Danny Gregory on Creativity and Redefining Failure

Artist and writer Danny Gregory has a great post up about the gap between what we creatives want to achieve and what we actually achieve. He writes about the switch from dreaming about being a great artist/writer/musician/graphic designer/whatever to actually taking the first action – playing the first note, trying the first painting, creating the first website design – and really gets to the heart of what it means to struggle as a creative professional:

And beginning starts in a realm you can only imagine, because you haven’t ever been there. You’ve seen other people achieve that dream. You’ve seen the drawings they’ve made, heard theme singing that aria, tasted the soufflé they whipped up so easily. And you think you know what that must be like. You think you know what the journey there must entail. If only you had the courage to actually begin.

But so far, all you really have is that dream, turning slowly in your mind, lit by thousand candles.

And then a day breaks, more sunny than the rest, a day that fills you with a new type of hope, and so you decide to begin. You breathe deep and pick up that pen. You sit down at that piano. You dive into the deep end of that pool.

You are filled with exhilaration and hope. Your dream glimmers on the horizon

And then as soon as you leap, you flounder and flinch. You gasp. You sink beneath the waves.

The water is colder, deeper, and darker than you’d ever imagined.

That first line that you have imagined in your head is finally on paper. That first chord thunders across the strings…

And it is flat and leaden and ugly, the work of a fool. Nothing like what you had seen in your dream. You flail and struggle on, despair sinking like clouds over the moon, plunging you into darkness.

The truth is that if you work in a creative field, your work is different to that of other people. You are required to expose part of yourself every day in order to make a living. Coming up with new ideas is hard. Lots of the ideas you do have won’t work. You constantly have to fight that voice telling you what you’re doing is no good (what Danny Gregory calls ‘the monkey in your head’) And then, after you’ve won that struggle with the monkey and painted that picture or created that video game character or designed that advertisement, other people will often pick at it and criticize it and ask you to make changes. And the monkey voice starts all over again.

When I worked in HR, part of my job was to develop training manuals. I wrote them from scratch, so in one sense it was a creative endeavor, but there was nothing of me in those manuals. My deepest hopes and dreams and secrets and longings were not being put on show for all to see. I was able to solicit feedback without feeling personally hurt.

But now that I am pursuing a second career as an artist, I find myself feeling constantly exposed, constantly afraid, constantly coming up short. My paintings rarely turn out as I imagine them. And even when I do succeed in creating a painting I like, I\’m never quite sure how I did it and the struggle starts again with the next picture.

If you’re in any way creative, you’ll know exactly what I mean but I hope the end of Danny Gregory’s post will inspire you as much as it did me:

You just need to begin and keep on beginning and discover that it’s the journey that is the reward. The dream is just to keep you moving forward, a mirage, fantasy. It’s the journey makes you smarter and stronger and better and happier.

And that’s the key I think. When you work in a creative profession, you get to take that journey every day. You may never design the perfect website, or create flawless advertising copy, or create the perfect film music. But by putting yourself out there, you’ll grow and change and learn. Most people never get that chance and never get to go on that journey. Enjoy it!

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