The Key to Creative Success

Photo by HoliHo on

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.

Little Journeys to Happyland

I love the cover of this vintage book. So many questions spring to mind!

1 – Why is there a creepy ant guy in green tights, and what is he whispering to the boy?

2 – Why are the trees wilted or covered in Spanish Moss?

3 – Why is the subtitle “Little Journeys to Happyland?”

This last one is my favorite.

Let’s face it. We all long to go to Happyland. That’s right. It’s one word.

For some, playing the bagpipes may be their Happyland. For others, it’s watching The Price is Right. For some, it may even be learning the Byzantine tones and practicing them all the time (if you don’t know what those are, feel free to ask my Choir Director husband).

For me, Happyland is writing and getting lost in something I’m working on to the point I think, “shouldn’t someone be fixing dinner about now?” Someone not me, of course.

For the last five years, ever since starting my novel and beginning the freelance writing journey for real, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to get to my Happyland.

It’s often hard to incorporate writing (especially my own writing) into my already busy life. Since I’ve misplaced my magic soap bubble (see picture above), and I can’t find my way to Happyland that easily, I see my options as follows:

1 – Write when kids are around. Only, I tend to get crabby when I do this. Something about having a 14 year old boy hanging over my shoulder and commenting, or being interrupted 52 times by other children is not conducive to creativity.

2 – Write after kids go to bed. Sounds good, except for the fact this is the only kid-free time most adults get to actually talk and see each other without someone walking someone else with pool noodles in the background. Did I mention I have 3 boys? So writing at night is not a great option.

3 – Write in the afternoon/during screen time. I can do this, and have in the past. However, something about the early afternoon/post-lunch makes my life energy devote itself to digestion and my brain suffers.

4 – What is left?! I can hear your desperation. How will she write? How will she ever get to Happyland?!

Early morning time.

It isn’t perfect, because it’s still early and morning, but it’s my best shot.

When I write in the morning the house is quiet. I put the dogs outside. I get a yogurt cup. I sit at my desk in my PJs. I open my computer and work.

Do I sometimes not get up right away, waste away my time in the void of my phone, and then try to still fit it all in before my 6 year old pads his way into my room? Maybe.

And when this happens do I feel crabby and disgruntled because somebody popped my Magic Soap Bubble to Happyland. Okay, yes.

But when this happens do I give up everything, decide I’ll never be a writer, and wallow in my inability to develop discipline and get up early.

Not anymore.

I let it go, do what I still can for today, and try to make better choices next time.

The crazy thing is, little imperfect choices, little journeys, can still get you to Happyland. The book isn’t subtitled, “Epic, Perfectly-Planned and Executed Journeys to Happyland with no Side Stops or Wasted Time.”

It’s called little journeys to Happyland. Little journeys. I mean, how far can you really travel in one go in a soap bubble anyway?

My little journeys are still something. And they still take me someplace if I don’t give up. And if I don’t pop my own bubble.

What ways do you order your life to make sure you have time to get to Happyland?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And stay tuned for the next post, “How being around kids (ALL THE TIME) can be a good thing for a writer. . . really.”