Read an Excerpt
Why Leap off the Cliff in the First Place?
Whether you realize it or not, you and you alone have something unique to create. None of the billions of other people who populate the earth has your particular talents, knowledge, experience, and dreams. This is your birthrightthe gift you have been given. Whether it's creating the ultimate bagel, a thriving dry-cleaning business, a lifetime of exquisite tapestries, or a child, you are the only one who carries its blueprints. If you've ever listened to that small, still voice in the dark recesses of your soul, you know this is true. Somewhere in there, the longing to manifest this gift speaks to you on a regular basis; it's that embarrassing dream you keep coming back to, the one that usually feels so hopeless.
The purpose of this book is to explore the one thing necessary to move you toward that dream, your own creative processthe steps you must take to turn that dream into reality. Understanding the sometimes-fickle, sometimes-
euphoric nature of all this creating is key to making progress.
So why does there need to be an entire book about the creative process? Because if you don't know how creativity works, you may never realize any of your dreams, whether they are becoming a fine artist, playing pro ball, or managing a mutual fund. Your creative process informs every decision you make, from conceptualizing, problem solving, and networking to deciding which emotion to express. Creativity is not the lone province of artistic types with dirty fingernails living in picturesque garrets. Rather, the creative process is a lifeblood we all sharea fundamental human property with millions ofapplications. It is essential to accomplishing anything in life that's uniquely your own; it is the engine that drives your dreams.
Unfortunately, there is one small problem. Out there right now, circulating around the atmosphere, is a carload (an eighteen-wheeler load, really) of out-and-out lies about creativity. And if you're trying to pursue any kind of dream, you can't help but get run over by it once in a while. Hopefully, armed with enough information and clarity, you can dodge those madly careening trucks and see your way to the other side. I wrote this book in an attempt to prevent further roadkill.
I figure, all the lies surrounding this process have persisted because we're basically a doubting, disbelieving breed. We have to make up whatever thoughts we can to keep us from doing the work of our dreams, and so the myths persist. In nearly twenty years of my own creative work, many of them spent encouraging others to express themselves, I've seen more people cling to more lies that render them absolutely powerless than I ever thought possible. They believe these lies will keep them gloriously afloat, yet such lies are nothing more than leaky life rafts that will only hold them up for a while before giving out entirely. Furthermore, hanging out on a life raft is no substitute for swimming. Whether you admit it or not, that dream of yours isn't going away. Far from it. It will badger you relentlessly until you finally give in and listen.
Chances are, your dream has persisted doggedly and continues to chatter at you regardless of how often you shove it aside. Look at how it reappears at odd, restless times like the middle of the night or those first crystal-clear moments of the daywhenever you're unusually lucid and your mind is free of clutter. Its voice carries on year after year, decade after decade, growing fainter at some times and stronger at others, but still refusing to die altogether.
It is almost as if we cannot bear these precious, private visions. The very presence of a dream is incredibly threatening, for to take action and actually follow it requires a freedom we think we do not havenot here, not now, not in this secure, comfort-lined world we've constructed to be as seamless and mindless as possible. Pursuing the dream would mean too much hard work, too many demanding hours, less security, less TV! Worst of all, it would mean exposure and even more mortifying ...potential humiliation.
Yet think of how devastating it would be to come to the end of your life and realize you've missed your chance. If you settled for mediocrity and die with most of your potential unrealized, you would have blown it big time, once and for all. That really is the end of the road; there will be no going back.
This withering scenario should never happen at all, for the pursuit of a dream is actually a simple, straightforward affair. Pursuing dreams requires bravery, discipline, patience, and ingenuity, yet these are qualities every one of us possessesif we're willing to do the hard work dreams demand. If we're willing to honor our creative process instead of fighting it. Pursuing your dreams simply means flexing the muscle of your creativity, slowly at first, but then with more vigor and confidence as you feed it the food of your own passionate conviction and it becomes stronger and stronger.
Creativity is that magic seed many of us assume we were born without. Yet it is lying latent, waiting in every single one of us. This book is about tending that seed, so that it flourishes as effortlessly and as naturally as God, Brahma, the Universe, or whoever originally intended.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not a temperamental, whimsical, all-too-fragile breeze that may or may not blow in our direction. This book is intended to smash that myth as well. The fact is, your creative instincts are a lot like your underwear: they're right there in the drawer waiting for you to climb into them every day, durable and dependable, and they don't play favorites. Your instincts are on call whenever you need them, as long as you remember to reach for them. That's really all you need to know.
Well, okay, you say. But why bother with all this dream-pursuing, creative hoo-ha in the first place?
Simply because of the joy.
If you can manage to leap off the cliff and trust yourself to fly, you will experience a fine, effortless joy like nothing else. You will experience a larger connectedness with the Universe and, possibly for the first time, see your place in it and your own unique value to it. You will be doing what you were always, originally intended to do. This is the secret of the whole process. Once you've truly tasted that fantastic fruit of joy, there is literally nothing, not even years of flat-out rejection and failure, that can keep you from its magic. The process of creating the dream becomes too pleasurable to resist.
It may take a while to wade through all your resistance, fears, misperceptions, and basic disbelief in yourself. It may take far longer than you think it should. But if you can just keep going through the process, and trust yourself in a basic way not attempted before, the joy will be yours. Your vision and creative instincts will become stronger, clearer, and more vital each time you connect with them. Your commitment will strengthen, and as it does, the world will cooperate in ways you never would have expected. Little signposts will appear along the way, offering support and encouragement. People will show up, bringing challenges, ideas, or information. Your dream will begin to materialize, the result of nothing more than finally listening to the still, small voice within and acting accordingly.
