Would you ever not show up for work without a reason? And do this day after day? Would you drop work at the slightest excuse? Would you assign blame at the drop of the hat?
Of course not.
Yet this is how many people treat their creative ambitions. Their writing, their art, their craft.
Instead of showing up every day to work, they go for the blockbuster mentality — counting on that one big bet that will pay off. Much like people who gamble or play the lottery as a strategy for securing their retirement. It’s a false belief that they can bypass hard work and investment and find their “big break.”
They tell themselves, “When I get an agent, things will begin to happen.” Or, “When I sign with a publisher, I won’t have to worry about marketing.”
But in the meantime, they struggle, alone. There may be bouts of creative momentum, but often followed by periods of outright abandonment.
Do you view your day-to-day creative work as an investment in your success? If not, you should.
If you want to have a nice nest egg by the time you retire (or earlier), you can take the chance you’ll win the lottery or pick the right number at the horse races. But the smarter approach — and the safer bet — is to make regular deposits into an investment account over a long period of time.
Those small investments you make each month, each week, or each day add up over time. And we won’t even get into compound interest here.
This investment habit doesn’t just apply to your bank account. It’s just as relevant to your health, your relationships, and yes, your creative work.
Let’s talk about investing in your creative work.
Focus on Habits, Not Big Bets
There’s plenty of financial advice out there that’s garbage. It hinges upon a short-term bet that feels exciting, and promises to solve all your financial woes with little work or worry. The reality is that for most people, sound financial planning involves boring steps — the habit of saving, or planning, or making reasonable investments.
The same applies for your creative goals. I see ads on Facebook nearly every day for a webinar that promises to teach you how to write and publish with greater success, in half the time and with half the effort — if only you sign up for the webinar to reveal the secret that has been eluding you.
That is compelling, isn’t it? Greater success with half the effort. Right now, you may be thinking, “Um Dan, what is that link?” But let me frame it to you another way:
What if you could get twice the car for half the price?
What if you could earn more money while working less?
What if you could be a better spouse with less effort?
What if you could be twice as healthy while eating twice as much?
Does this begin to sound like a hollow sales pitch to you? It should. Are there tips to write better, and to work more productively? Sure. But it all begins with smart habits and a focus on the basics. It begins by making small deposits into your creative investments.
Sure, we all need some luck and serendipity to help us succeed. But between those moments, I encourage you to create the boring habits that, slowly, propel you forward. That add up to more than the latest marketing trend could ever offer you.
Be Clear About Your Goals
Many people who invest don’t have clarity around their goals. They simply want “more.” Because “more” feels like it will somehow solve their problems.
But with such vague goals, it is difficult to know which actions will truly lead you to a sense of fulfillment. The same applies to the idea of investing in your creative work. It is so easy to click on one of those webinars or courses that promises an outsized result with little effort. It seems like a shortcut. But sometimes shortcuts don’t lead you to where you want to go.
Let me give you an example: I was speaking with a writer not too long ago who had signed up for an expensive online course. I know of the course, and I will say, I think it is a really good course. But… I was kind of surprised that this particular writer invested in this course, because I didn’t see it as having anything to do with her creative goals.
When I asked her about it, she said that she hadn’t even started the first lesson yet, even though she signed up for it months ago. I asked a couple other basic questions about her goals, and sure enough, she quickly concluded that the course would send her in the completely wrong direction. It would lead her to pursue someone else’s goals, not her own.
The problem here is not the course. And it is not her creative work. I am simply making the point that you should spend the time to be really clear about your creative goals. Otherwise, you end up wasting a lot of time working towards goals that are not your own.
Take the Right Kind of Risks
In financial investing, you set a goal for what kind of lifestyle you want, the house you want to buy, that exotic vacation you want to take, or what you want retirement to look like. Then you do the math to figure out how much that will cost, and how much you’ll need to save to achieve that dream.
Certain investments carry bigger risk but yield higher rates of return. Even in smart investing — not gambling — these riskier investments can be the right decision, based on your long-term goals. But you’re using that end target as your goal, then you map out your journey to get you there.
Do you have a dream to write an 80,000-word novel? Awesome. When you have that clarity around your goal, it is easier to work back from it. You set a deadline. You break it up into the number of words you need to write per day in order to reach it.
This is where risk comes into play — the idea of making polarizing decisions to reach bigger goals. Where you have to give up some responsibilities in order to realize that dream.
