A writer shared this with me via email this week:
“I was about to give up. I said my new book would be the last. However, I love writing, and trying to improve. My friends say I’m too passionate. They don’t want to hear it.”
After working with thousands of writers and creative professionals, this resonated deeply with me. The idea that too often, a writer or artist is surrounded by people who are mildly annoyed that they are trying to create.
Today, I want to talk about who you need to surround yourself with in order to find success in your creative endeavors.
Step 1: Make an Appointment With Yourself
For someone who has a creative vision, craft comes first. Very often, this means devoting time to showing up for yourself. That’s difficult because most of us find it far easier to live up to other people’s expectations than to tell the world, “Sorry, I’ve got to write.”
On April 9th my wife and I welcomed our second child into the world. On May 1st, there was an appointment in my calendar at 5:30am that I had set months ago; it said: “Begin working on the next book.”
That day I set a recurring calendar reminder for 5:30am each day: WRITE.
Each morning, I took a photo of myself writing, and shared it on Instagram:
But there is something you don’t see in the photos, what I was feeling each day:
- Day 1: overwhelm at all the ideas
- Day 2: confusion as to which idea to pick
- Day 3: excitement
- Day 4: apathy
- Day 5: fear
- Day 6: excitement again
- Day 7: total boredom
- Day 8: just counting the seconds until I could stop writing
- Day 9: desperately trying not to fall down the research rabbit hole
- Day 10: distracted the entire time
- Day 11: excited
- Day 12: psyched about an idea
- Day 13: bored and distracted
- Day 14: overwhelmed again
- Day 15: excited again
… you get the idea. There are months and months ahead of me before this book is finished. And it will happen one day at a time. I have found that what separates one who dreams from one who accomplishes is that simple act: showing up. Each day. To an appointment with yourself.
This requires saying “no” to so many other thing. When I wake up, I feel a duty to deliver value to my clients and the mastermind group I run. But on my calendar, those tasks are set at 6:30am, just after my writing time. Like you, there are dozens of other obligations each day that seem non-negotiable. Your boss expects you at work at a certain time, or you will be fired. Your kids need to get to school at a certain time. You need to bring your ailing parent food, because no one else can. Of course, these are not things you should say “no” to. These are honorable and non-negotiable obligations.
But many other daily tasks are negotiable.
The other week, I wrote about the importance of craft, but the sad truth is this:
CRAFT IS BORING.
We write to effect the world, to expand our own understanding and capacities, and even for validation. Yet, too often, the practice of craft delivers none of these things. We effect no one, we feel stuck, and we are convinced we are languishing in mediocrity.
Most great ideas die because of our unwillingness to move through the slow, boring uncomfortable process of craft. Ira Glass famously talked about this in terms of bridging the gap between your taste and your craft, a wonderful video you should check out if you haven’t before.
Set an appointment with yourself each day to work on your craft. Showing up each day creates a sense of momentum, of duty, of practice that sets the stage for the effect you hope to have in the world.
Step 2: Surround Yourself With Doers
That quote which started this piece? That person’s friend is not a doer. They are a destroyer. They are working hard to destroy the fire that burns inside the writer.
Are you a doer or a destroyer?
Not of my dreams, but of your own? Beyond making an appointment with yourself, I would encourage you to surround yourself with doers. Those whose dreams go just as deep as yours. Who show up each day to attend to it, even when it is difficult. Who will encourage you instead of tear you down.
I’ve heard this quote recently:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
– Jim Rohn
If you don’t know five people who are creative doers who will develop an atmosphere of support, then you need to go find them.
For instance, I just interviewed illustrator Lori Richmond, for an upcoming podcast, and she told me that she pays to get 6 feet of a desk at a co-working space in Brooklyn. The listed price for this is $650 per month. Here she is surrounded by the founder of the space, Tina Roth Eisenberg, who is a force of nature. Plus a couple dozen other really driven creative professionals.
I think that rubs off. The enthusiasm. The support. The can-do attitude. To look around the room and see people heads down, working on their dreams. Doing the boring arduous part of working through their craft.
Because I don’t think one of them would look at you and say “you are too passionate.” I’d bet that if Lori needed to talk, they would smile, buy her a coffee, and say, “Tell me more!”
We all need to be around more people like that.
Now, you are likely saying, “Dan, I don’t have an extra $650 per month, and this is more of a hobby than a full-time career — what do I do now?” Let me share with you exact ways that I have surrounded myself with wonderful enthusiastic doers. I don’t share any of this to “show off, ” but rather, I want to illustrate what this looks like in the most practical way I can:
- I have a weekly call with my friend Jennie Nash. We have a 1-on-1 mastermind. Half the call is spent focusing on a challenge she has, the other half focuses on working through a challenge I have. It is all about taking action.
- I go out of my way to befriend local creative people, meeting with them regularly. So this doesn’t sound vague, I will name names: Illustrator Lauren Martin, Indie bookstore owner Barb Short, author Rachel Kempster Barry, clay studio owner Melanie Tomaszewski, artist, author & architect Maia Kumari Gilman, craftsman Tyler Merson, artist & baker Andrea Lekberg and so many others. Each of these relationships was forged one person at a time, and each required me to reach outside of my comfort zone to make a connection that felt authentic. Along the way, I volunteered to help out with the Morristown Festival of Books meeting loads of local creative folks, and helped launch the Madison Storytellers Festival.
- I run my own mastermind group. Twenty people pay to be a part of this, and I help them develop momentum with their creative work and better connect with their audience. A wonderful side benefit of this? I am now surrounded with 20 awesome people! These people add fuel to my work, because each day we are talking about actions we are taking with our craft.
- I hired Teri Case to be a part of my team. For anyone doing creative work, I know how difficult it can be to consider an expense like this. The reality: working with her adds so much more potential to my work. It’s not an expense, it’s an honor. I have also worked with so many wonderful interns and employees over the past few years. Having a team is a powerful shift in how you view your work.
- Over the years, I have developed relationships with amazing creative people such as Sarah Bray. If I needed to, right now I could pick up the phone and ask her for help. She would answer, even though she is busy. She is a lifeline there if I need it.
- I go out of my way to interview inspiring creative professionals for my podcast. Just this month, I am speaking with: Lori Richmond, Colby Sharp, Jay Alders, KJ Dell’Antonia, and Tammy Greenwood. Spending time researching them is so instructive to the process of creating and sharing one’s work. Spending an hour interviewing them forges a meaningful connection.
All of these are examples of direct ways to reach out to others. None are vague tactics like, “Post a question to Quora and see what happens” or “get active on Twitter.”
If you are alone in your craft, you have just increased the likelihood of failure DRAMATICALLY. Nowadays other people are easily accessible if you are kind and generous. Reach out.
I was chatting about all of this with a friend this week, and he mentioned neuroplasticity. The example he gave was that the first time he and I sat down to talk, it may have come and go in our brains. But then we started to talk every day. He explained how with neuroplasticity, my brain literally changes because it adapts to this new part of my life. I looked it up, neuroplasticity is defined as: “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience.”
Now, I’m not a brain expert. But it seemed to underscore the importance of establishing habits to show up for appointments with yourself, and to develop relationships with collaborators who will push you and your creative work forward.
What actions can you take to try both this week?