It is out of my love for this perfectly simple arrangement that I wrote this book. It is also out of my love for you. The joy is available to all of us, right this minute, here and now, forever and ever.
All you have to ask yourself is this: How much joy can you stand?
Try This ...
When the raw stuff of dreams begins to collect, you might want to store it all somewhere. Sprinkle a handful of blank notebooks throughout your life for jotting down ideas and inspirations. Keep a small tape recorder on hand for recording observations. Buy some large plastic boxes for keeping bits and pieces of the raw materials your dream demands. Then designate a specific place for this important cache: the piano bench, an empty closet, or the bottom drawer in your desk.
Once you've begun to collect ideas, materials, odds and ends that pertain to your dream, feel free to dig into your cache frequently and create. The fact is, the more you write, record, and accumulate, the more power you give to your
Now get out there and have fun.
Proof That Rejection Won't Kill You
The first time I wrote a novel, I heard a monotonous hum in the background the entire time. It was my mind chanting, The first time this gets rejected, I will die. The first time this gets rejected, I will die.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Somehow, I managed to finish the thing and put it into the hands of a few people I knew in the publishing business. The first rejection rolled in from the sister of a friend, a six-month publishing novice who was a secretary to a famous editor. "Well, first of all," she began, "the whole thing needs a major haircut."
A haircut! A HAIRCUT!! sputtered my indignant mind. Why don't we just shave it all off and go bald? "Hnnh," I said, as noncommitally as I could.
"Yes, and some of these characters, Suzanne..." her voice trailed off in dismay. "How shall I put this? They were just ... well ... trite."
TRITE ... TRITE???!!! Now my mind was under siege, and emergency help was running in from all directions. Somehow, and I don't remember how, I managed to wind up the conversation and get off the phone before she finished her critique, whereupon I broke down into racking, heaving sobs. My book had been soundly rejectedhated, even.
Yet I did not die.
Ultimately, I signed with a literary agent who did his best to sell the book, but no one wanted to buy it. Every couple of weeks or so for an entire year, another elegant, cream-colored rejection letter with my name neatly typed on it would slip through the mail slot. For a while they just accumulated on my desk, but then one day I shored up my soul, sat down, and read them all, one by one. Immediately I began to understand something about rejection: it's nothing personal.
In fact, almost every one of the twenty-seven rejection letters I got had a different reason for not buying my book. Some editors wanted the book but couldn't convince their bosses or their marketing teams to buy it. Others loved the writing but not the plot. Some didn't like the characters or the fact that the book didn't have a stronger social relevance. But not one of them said a word about me personally. No letter said, "How can you send me a book by such a loser?" or "What kind of idiot wrote this thing?"all of which seemed entirely possible to my warped thinking. The bottom line was that my book was rejected by every single publisher in New York, but not only did I survive, I managed to keep on writing.
What I learned from this experience was nonattachment. This is quite literally the difference between those who achieve their dream and those who don't.
For every person who cannot put his or her dream in place, there is a whole lot of silent screaming going on: Help! I might finish it. Help! It might succeed. Help! I might finally be someone and have to answer for myself in the world. HELP! Recognition will probably destroy me. The sad thing is, it isn't us the world is waiting to recognize; it is only our work. This is where nonattachment comes in.
First and foremost, we are not our work. We are living, breathing people who create businesses, art, ideas, and babies. But these are not, and never will be, the stuff we're made of. Still, somehow, in the process of caring a hell of a lot about something, and pouring all your sweat and blood into it, you can get terribly confused.
When a performer goes out on a stage, he may feel the audience is judging every aspect of him and his life. In fact, all that poor audience is doing is waiting to be entertained a little. They aren't commenting on the actor's looks, politics, hairstyle, or intelligence. These are really the furthest things from their minds. When they applaud, they are just telling a performer that they liked what she did at that particular moment, in that particular place. That's all. The rest, quite honestly, they don't even care about, nor should they be expected to.
So it isn't up to me what the world thinks of me; the world will think what it thinks, and I have no control over this. Indeed, my job is simply to do the work and send it out there. That is all; end of story. It isn't up to me to make the world like me, any more than it is up to me to determine the fate of my creative undertakings. In fact, I contend that the more honest, provocative, and truly vulnerable I am with my work, the more vocal will be those who despise it. However, by the same token, my honesty will genuinely touch more people as well.
What we have to keep remembering is to release these gifts as easily and as effortlessly as they were given to us in the first place. Not because they will make us rich, nor because they bear any significance at all. We must release these gifts simply because they flowed through us and must now be given awaywhether to the public at large or even just to someone we love. And should we decide to go public with the work and it gets rejected once, or even hundreds of times, we simply need to follow our instincts and keep on releasing it until we sense that it is time to stop. Perhaps our work will be appreciated; perhaps it won't. That we created it in the first place means we have grown in the processwhich is crucial to do in our life.
Each project we undertake is merely another milestone on our own particular path, a signpost that has to be passed in order to reach the next one. We all have our share of scathing reviews, bitter rejections, and out-and-out failure, but ultimately who even cares? The bigger question is, can you go to bed comforted by the thought that you came a little closer to accomplishing your vision? Can you say to yourself, I did my workmy real worktoday?
Creativity is a selfless act, demanding that you give of yourself simply for the sheer love of giving. We cannot give our work to the world expecting any kind of reward. That this simple act requires courage is merely creativity's gift to us in return.
Try This ...
Take a moment and assess: How exactly do you handle rejection? Are you a quitter? A pouter? A take-it-on-the-chin type? Are you someone who seeks revenge? Or do you avoid rejection altogether by never starting anything in the first place?
If you're not sure, try writing down at least three times you suffered rejections. (They can be work-related or personal.) Then carefully reconstruct exactly how you handled each experience. What is the status of those efforts today? Was anything learned?