I had a coaching call this week with a client who was living the creative dream. A highly anticipated book launch with great reviews, support from the publisher, deals in the background that she couldn’t talk about yet. It was the moment many writers dream of.
And she was miserable.
To make it worse she knew she should be happy, but the non-creative part of her livelihood was sucking every ounce of life out of her—depriving her of the energetic emotion to feel anything at all, let alone celebrate this milestone. She needed to make some hard decisions about her life. And those life-altering decisions felt even harder to make because she didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Because we had worked together from her first manuscript through agent signing, and all the good beyond, and because she knew I had left behind a corporate life and am still standing she asked me for advice. Our conversation went something like this:
Jessica: “As a writer you know that moment in a story. The moment where you’re writing in the dark. Where you’ve made it this far, but don’t see where the story is going, or what happens next. You’re worried you won’t figure it out, but you’re already twenty-thousand words in and you have to figure it out, but it feels impossible, like you’re a complete garbage human, and why even keep going…
“But… you’ve been at this point before, and you know you figured it out last time, so you’re probably going to figure it out this time. And regardless of the horrifying feelings of suck and imposter syndrome, you have faith you’re going to get through it, and a book is going to come out of it. Have you ever felt like that when you write?”
Creative: “Yes. That’s pretty much it exactly.”
Jessica: “Living your life as a working creative is living in that moment of you don’t know what happens next. Again, and again, and again.
“Your writing has been training you for this moment. Your writing has been training you, so you can start living your real life.
“Living your life as a creative means having faith that you are going to figure it out and make it work when you’re sitting in the dark and can’t see what’s coming next.
“You’re rarely going to know what’s coming next. At first that’s scary, just like when you’re writing. But also, just like in writing, there’s a point when scary turns into excitement, because what happens next might be cooler than anything you ever could have imagined.”
Creative: “What you’re saying makes sense, but if I knew when or how this next part played out, I feel like I could take that next big step.”
“Right, but that’s the thing. Creative living isn’t the corporate world where there’s this gigantic machine that can honestly control the how and when things happen. This is a whole different world.
“To survive and learn to be happy in this creative world, you focus on the WHAT you’re doing and WHY you’re doing it, and you leave the how and when up to something bigger than you.
“I know that’s hard to swallow, because it’s a huge act of faith in yourself and your creativity. This is why we turn to the people we trust who have been there before. The people you know won’t lie to you.
“I’ll tell you what my mentor, Deborah Shouse, told me when I was standing in your exact spot. ‘It always works out.’ I couldn’t believe it. ‘Always?’ I asked. ‘Always.’ she said. When I made the leap, and my rational mind would tell me all the reasons I would fail, I would remind myself that Deborah wouldn’t lie to me. So, I was going to let her confidence propel me, until I’d established my own.
“And she was right. It always works out.” I then went on to tell my client half-a-dozen examples of how it had always worked out. I also told her that rarely did things work out when or how I thought they were supposed to, and sometimes what felt like complete failure in the moment, ended up teaching me something really important or lead to a long-term success I couldn’t foresee.
At the end of our call, I was confident my client would get where she needed to be, and that her work was going to impact countless readers. But like the rest of us, I knew she would confront mindset issues as she detoxed from the conditioning of non-creative life and embraced the challenges of a creative career.
After we hung up, I sent her an image that included the guiding principles I established for myself, and by extension The Creative’s Apprentice.
It was time for her to establish her own rules for how to Live Life as A Creative—something she could reference in those moments where she was sitting in the dark, unsure of what happens next.
Have you thought about what principles guide you through your creative career? If not, think of a moment you’ve been stuck, or felt like your work was irrevocably broken. What helped you through that moment? Make a list of qualities, lessons, or feelings that helped move you forward.
Build off of that, and over time refine it. Post it in a visible spot, and next time you are faced with a hard decision, be it in your writing or your life, use it as a reminder that you have been in the dark before, and you always find your way out.
By Jessica Conoley