Is it a folly to be creative? Do you ever think you are crazy to have creative goals?
Do you question yourself about whether it is all worth it?
Does your family ask you seemingly innocent but loaded questions such as “Have you published your book yet?”
Or are they more direct and say, “Why can’t you be more like your cousin and get a proper job? He’s a bank manager now.”
Sometimes I doubt myself
I am currently possessed by my novel writing. I have a trilogy in mind. I have been working on the first book on and off for 19 years. (Just so you don’t think I’m completely nuts there was a hiatus of nine years when I didn’t touch it.)
It’s in pretty good shape now and I have just started drafting a sequel. I’m undecided on publishing options but am quite tempted by self-publishing.
Realistically how many will I sell? Two hundred? Five hundred? Seven hundred? Of those, who will buy the second and third book?
If the numbers aren’t going to be large, why am I toiling away at it?
Dipping into our creative souls is a hard thing to do. We have to face a lot of fears, people judge us and there is no guarantee that our work will garner the results we would dearly love.
I looked up folly in the dictionary, and laughed when I saw the meaning:
Folly: silliness or weakness of mind. A foolish thing.
Is it foolish for us to put so much energy, time and money into our creative work?
The best way to answer that question is to look at what would happen if we didn’t do it.
Would you be happy if you didn’t create?
When I look back over my own life, unfulfilment was never far away when I have ignored my creative needs.
In 1999 I was earning a six-figure income in computer programming, I lived in central London and I had an affluent ‘girl about town’ lifestyle. But I was so bored. I knew that there was more to me than just doing my tech job but I didn’t know exactly what it was or how to get it out. Thankfully someone suggested writing to me as a way of exploring myself and I have never looked back.
If I go back before then to 1993 I had just landed a job in the City of London. I was in a top tier investment bank in a job that was only one step away from being on the trading floor. I was tipped for great things but I lost my marbles and crashed out with stress.
I had a couple of months off work during which I reflected back on my days as a music student and knew that I need to pick up music again. At the time I said that I needed to entertain. Looking back now I can see that this was the same urge to ‘speak my truth’ as I currently have.
Why are we driven to do this?
In his book The Artist’s Journey Steven Pressfield refers to our daimon, which is a Greek word meaning something that you are driven to do. The daimon is your destiny or your calling. Everybody has one though few have the courage to follow it. Your soul knows what it wants. You know it too, deep down.
So just by creating, we are being true to ourselves. Even though I often curse my creative side, I create because I have to. I have to speak my truth. I have to say what is in my heart.
Sometimes blogging is a lot of effort. I have just over 400 people on my email list, roughly a third of whom open the emails. Of those, between 30 and 50 people will click through and actually read the blog. It is not a massive audience but I love the fact that some people are interested in what I have to say. When I re-post the blog on Medium it gets more reads, but nothing stratospheric.
I am not anywhere near a point where I could make a living from my writing. Mostly, I’m not trying to.
But what is most valuable? My words being widely read or the fact that I have got them down on paper and said what I have to say.
How to cope with this inexplicable urge to create
It is OK to be creative. The best thing to do is to accept it and let your soul talk. Remember that you have to eat. You are not a lesser artist if you have a day job as well.
The best way to stay sane as you juggle other people’s expectations and your own doubts is to hang out with other artists.
I love going to my writing group. At our last meeting one of the men said, “My wife doesn’t understand why I keep writing. She tells me that I am retired now so why do I want to keep writing?” His wife may not have understood this urge, but we did.
Why did I write this article?
I wrote this article because it is normal that alongside a deep desire to create are huge doubts as to whether it is worth it. These feelings are two sides of the same coin. Even well-known successful creatives have these doubts.
Your creative life may sometimes feel like a folly but don’t be put off by this. Imagine a book or a piece of music that you love, something that has really changed your life, or saved your life. Now imagine that the writer or musician gave up on that project because it felt stupid, or pointless, or not worth the effort. Perhaps someone told them that they would never make any money and they ought to get a proper job. Wouldn’t that be a great loss?
Even if your purpose looks like a folly, it is still your purpose. No one can do it but you.
So which is the real folly?
Writing to a small audience but feeling totally complete in my life? Or working a ‘normal’ job, live by other people’s expectations of how my life should be and feel dead inside and have a nervous breakdown?