For our lives to have meaning, we have to find that meaning for ourselves. So says Eric Maisel, author of Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys to Achieving Your Artistic Goals. I wholeheartedly agree with Maisel, who is a creativity coach, the author of numerous books about creativity, and a blogger here.
If you're not someone who accepts a ready-made sense of purpose derived from belief in a supernatural being, then you will probably want to figure out the point of your own existence. One way to think about this is to ask yourself: What can I do that gives me a sense of being engaged in something larger than my own smallish daily self?
For some, the answer is to make art.
Maisel has organized his latest book around nine keys as a way of untangling the many complexities of living a creative life. Out of those nine keys, I've chosen to highlight three here that strike me as especially compelling. Of course, each of the keys may have a different value to you at various stages of your life and career.
1. The Freedom Key. In this chapter, Maisel discusses the difference between being able to control and being able to influence. While we're certainly not fully in control of many of the aspects of a creative life—the objective quality of our products, their marketability, the way health (or its lack) can affect output, and so on—we do have more influence than we tend to believe.
If you're a perfectionist, for example, and that keeps you from even starting your work, you can try to change your thoughts and feelings so that you eventually realize, in your gut, that messes must be made, mediocrities must be committed, and imperfections have to happen for the really good stuff to appear eventually.
Another example: you want your novel to be published by a major press. You have little control, but some influence, as you learn your craft, consider professional suggestions for your work, network, and so on. Maisel then discusses 10 ways creative types give up their marketplace freedom and cheerleads them into using the influence they do have.
2. The Identity Key. If you want to be an artist, you need to nurture and pay attention to your artist identity, Maisel notes. This chapter explores the many facets of identity, including such practical hints as how to respond to the questions people ask that may deplete your will to call yourself an artist. Not-famous writers are often asked, "What have you written?" or "What might I have read of yours?" And it's often a bit demoralizing to have, say, only a few articles, or a book or two that didn't make a big national splash, or even more so, having not had any publications at all yet. Just tell the questioner what you're working on, and don't let their stereotypical questioning make you feel lesser than some ideal.
3. The Societal Key. You want to do well-crafted work, and perhaps you also want to have an impact on the world in ways that are important to you. Sometimes those goals may conflict. Literature that reads like a lecture isn't very good. The creative person has to think through all the social roles available to an artist today, consider the pros and cons of each, decide what makes sense for now, figure out the financial side, and then choose.
Over the years, my own journey has led me more and more to ensure that what I write is somehow related to the issues that are most meaningful to me, even if they don't pay well at all. That sense of congruence between belief and action, even if it doesn't effect any vast changes in society, makes it possible for me to do my creative work.
Note: Eric Maisel has also developed and written about what he calls Natural Psychology, which is a naturalistic, secular, and atheistic psychology focused on meaning. Have a look.
Copyright (c) by Susan K. Perry
Susan's latest book, her first novel, KYLIE'S HEEL, is now available. You can also follow her on Twitter @bunnyape.