous and aggressive around other dogs and people. On walks, he would lunge at people in uniforms, old ladies, anyone who walked funny, and on and on. He would lunge at kids on skateboards, trying desperately to aggressively herd anything he could. Once he ripped a kid’s baggy pants and scratched his leg. Other times, he would be fine. It drove us crazy. 

We hired an Animal Behaviorist to help us figure him out (even though we couldn’t afford it). My husband often went on long bike rides with Moondog running beside him. He taught him to catch frisbees. We hid things around the house and played games with him to find the objects. But Moondog continued his aberrant behavior (at least aberrant for a city dog). We often mourned the fact he couldn’t just do what he was bred to do because we knew he would be great at it. Or maybe he would have seriously decimated some herd of cattle. Who knows!

In the end, we know we couldn’t have done more for him, but we feel like we failed that dog. And when he eventually bit a man (for real) on the thigh, we realized we couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t hurt someone else. We had to put him down: a beautiful, healthy dog that just wasn’t meant for the world he found himself in. 

When I think of him, I realize the frustration that dog must have felt. And although it is not the same thing exactly, when creative people don’t follow their passion to create, they end up creating all kinds of unsightly things instead like bitterness, resentment, and jealousy. I know for me this has been true.

So what makes you jealous? And what is your heart trying to tell you about this? What is it you really wish you could be doing?

Stay tuned for next time as we discuss the key to creative success.