If you’re anything like me, you might not be driving your creative journey the way you think.
Autumn, with its chilly temperatures and shorter hours of daylight, is settling in. I feel like I don’t have the same spring in my step, that sometimes I need a little more of a nudge to get me to my desk and write. The changing of the seasons, and what often feels like a sprint towards winter, is a time when I often find myself thinking about my life — where I’ve been, where I am, where I hope to be. And with the release earlier this month of my last novel, Everything He Thought He Knew, I’ve been asking myself this: Am I a passenger or the driver on my creative journey?
My first contact with the arts came through music. I started piano lessons when I was six, and it wasn’t long before I was performing in church and in the spotlight. I was a timid, even awkward, young boy who didn’t want the attention. Despite my love of the piano, I turned away from music in my twenties. Looking back, it was a way of affirming who I was. Maybe my parents saw it as an ‘act of rebellion,’ but I had other ideas about my life.
I didn’t want to be a church organist, and by then I’d lost any interest in a professional music career. Perhaps, too, I was scared that I didn’t have the necessary talent to succeed in the music industry. Or that I had bought into the belief that a life in music, and the arts in general, was a dead end that would only lead to alcoholism and drug addictions. Did I really want to end up like that? My mother prayed that I wouldn’t!
I went off to university, crisscrossing the country and the Atlantic Ocean, trying to figure out what exactly it was that I wanted to do with my life. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree in French literature in 1997, I wanted to be a writer. I began writing daily, filling notebook after notebook with stories, poems and tangents about the world I never dared to share. Eventually, some of my short stories, poems and essays were published. And then, after a lot of hard work and weathering the flood of rejection letters, my first novel was published. Writing began to bear fruit. Or so I thought.
The Struggle Within
As I pursued my writing — and certain that I was doing what I love — something was missing. I couldn’t pinpoint what that something missing was. Writing prompted me to pick up a paintbrush after a long time away from the easel. Still, despite expressing my creativity through words and painting, something still felt off.
When I moved to Ottawa in 1999, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have regular access to a piano. The only time my fingers touched the keys was when I returned to Halifax to visit family, which wasn’t that often. There it was, the something missing from my life. Music. Despite having ‘turned my back’ on it, music kept calling to me.
When Providence Moved
A week after I’d started a new job in 2004, one of my colleagues mentioned that the person whose position I had taken was looking to sell her baby grand piano to make room for the incoming grand. Without batting an eyelash, I bought the piano. I was making music again.
From 2005 to 2013, I bounced creatively between music, painting and writing. Some days I ended up completely lost in my writing, and that was all that I could do. Other creative projects ground to a halt. There were also days when I spent the early morning writing, then a few hours in my painting studio after lunch, and then sit down at the piano not just to practice but to compose. And the music rained down on me in torrents, and I struggled to take it all down — to let ‘God’ or the ‘Universe’ work through me in a new way.
There have been many twists and turns along my creative journey, and I realized that I had been a passenger more than the driver. At that time, I didn’t mind being the passenger because the adventure was, in part, not knowing where I’d end up.
But I realized that as I explored the different facets of my creativity, I wasn’t moving forward, wasn’t making progress. The thrill for me, what got my mojo working, was creating all these different projects (through music, words or painting), and then just putting them out in the world and walking away from them. I’d sit back and hope the world would take notice. No wonder I was always disappointed.
Since 2013, I’ve been focused singly on my writing. And recently I realized that I’ve still been a passenger, hoping the winds of chance would blow in my favour. Not the best approach. Far from it.
Do the Work
If I’m serious about achieving my writing goals, I need to move out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat. Sitting down and doing the necessary work is a big part of that. It’s not just about writing. As an indie author today, it’s also about tackling the aspects of the writing life that don’t come naturally to me, like marketing and social media engagement.
The biggest challenge is having the right mindset: Acting like a successful writer. I’m still battling my inner critic. Still doubting my talent some days. Still battling Resistance.
To live the life I imagined, I can’t sit back and wish, hope, or cross my fingers that what I want will magically manifest. I’ll keep writing, publishing, reading and honing my skills. I may fail, but I’ll keep it in perspective.
I am determined. Determined to drive my creative journey.
It’s time to do the work.
Where are you on your creative journey? Do you see yourself as a passenger or the driver? Hit Reply or let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.