"We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause."
― Steven Pressfield in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
In a world that values things by how popular they are, how many followers they have or how much money it generates, carving out space to work on and express your creative passion becomes an even deeper personal battle. I am a writer and it took me almost a decade to tap into my creative voice in a genuine way. Over eight years ago I barely had a sense of how to write a book, never mind track my daily work count. Today I am writing the draft of my second novel in less than 90 days thanks to the LA Writer's Lab program and I am logging an average of 2,500 words per day (in a spreadsheet!). It's seriously a freaking miracle that came about through blood, sweat and tears. When one finally taps into their creative geyser and finds the discipline, time and energy to DO THEIR WORK, it is a miracle of epic proportions that transforms your life in ways that cannot be measured by the traditional markers.
In addition to being a writer, I have an M.B.A. and I have helped to run companies for over a decade. I am familiar with the model where I sell goods and services and in return the aggregated market purchases them for this currency called money. That is how I made a living, how the business makes a profit and how the world goes round and round. Until my creativity exploded and I realized, you can't guarantee a million likes or purchases. Oh hell, you can't even guarantee 1,000.
I remember when I took a few months away from work to focus on my novel Reclaiming Konia full time (I had started it 8 years earlier and I would have hated myself if I never completed it before I died - yes it was that serious). I sat there looking at the relatively puny state of my checkbook balance but I knew with every fiber of my being that I would finish my book even if I had to be broke and eat Top Ramen for the rest of my days. I hoped that wouldn't be the case, but my capitalist tendencies had been so placated by the absolute necessity of my soul to fulfill its destiny that I would have suffered the unthinkable to achieve it. And that was a profound shift for me.
Suddenly I was not just a businesswoman. I was an artist. I was a writer. Suddenly something I had held deep inside that might not be "enough" was my greatest calling to fulfill. I wanted to be a writer so badly it hurt. I had to write these thoughts, these articles, these books - whether or not a soul cared or read them - but because those voices inside my head were beckoning for me to respond to them and create my body of literary work. They didn't say "create this so that you will make lots of money." Instead they said something along the lines of "You must create this because it is your life purpose to express your unique thoughts and journey." Unfulfilling this calling to write would have meant a lifetime of repression and self-loathing.
Add to that the fact that I enjoyed expressing my thoughts on paper! When the geyser is flowing it is a JOY to be able to express my ideas and share them with the world (or one person, or nobody). Any artist in the grips of a creative block or writer's block will tell you how painfully crippling that lack of flow can be. Money flow isn't the only thing that matters! Find an artist who has lost their creative flow and I will show you a person who is suffering. Being an artist isn't what we do, it's who we are. But if we cannot express our art, then we do not feel 100 percent ourselves!
We've heard the famous quote attributed to Winston Churchill, who when asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort said: "Then what are we fighting for?" He also said, "The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them." Churchill himself was an avid painter and writer. He understood the value of creativity to national society.
So here I am a gal with a college degree and a background in B2B sales trying to figure out this new phase of my life as an artist. Through connecting via networking events with Sarah Moshman, a documentary filmmaker and TV producer, I discovered more about the concept of grants, raising money, crowdfunding, and fiscal sponsorship. Well what was this strange phenomenon they forgot to teach me in business school (before I realized I would blossom into a starving artist)? Okay I'm not starving, but you understand the cliché.
Lo and behold I received the approval to be fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit that supports artists. This sponsorship allows me to raise money for my Literary Arts and provide donors with a tax deductible receipt. I attended a webinar on how to begin raising money and Fractured Atlas said the best way to raise money was (wait for it)... to ASK! Yet I discovered that I felt like a person at the freeway off ramp asking for change. The organization said that all major art museums and the New York Metropolitan Opera (for God's sake) stayed afloat by donations from supporters, so why was I so leery of this process?
Then it dawned on me - if all these major, prestigious organizations and institutions survived and thrived on donations and grants, then I could do the same. My brain graciously reminded me that all of our political candidates raise money this way, millions of dollars, even. I began to understand that it was just my old perspective that buying and selling goods or services in exchange for money was the only valid business model (I know, I know, let's break out the dunce cap now). If this was just a different way of funding something than I could completely and totally decide that my work was important, it was valid and I could find the courage to ask donors to contribute on my Fiscal Sponsorship page. And I did. I started the process and it didn't kill me. How's that for a breakthrough?!
Apparently I am not the only one. As Fractured Atlas's Executive Director, Adam Huttler tells us: "A lot of artists place a stigma on fundraising. The implication is that if the work was good enough, then the market would support it. The truth is that, since the time of the Medicis, great art has often required philanthropic subsidy to be economically viable. Fractured Atlas is honored to provide the infrastructure that makes securing that subsidy a bit less daunting and a lot less painful."
In The War of Art (the bible of breaking through your creative blocks) author Steven Pressfield states that "The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like."
The need to create is primal and imperative. To respond to the inspiration that flows to us whether or not anyone sees it, reads it or buys it, is essential to our survival. Of course you hope people will (in droves) and if they don't, you are devastated. But this is what makes the working artist so courageous - you work through the pain because you know from the depths of your gut that you are supposed to create, even if there is no external validation for your works (ever). As a matter of fact the sole validation has to be internal because you absolutely must do it, never knowing what the result will be.
Happiness may come as a by-product of the work (one can hope) and we have the right to ask for our rewards. Rewards may or may not come, but for me, expression itself is now its own reward. Because I still remember a time when I had writer's block and hadn't yet published any book. Creative expression, for now, will be my glorious prize.