“Pathmaker, there is no path. You make the path by walking. By walking, you make the path. ”
— ANTONIO MACHADO
At the end of 2017, I made a promise to myself that I would join a conversation I’ve been listening to for 30 years, a conversation between writers who have the temerity to put their words on pages and their pages into our hands. I admire professional writers more than almost anyone on the planet, because they have the courage to be publicly wrong, and to put their insides on the outside for us all to judge. And to do so, in perpetuity.
I owe an immeasurable debt to writers who have lit the path. It’s time to pay.
In a recent interview, David Whyte suggests that when we escape into our work, we think that through “the armored professionality of a vocation, we’ll be held immune from the heartbreaks of life.”
But of course, in art, it doesn’t work that way.
Like most of us, I have professional and personal selves, which I prefer to keep separate. I understand the rules of engagement in work relationships, and I’ve grown skilled in navigating them. But I still struggle to gauge how much vulnerability is appropriate in personal relationships, how to pace the disparate needs for connection each person craves, and how to vary the rhythm as people move in and out of spaces of desire.
In art, there are no such boundaries. Whyte says that if you’re “sincere about your work, you should not know how to precede at times. You should not know how to get from here to there. And that puts you into a relationship with the world, because you have to ask for help. You have to make the invitation to the people who will help you create the conversation which will help you follow the path of vulnerability into the world and give your gift to others along the way.”
Writing these blog posts is my engagement with vulnerability, my conversation with other writers, my slow attempt to pick up an instrument and strike a note. Last December, I committed to publicly post a piece of true (nonfiction) writing every week of 2018, without looking for an audience or reaching out to be read. Since my commitment is to the process, not the outcome, I don’t seek readers or wider publication. I am exercising a muscle and learning to be brave.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “treat your craft like it’s a job, and whether or not anyone appreciates your work, know that putting something creative out in the world changes you. You are a different person for having committed to creation.” Since the start of 2018, no matter how many other demands I have had on my time, I have been true to my commitment to put out a public piece of writing each week. This is my 44th post. And I am a different person for having done so.
This week, I attended Adobe Max with 8 of my college media team. While I brushed up on plenty of professional skills, I was also struck by how much inspiration I received from being around creative people who prioritize creative work. Although I was initially intimidated, I knew I was in the right rooms, with my tribe.
Adam J Kurtz, an iconoclastic creator, says that “in an industry full of multi-hyphenate creatives, the best way to stand out is to be your authentic self — whatever that means. You don’t need anyone’s permission to create exactly what you want.”
I made random notes to myself throughout the convention, some from speakers, some from conversations I overheard, some from a little voice inside my head. Feel free to borrow them, if they’re useful to you, and join the conversation:
Let curiosity lead you.
Open yourself up to what the world is sending your way.
Ask yourself what measures of success are meaningful to you. Write them down.
Read at least one book cover to cover every week.
Trust your creative impulses and know that when you invest in creating and generating content, you are making a good investment.
What are you willing to lose sleep for? Forget to eat for? Do that.
Take criticism and learn from it. Choose a mentor who will be hard on you. Then do the work to maintain the relationship.
Be disciplined. Schedule inspiration. Consume content to spark lightbulbs in your brain.
When you have an emotional reaction to an idea, let it morph into fascination and curiosity. Follow that curiosity until you notice something organic that you can bring to the story.
Make every space you inhabit a creative space.
The primary goal is to feel something and and then create work that will evoke that emotion in others.
Don’t ever give up on what you’re passionate about. It’s your north star. Follow it.
Be genuinely interested (and excited).
Notice what you feel the need to move towards, then make a step.
It’s ok to keep circling around what you’re good at, saying the same thing over and over until you find a way that resonates with an audience. This is part of the conversation. This is art.
People want to connect to authentic stories. When you identify as a “Creative,” you are part of a tribe of people who care deeply about communication. People can feel on some level when you’re faking, so be authentic.
I believe we need a sturdy coalition to resist autocracy and authoritarianism, so I make this commitment to myself and my tribe of working creatives. I will look for your strengths and do everything I can to help you develop them. As your friend or creative partner, I will inspire you to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.