It happened again.
You were out to dinner with your Writer Friend, and the waiter came over to see if you needed anything. This led to a short, friendly conversation with him, and as he walked away your meal companion apologized for reaching into her purse to get her phone.
She opened her Notes application and explained, “I have to jot that down. What he said was so perfect for something I’m working on. It just gave me a bunch of ideas.”
You sat back and took a sip of your Syrah while thinking, “We’re supposed to be having a relaxing dinner … The last thing I’m thinking about right now is work. She’s not doing real work anyway. It’s annoying that she calls it work.”
The nonsensical nature of creative work can bewilder onlookers, but if we dig a little deeper, I don’t think creative work is all that different from other types of work.
This topic has two branches
The original position I held when this post was an idea seedling was that creative processes don’t look like tasks: a creative process takes an undetermined amount of time, whereas the length of a defined task can be assessed more accurately.
When my idea seedling blossomed into a blog post plant, one branch became guidance about how to successfully incorporate creative work into your schedule. That’s what I’ll cover tomorrow on Copyblogger.
The other branch, today’s topic, sprouted into how a creative career develops in the first place.
The development of a creative career
Since a creative career might be thought of as “fun,” it can also get tangled up with ideas about “luck.”
However, “fun” is not separate from hard work. A fun job can be challenging. You can love work that requires a lot of time and effort.
“Luck” puts a spotlight on an exquisite five-course meal, beautifully plated and served on an elegant banquet table. It ignores the kitchen full of under/over-cooked mistakes and dirty dishes.
I’m the first one to admit that sometimes people are just in the right place at the right time, but I’d also argue that being in the right place at the right time is a direct result of relentless research.
Creative professionals might feel lucky to have their positions, but luck wasn’t the main factor that got them there.
Paying your dues
All jobs require experience, and creative jobs are no exception.
For example, if you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school, pass the Bar Exam, and then apply for the appropriate positions for recent grads. You’ve also likely had jobs related to the legal profession while you were a student.
If you want to be a professional writer and content marketer, it has to be part of your nature to create when no one is watching. Artists develop their own bodies of work — most of the time with little or no direction from external sources.
It’s not luck; it’s determination.
And those who succeed have failed faster and found better ways to realize their ambitious dreams.
Creative work: it’s about the end result
Here’s where the split happens.
While attaining a creative position is similar to how you land other types of jobs, the day-to-day activities of a creative job often look different.
“The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.” – Carl Jung
In other words, creative work can be a hot ass mess — until it’s not, and you end up with the exact creation you need.
Rather than tracking the completion of exact tasks during the workday in order to demonstrate that you’re making progress, the final product you deliver is what matters.
That’s why your Writer Friend is still working when you’ve switched off for the day. As much as she might try to set boundaries around her work, cooking up that hot ass mess doesn’t always end at 6:00 p.m.
Professionals are creative on demand
Before I wrote this section, I poured myself a new cup of tea and got the message in the image above.
I believe that everyone is creative, regardless of their job title. But as Sonia pointed out recently, creative professionals have developed ways to produce creativity on demand.
I’ve set a goal this year to refine one of my creative processes, and tomorrow I’m going to share what that improvement looks like.
See you then.