When you’re trying to create a career as a writer, a little delusional thinking goes a long way.
Michael Lewis wrote this in Why We Write, a book that features various writers discussing motivation and perseverance.
Recalling his earliest days as a writer, he writes I didn’t know how I was ever going to make a living at writing, but I felt encouraged. Luckily, I was delusional. I didn’t know that I didn’t have much of an audience, so I kept doing it.
I’m really good friends with delusion right now. The truth is that I have been for a few years but it’s only been in 2013 that I’ve directed my superpower of delusional thinking towards my life’s work: writing. Perhaps this delusion is Nietzsche’s “intoxication” who famously wrote that
for art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.
Thankfully, my delusion has been strong and steady this year – strong enough for me to break 30 years of creative block and create a vision for my life, of which this blog is a tiny piece.
The Awesome Power of Creative Delusion
Before going on, we need to explore the awesome power of creative delusion. Perhaps it sounds romantic or cute. But, in fact, it’s probably responsible for most human innovation & change. So when I use the term think earthquake, not rainbow.
In my life, creative delusion has worked something like this:
One is hobbling through life. Something is deeply wrong, missing.
Suddenly, in reward for haphazard yet profound soul-searching, angels inject a massive dose of creative delusion into the mind.
Thereafter, one not only beats creative block, but creates all the time for the universe is ever-abundant with ideas and creative sustenance. The idea component is seamlessly matched with action & work. A blueprint of one’s life work begins to appear. One begins designing and working on 2 non-fiction books & 1 poetry manuscript (even though one knows that this world could give a fig about poetry). One also begins designing and implementing a business idea that will support the writing & help others on their journey.
Most importantly, one believes that if they only act in accordance with their vision, they’ll succeed.
As you can imagine, creative delusion is a tremendous ride. We’re talking caramel apples, state fair ferris wheel kind of thing. But something terrible happened to my delusion last week. Every week, I allot time for my personal study and creative production. That time does not include work on this blog or my business. I made a promise to myself that I would be a writer first and an everything else second.
But ambition and fear took control.
I decided to enroll in this course that teaches people to guest blog successfully for the internet. Of course, there is a pretty strict program to follow and you’re supposed to stick to the principles that the guru-teacher found to be successful over his short 3-year career of online writing (what constitutes short in the world of GOOGLE, anyway? Maybe this guy has a really long career. How would I know?)
I started to lose a lot of power, not because the principles were wrong or bad in any way, but because I was told my unique vision had little to no traction, that I first had to build traction by being like everyone else . . . and follow the formula. After I became successful, I could think about my vision and do things my own way.
Can you hear the creative delusion bubble pop?
And a second thing happened. I decided to put my personal writing on hold until I got my website up.
That was a very bad idea.
The little time I gained in building my new website was not worth sacrificing 2 days of creative productivity.
Last week, I broke my promise to myself & it made me feel like crap. I wasn’t a writer first. I was a student and a website builder and a strategic thinker. But I wasn’t a writer. I wasn’t inspiring myself and I wasn’t working.
So, please don’t do what I did. If you’re a creative dreamer looking to do your real work in this world, you need your delusions. You need them to help incubate your identity and career, you need them to muddle through your first successes, and you need them AFTER (even after!) people around you begin to recognize you for all the hard work you have put in. This is when the real interference begins & you’ll need your delusion to stay true to your curiosities & gifts.
Creative Manna & Your Job as Se-er
Below, I collected some beautiful words and quotes for you. Print them out. Hang them up. When your creative delusion bubble pops, when someone expresses lack of confidence in your vision, read them please. Remind yourself of who you are and what your work really is.
And I hate to say this because I love you & I love your vision. But don’t expect anyone else to really get all this creative delusion stuff. The only people who will get it are other rebel creators, innovators & creative dreamers. And remember, these people who might not support you fully now are the same exact people who might thank you later. Not that you’re all that. But because you had a vision and you gifted something out of it. It’s that simple.
Don’t resent those who can’t yet see what you can see. That see-ing is your job, not theirs. So buck up & embrace your creative vision with all you have & don’t let go.
Neil Gaimon calls his creative vision a “mountain.” He’s made a practice of pursuing projects that only take him towards his mountain & refused projects that take him away from it.
Need a little more inspiration before you read & print the quotes: Here is a video of Neil Gaimon’s commencement speech. Just watch & then do that.
5 Quotes from Enormously Creative People Who Know How Eff-ing Hard It Is (manna)
I recommend the following course of action for those who are just beginning their careers, or for those, who like me, may be re-configuring mid-way through. Heed the words of Robert Frost. Start with a big, fat lump in your throat, start with a profound sense of wrong, or a deep homesickness, or a crazy lovesickness and run with it. If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Debbie Millman
People who know what they’re doing know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules for what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who have not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them . . . and you can. Neil Gaimon
A freelance life, a life in the arts is a lot like putting messages in bottles and hoping someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it and put something in a bottle that will find its way back to you. Neil Gaimon
Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what will be and asked why not? Pablo Picasso
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. Martha Graham
For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” F. Nietzsche
Creativity is an act of defiance. Twila Tharp
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As always BIG hugs for You Creators in this Hostile but Wondrous World. Long Live Your Dreams!
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Hugely inspirational post! I’m not a fan of formula. In fact, “breaking” the formula got me into some messes in college. I just wasn’t about to sacrifice my visions for some stupid tried and true way. Maybe I’m naive, but whatever. Rebel creators we are! And I could watch that Neil Gaiman speech a hundred times over.
Thanks Cassandra. I’m not a fan either. We’re audacious aren’t we?
Powerful and true! Us creative types march to the rhythm of our own drum, for this reason we are often misunderstood. Long live the Rebel Creators!
Rebel Creators, whatever we are, MUST listen to their own vision & act on that. But knowing the rules of the game is an important stepping stone. Just doesn’t mean we have to play by them all the time 🙂
I think I took that same guest posting class. It also ended up making me feel like I needed to march in line, which it turns out I’m really poor at. Thank you for this reminder to return to my personal delusional fire, which is so much more motivating! I just found you through the Amazing Biz and Life Academy!
Hey fellow BIZ academy member! So glad to *meet* you.
AWESOME post! I have shared everywhere – I just love this post. Entreprenurial delusion is the same, Big Dreamer delusion is the same. Not only have I shared it, I’ve bookmarked it to come back and read again and again! Thank you for reminding me that deluded is good – I was in danger of forgetting! xxx
Thanks Donna! I agree — this is about dreams, whatever they may be & the courage (and delusions) to go for them!