The Myth of Creative Success

by joelmckerrow

This year we become a family of four. A little fire. A melody. A wifey. And me. That is four heads to shelter, four bodies to clothe, four mouths to feed and forty toes to keep warm. And its all on my paycheque. The glorious income of a poet. Now that is a daunting reality.

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A full time poet. This is what I have prided myself on being the last few years. And yet now, this year, I take on another job to feed the four hungry mouths. So no longer am I technically a full-time poet. My ego bucks at this. Wants to be recognised. Admired. Wants the myth of success.

The notion of the full-time creative in any field is one that is strived for. There is a myth that once you are a full time poet/musician/writer/dancer/whatever then you have truly made it. When your art pays for your life then you have reached artistic Nirvana. The top of your game. Success.

I think its time we called this one for what it is…BULLS%#T.

The full-time artist life is a lot less romantic than the myth of said life. Most weeks I would get one day of actual writing and the rest of the time my creativity was dolled out the same way as everybody else’s – between the cracks, in the stolen minutes, when the boy is finally asleep, after I write these invoices, between these fifty emails, sitting in the carpark of the school I am teaching in that day, in the greenroom of another poetry gig.

This is reality, I would say, for almost every creative person in the world. Certainly every full-time creative who has ever been honest with me about the actuality of their lifestyle. The myth is never the reality. Reality is hectic tour schedules and broken relationships and lonely hotels and millions of emails and screwed up business deals and bloody hard work to make it all happen. So even if we are ‘full-time artists,’ we cannot escape the normality. The frustration of the everyday. We wont ever have an open slather of free time for our creativity. The dream of endless artistic freedom. Simply put, it doesn’t exist. So heres a thought, lets just create anyway.

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But oh how we demand this myth of success, how we aim for it and put SO much pressure on our creativity to come through with the goods, to provide for us. If only I could be that full-time poet then life would just be peachy. Then creativity would flow. Then…then…always then. But when you get to the then it is never what it is meant to be. Ask Amy. She made me cry the other night. Amy Winehouse. The documentary on her life, ‘AMY’. The cheeky, saucy, creative girl with the huge smile. Seeing the crumbling of someone so stunning. The loss of herself in the face of ‘making it’. I watched the doco on a plane coming home from some gig and I just wept. The big snotty weeping that makes people look at you weirdly. I could not help it. A tragic loss to the world. The smashing apart of a life under the weight of all that we seemingly think of as creative success. I think we need some new definitions. Of what it is to ‘make-it’. Of success. Of creative freedom. There is just too much pressure placed on these things. Inevitably they shall crack and crumble.

So here is what I would say. None of us, not even full-time creatives, will ever have the time we would like, the resources, the freedom from the trivial realities of life, the open expanse of endless creativity. The myth is not reality. Even when you are living in the myth you quickly realise it for what it is. So what if you and I stop pressuring our creativity to provide. What if we stop putting so much weight on ourselves to ‘make-it’. What if we just create. What if we let our creativity out to play in whatever way she wants to, whether she makes us money or not. What if we redefine creative success. What if we create not to get published, not to get enough money to do this full-time, what if we create just because. Because we will die if we don’t. Because everything in us must write or dance or paint. Because this thing we do is the love of our lives. Because creativity feels like volts of electricity pulsing through the realities of our normality.

And I am not saying do not hustle. Absolutely still chase. Still chase the next award, the publishing deal, the gallery show, the Broadway production, whatever it might be. Still chase. But know that what you are chasing is never the reason. Chase because no matter how hard the chase, no matter how much work you put in and no matter if you never get there in the end, it is still all worth it simply because you made a thing. So do this thing for the love of it, not for anything else. It is only LOVE that shall give you the persistence you need to keep going with your creativity regardless of the failures and rejections and the 9-5 job you have to hold down so you can pay to live. Let us stop demanding from ourselves and our creativity this myth of success.

Let yourself off the hook. Stop telling your paintbrushes and pens they need to provide for you. I wonder what might happen to your creative expression should you do so.

Version 2

I am no longer a ‘full-time’ poet. There is something else I am doing to subsidise my writing, to feed the four mouths. And I am learning that this, that this is OK. That this can honour my creativity much more so than the myth of being the ‘full-time’ artist. I am learning that I am always a full-time creative. This is my life, whatever I do, this is my life and my existence. This is enough.

Bottom Photo Credit: John Englezos

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