I’ve been away from this space for a while. Yes, I was busy, but raise your hand if you think the word “busy” is meaningless. That’s not what I’m writing about today.
Instead, it has taken nearly a decade for me to learn that my creative rhythm (and my career as a whole) has two equal parts:
1. Exploration, experimentation and outreach
2. Production, focus and introspection
I continually move back and forth between the two. Sometimes it happens within a single day or week. In other cases, I go into one mode for months at a time – and that’s exactly where I’ve been. Space #2: working, thinking and producing.
I used to fret about this perpetual opposition, but I’ve learned that it’s entirely natural. I’m not going to apologize for anything – what I do, which projects I choose, or how I operate. To be blunt, I don’t care what my career looks like from the outside.
Instead, I value relationships, experiences, improvement, learning, humility, failure, strength, and satisfaction. That’s what matters, and the last several months have overflowed with all of the above.
I’ve also learned another huge and highly liberating lesson in recent weeks. Maybe it sounds familiar to you, too.
When you’re lucky enough to build a career around a talent and deep love, it can take you in some unexpected directions – namely, you often use your skills in ways that don’t uphold the fantasy. Maybe you apply your drive to real-world problems instead of fiction. You sweat through stuff that won’t hang in a gallery or live between book covers. But that quiet, behind-the-scenes work isn’t any less valuable.
The soft-focus version of creativity worships sleek offices, inspirational mornings, curated lives and clothes and spaces, and the idea that art is 100% pure. It’s tucked up on a pedestal, safe from the grit of money and time, confusion and exhaustion. If you work (and I mean really work) to pursue a craft, you know the difference between reality and the romantic cultural filters.
Don’t get me wrong; I love that everyone is creating and sharing such gorgeous images. Glossy blogs, pins, articles and photos provide endless inspiration and a stimulating daily escape. They celebrate the everyday beauty in this world. Elevating only camera-ready creativity to a mental (and public) pedestal is problematic, though, because it can diminish the joy that lies in everything else you do. You know, all your other work.
I used to think that I was failing if I didn’t have an independent side project on the go. But the past several months of focused production have revealed that it’s all creative. It’s all valuable. I truly love what I do – from technical, corporate writing to journalism to editing and everything in between. It’s honestly a joy and a privilege. Each project feeds the next and teaches me something startling and new.
Where have I been? Learning to lose the soft focus, and if you’re worried about how your art “looks,” I encourage you to do the same.
Work how you want. Live how you want. Creativity and true satisfaction can flourish in the most unexpected places.
“…all the greats did it from the outside. And that’s a very, very inspiring thing.”
In a 2008 article for the Independent, Johnny Marr explored the roots of his illustrious music career – first as a hungry Manchester teenager queuing up in the snow to hear Slaughter and the Dogs and T-Rex, then as the guitarist and driving creative force behind The Smiths. In subsequent years, he’s refused to be pinned down, working as a sessional musician and collaborator for top acts including The Pretenders, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs.
Marr explained how the most innovative music always bursts in from the edges – from talented outsiders who are utterly driven to tell their stories and make new sounds. They write and perform for their tribe, and for the sheer thrill of it.
“The Beatles are the most obvious example – rejected by Decca for their four-piece guitar line-up. No one invented Bob Marley, no one invented the Sex Pistols or Kurt Cobain or Jay-Z – they all invented themselves and were rejected. They were outsiders and they were necessary.”
Marr’s philosophy isn’t new, but it might be the most compelling argument for pure, unfettered creativity that I’ve heard in a long while. He’s also one of my most revered musical icons, so I could be a little biased on that front.
Marr is no longer an outsider. Any industry exec would take his calls in a heartbeat. But, that’s not the point. Art, writing, fashion, design, cooking and music that shakes your very core will always originate at the periphery. It’s brave and different. It might be driven by ideas or emotions or just sheer beauty. It doesn’t matter.
But what happens when the show is over, the manuscript is finished or the dishes are cleared? How do creative people pay the bills? Where do you draw the line between selling your work and selling out – or is that a retro, rusty dilemma?
Inspired Outsiders digs down into the business of creativity. The Internet has spawned a wealth of online resources, tools and markets that have changed the game for artists of every stripe. Punk bands from Winnipeg can now make a decent living without major label backing. Photographers can sell limited edition prints online while accepting only the assignments that make them sweat.
It’s now possible to remain independent without getting stuck. And even when outsiders become insiders – attracting fans, opportunities, and maybe some serious money – they can still stay hungry and, most importantly, inspired.
How? That’s what this blog is all about. Thanks for reading along.