Maybe you say, “Dan, I just don’t have the time.” I get that — you are busy. But how about if you view your downtime as an investment.
Don’t whittle away your little breaks throughout the day three minutes at a time; thinks such as checking Facebook, reading the newspaper, or volunteering for commitments that are mere social obligations. Save up those mini-breaks and take one bigger — more meaningful — break. One that may include time for you to write or pursue other aspects of investing in your creative goals.
And if you are asking, “Dan, did you really say ‘Don’t read the newspaper?'” Yep, I did. You must make polarizing choices. If you want to push ahead with a big creative dream, you can’t also attend every PTA meeting, read every news article, and do the dishes. That is how J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter :
“People very often say to me, “How did you do it? How did you raise a baby and write a book?” and the answer is, I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman. Living in squalor — that was the answer.”
– J.K. Rowling
These kinds of decisions do mean that you are taking on risk. Very often, that is social risk. You may fear judgement in saying to other parents, “Sorry, I can’t make it to the PTA meeting.” Or judgement if someone sees you have a messy kitchen with a sink full of dishes. Or judgement if someone asks you about a news story that you haven’t read about.
But that risk is an investment strategy for you, not a cop out. You are using that time and that energy to instead work on your creative goals.
Develop Your Investing Habit: Learn to Create in Chaos
So often, someone will tell me, “I’m so busy right now, I’ll focus on my creative work when I have more time. Maybe this summer!” Then, of course, summer comes around and their kids are home from school, and they find they have even more distractions, and no creative work gets done.
Too often, we plan for some kind of “life hiatus” that never comes. That time (which is never now) where you imagine everything in your life to be balanced, and you have time to focus on creative work. And, surprise! surprise!, that time always eludes you.
Instead, we find new disruptions happen. A spouse loses their job, or a parent has a health crisis, or a pipe breaks.
When you wait for your environment to be perfect, you give more power to distraction.
Obviously, you can’t prepare for chaos, but you can plan. Let me give you an example of chaos vs perfection….
When I was talking with Cathey earlier in the year, I was so impressed by her energy, her ideas, and her focus. She seemed to have developed a wonderful sense of momentum. Yet, even with this, she was sidelined, quite literally.
On spring break, she went skiing with her family, and even though she is an experienced skier, a teenager accidentally ran her off the slope, and she hit a tree. She ruptured her Achilles tendon.
It required immediate surgery, and for months now, she has had to wear this big, heavy boot on her foot, 24 hours per day. Yes, even while sleeping. She can’t drive. She can’t stand on it long enough to cook a meal. Every single aspect of her life has been completely disrupted. It is only next week that she can begin physical therapy on the foot, continuing a long road to being able to walk again. To drive again. To stand again. This type of injury takes at least six months for full recovery, and sometimes as much as a year. Plus, there is a risk of re-rupturing the tendon during her recovery.
No, I’m not trying to bum you out.
This is simply a reminder that too often we take things for granted. We say “Oh, I can’t seem to get words onto the page” or “I don’t know how to reach out to librarians” and stall, even when we are able-bodied, full of energy, and motivated.
We begin planning for the ideal — that time in the future when all the stars align. And too often, the opposite happens. Chaos happens. Suddenly, even the simple act of walking seems like a superhuman feat.
When Cathey’s accident happened, she was preparing for a series of book signings, book fairs, readings at libraries and bookstores, school author visits, and a big parade that was to be her big launch event.
She has been moving forward with her creative work as best she can — she attended the parade in a wheelchair, and she has been accepting help from her wonderful support team: her husband, mother, sisters, and best friend.
This week, I received an email from a writer that said, “I just can’t seem to get words down on the page. I have ideas, but… I just can’t seem to find the time or energy in the day.”
I shared my common advice on this, which includes:
- Schedule your writing time. Anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
- Make it a daily ritual, even if it’s only 10 minutes each day.
- Try to get it done first thing, before the day derails you.
- Set a conservative goal for each day, so you can feel a sense of achievement. 100 words. 200 words. Something reasonable.
- Find an accountability partner. Someone — anyone — who you can share your weekly goals with, and who will check in with you.
This post is all you viewing your creative dream as something worth investing in, and developing the habit of making small deposits into your creative investment account. That taking a small action each day can really add up.
When you consider the small steps you can take each day to invest in yourself, and in your creative dreams, I would love to know:
What will your deposit be today?