"Chaos is a ladder," so says Game of Thrones.
My goal is to meet the person who wrote that line.
Like all great art, there are a million ways you can interpret it. Please, enjoy your own. But mine? Mine came to me the same way my first book did - like lightning that feels like it's from a storm that came out of nowhere until you realize it's been gathering steam for 24 years.
This one had been growing for 30.
In my favorite book on creativity, author Don Hahn (an artist whose great legacy is creating the Creative Teacup logo, but who's also done a couple other things like producing The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast) wrote a section on chaos that changed my life.
Because I'm a recovering academic. A former straight-A-student turned artist. Don would probably argue that I didn't "turn into" an artist, because I always was one. I agree. But it took me so dang long to figure it out that there was a transformation that had to occur. I had to welcome things that straight-A-students hate. I had to welcome chaos. I had to embrace disorder. I had to become best friends with the whole spinning mess that is being an artist.
I also had to learn that failure, or even simply erasing everything and starting over, isn't the same as an "F" on a school paper; I had to learn that in art, the only way to the "A" is through a whole lot of "F's."
Committing myself to doing creative work and completing a big creative project (i.e. my second book, on dreams) has been a life-changing experience, and it's still going on. On some level I know the roller coaster of chaos will never end, but enduring through this particular creative ride feels significant because it's the first and biggest project I've ever done as a writer.
And yes, this is my second book.
I was a writer when I wrote my first book. Yes. That's true. But I didn't think of myself as a writer. And I definitely didn't think of myself as creative or an artist. I was just a person with an idea for words on pages. It came to me fast. I wrote it fast. It got published fast. There was no roller coaster. No drama. No spinning. No nausea. It was great.
So imagine my surprise when I start a second book thinking it's going to be light little carousel and all of a sudden the horse is off the tracks Mary-Poppin's style, careening past cartoon land and into a dark forest that ends off a cliff.
My first book took me a year. What is happening?
My horse and I fell off the cliff year two. We found a way back up in year three. We're stronger. We're still a little nauseous. But we're still going.
One of the things that kept me going was something Elizabeth Gilbert helped me understand - that my first book didn't take a year to write. It took me 24 years.
That idea helped a lot when I was beating myself up for being almost-30 and not finishing my second book (I know, I know, annoying straight-A-student behavior...#guilty). I'm in year three of my second book and in addition to the Elizabeth Gilbert revelation the other thing that helps me through the chaos is remembering that it took Lin Manuel-Miranda six years to write Hamilton. And, ok, so it's not like I'm saying I'm writing Hamilton. But here's the straight-A-student part of me that will never die - I want to do the best work I can possibly do. And if I've learned anything from these Creative Teacup interviews so far it's this: doing your best work takes time...usually more time than you think. Definitely more time than you wish.
Hence, the chaos. Because at some point in that time, in that gap between where you are and where you want to be, you will question everything. You will question whether or not you'll ever be good enough. You'll question whether anything will come from the mess you've made. You'll question your dreams. You'll question whether chaos really is a ladder or just this stupid thing Isa and Game of Thrones told you. And worst of all, you'll question one of the best things about you. The worst moment in the chaos, the hardest to endure, is the one where this voice tells you that the best thing about you is the worst thing about you. It will try to get you to reject a wonderful thing inside you. A thing you want to bring out. The thing your creativity will bring out. You'll want to put that thing in it's place, crush it so it never causes such chaos in your life again.
It was a moment exactly like this where I got the idea for my second book, and it's that moment that the book will be for - for people who are in the heart of endurance...the part that feels like failure and worthlessness, but is really just you enduring towards something important.
So here is where things stand with me today:
Chaos? I definitely think of it as a ladder. I think about all the amazing things that can come from it if I can just hold on, spin, and endure. I think about the lightning that springs from chaos, and how those ideas will never come if I demand that everything makes sense all the time. Creativity won't work if I can't endure the mess or mystery. I don't have to like it. But I have to endure it. I think to myself "chaos is a ladder" almost every day now. (And to be clear...I don't mean some kind of ladder where I want to use my dragons to rule the seven kingdoms or anything, just, you know, like, just that chaos is a doorway to growth. Ok?)
My next book? I'm working on it. I have three quarters of a million words in transcriptions from the 120 interviews I conducted. The words have been spinning around me (i.e. chaos), but recently they've started to take shape - I'm starting to see something that wasn't there before, something the mess itself created. The mess is my friend. The mess is my friend. (Another mantra I've adopted...GOT writers, you're welcome to use it). ;)
This blog? It's here to stay. I know why I started this blog, but it took a while for me to really understand what this blog was about. It started for me, a quiet place for me to explore the questions I had about creativity and art and ask questions of the creative people I was drawn to more and more. And now I finally know what it's really about, what it was always about.
This blog is a place for you to find creative mentors. It's a place where I will share everything I learn about creativity from the people I interview and give you access and exposure to people making a living or making a life with their art - not so you can be jealous or feel bad about yourself or think that they're so cool - but so that you can do it too. My goal is not really for you to see them as an artist or see me as an artist...my goal is for you to see yourself as an artist.
Whether it's in a particular person or craft or moment of struggle in a story, my hope is that you will find in these stories what I found in them - hope. Hope that creativity isn't only for the people who already know they're creative, hope that being an artist is not just for people who paint, and hope that creativity isn't just something you have or you don't, but something you can grow.
And....well....also hope that the nauseating feeling on the spinning teacups of creativity isn't just normal, it's okay. It's part of it. It's maybe even a sign you're doing something right. Maybe even, at some point, it becomes fun. (Not for me...though....just so we're clear...spinning in the real and metaphorical sense...I hate it...but because of what's on the other side...I've learned to deal).
As I was talking to my friend Brittany about this and about how I was going to start live blogging about my creative journey via email for a little while, she randomly drew this - a creativity roller coaster - and I begged her to send it to me so I could share it here:
I can't think of a better way to explain what I'll be live blogging about via email in the coming months. It will be a private list where I'm going to talk about the ups and downs of working on a big creative project, share insights that I hope will help you with your big creative project, and give you insider tips and early access to the content about pursuing a dream that will eventually go into my next book. It's also a place where I'll welcome and read your thoughts and replies.
I'll still be here, sharing stories about amazing professional artists and creative people who inspire me, but the weekly me, will only be in email for a little while. I would love to have you. You can join below (the first post will come next week and obviously you can unsubscribe at any time). Thanks so much for being here. Cheers to your chaos.