On Building (and sustaining) Creative Momentum

Like many creatives, I’ve spent years working in starts and fits, trying to produce something that satisfies me enough to want to share it with the world. I have a lot going for me as a creative person: a rich interior life; a personality that enjoys experimenting and trying new things; being comfortable with failure; and a shitton of creative energy. Which all sounds pretty good, right?

So why have I been unable to find any success in my creative endeavors?

Certainly I could blame the rest of the world for not ‘getting me.’ The temptation to retreat into a sense of detached ennui perpetually threatens to engulf this fragile artist’s ego. I could tell (and have told) myself that I’m just not relatable, or that I lack the “qualifications” that are necessary to be achieve success with my creativity. I could spend the rest of my life spitting out projects and watching them die off with no real impact. But I don’t want to do any of that. I want my work to have its own life so that when I put it out into the world it can be used and appreciated by other people for as long as possible.

As much as we like to tout the idea that ‘the creative process is it’s own reward,’ we must acknowledge that art is a form of communication. When we make art and share it with the world it’s because we want others to see/hear/read our work, and feel something. Do we need millions of people to consume our work and celebrate us to be successful? No. But we do need an audience that is willing to come along with us for the ride. Without an audience, we artists are just talking to ourselves with our art – and we do enough of that already.

I spent the month of December offline (a practice that always gives me room to think and grow) during which time it occurred to me that the missing ingredient for my creative success is momentum.

Churning out work is all fine and good, and there is certainly no substitute for showing up every day, ready to engage with the creative process. But that’s only part of the equation. I know this because I’ve spent 20+ years working my ass off in multiple fields, trying to gain traction, only to repeatedly find myself back at square one. My adulthood is a record of my ongoing failure to move the needle in every area of my life. I realize now that it’s because I’ve failed to build momentum.

I’m no physicist, but I have a general understanding of what momentum is: the force/power in a moving object. I am that moving object, but I’ve never really gained momentum, creatively. Instead, I’ve worked mainly on a superficial level, generating short bursts of excited noise, gaining momentary attention, and then burning out quickly. I’ve begun ambitious projects again and again, only to have them derailed by the multitude of interruptions that show up without warning on a weekly basis in this modern life.

So I’ve decided what I need is to build momentum that lasts. Momentum that gains. Momentum that can’t be thrown off by the never-ending chaos and unpredictable nature of things. I don’t want to be waves breaking on the seashore anymore. I want to be a motherfucking tsunami. Unstoppable in my creative work.

Unfortunately, the nature of our online existence rewards shallow, bright-and-sparkly things that can be easily consumed and quickly forgotten. I now realize that I could easily live the rest of my life playing the social media game and have nothing to show for it when I’m dead. If I calculated the number of words I’ve written on social platforms over the last ten years, I could have already produced multiple novels. And where are they? What can I point to and say, “here’s the work of my life?”

The momentum-building writing I need to do now must come from a foundation of deep thinking, deliberate work, and tenacity that produces excellence.

I don’t have that foundation anymore. I used to, when I was too young and stupid to know what to do with it. (To be fair I had lots of other hangups I had to work through before I could get here, so there’s no point in wallowing in regret. I’m here now, and that’s what counts.) To get it back I have to have structure, discipline, and perhaps most terrifying of all, the ability to be comfortable alone with my thoughts for long periods of time. I have to learn how to push through barriers that come up – psychological and intellectual – and keep at them until I’ve blazed a new trail for myself.

This shit is hard. It’s also lonely. But I’d rather do the hard, lonely things now than waste another moment frittering away my gifts on things that don’t matter. Which is not to say that social media doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t have an important role to play in my life. My point here is that, in my desperation to be seen, I’m trading time and energy that could be better used doing things that I can ultimately be proud of.

There’s a choice I need to make, and it’s one I have to make every day.

Anyway, I may be a little quieter online than I have been in the past, but it’s not because I don’t love my friends or enjoy being social; it’s because I’m about to turn fifty. My energy is not as high as it once was and I have to be more judicious about what I spend it on. Also, I’m increasingly aware that my time on this planet is limited, and I don’t want to waste a single precious minute on things that don’t really matter to me at the end of the day.

I’m making a commitment to myself (and to you, friend), to take myself and my work seriously. To give the best I’ve got (even when it’s not that good), and to keep trying to tell stories that matter for as long as there’s breath in my body. I hope you’ll be patient with me.

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy 2024,

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