I recently took part in a creative’s workshop run by Amie Mcnee from Inspired Collective. It was a wholesome day I feel compelled to write about. I’ve had casual meet ups with people I’ve connected with online, but this was my first time going to an event held by an… influencer?
Nope. Sorry. Storyteller and Creative Coach. In addition to writing novels, Amie shares her story about becoming a full-time creative – which started with making coffees to make ends meet and collecting rejections from publishers. And she supports other creatives to become their best artistic selves. Following this event, I can now highlight my appreciation for her honesty. How she takes every opportunity to remind us that she’s not out of the woods yet.
Amie still stumbles over the same hurdles as the rest of us, such as financial concerns, comparison, creative slumps, and burnout. Because no matter what type of artist you are – be it full time, amateur, professional, or sponsored by Crayola – there are certain challenges that are core to being a creative person. This is why the workshop wasn’t about solutions, but rather space. Which, as a training counsellor, I know is a powerful catalyst.
Everything came together – the delicious snacks, the loft that couldn’t have possibly been anymore Melbourne, the diverse room of people in great spirits, and Amie’s introspective journaling prompts – to allow for some potent learnings to emerge. You had to be there for the croissants, but I can share some of my sweet-as takeaways.
1) Validate yourself.
I am a writer. Even though my book sat on the table in front of us, I still struggled to claim the title. Which shows how insidious imposter syndrome is.
I believe that part of the problem is the attitudes of other people. That expectation that such titles have to be earned through certain accomplishments: having a record deal, publishing a book, national tours or exhibitions of a certain size.
Playing along to this is a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps us small. So we must validate ourselves now, based on the actions we take rather than our accomplishments. I’ve published a book. But I was a writer the moment I started putting words to paper. And the same applies to you. From the moment you put paint to canvas, clay to base, drum stick to drum head, or the words left your throat in the form of a melody.
2) Pace yourself.
The algorithm encourages us to post daily. Why? Because it keeps people entertained as they hang out in spaces that tech companies then sell off as advertising opportunities. So f*ck that. And ‘hustle culture’ which glorifies constantly work and celebrates burning out.
We have to respect the natural ebbs and flows of our own creative cycles. And includes periods of procrastination and just not feeling enthusiastic or inspired. As said by a workshop attendee, “flowers can’t bloom all year.”
I’m stepping back from social media and getting back in touch with my seasons. My bloom will come. I’m trusting that. And until then I’m also going to run with Amie’s advice around bare minimums. This practice involves sustainable, small daily goals. Even 50 words a day – it adds up.
3) Be okay with shity art
Perfect does not exist. And it’s heartbreaking to consider running out of time to discover that a place that never existed stopped us from ever starting.
So we must take that first step – even though it’s going to be as cumbersome as the first physical steps we ever took. But this is how we learn. We make a mess of things and eventually start making better things. As an example, someone shared their experience as a violin teacher: “it sounds like a dying cat for the first two years.”
Being realistic – dying cat might be the best someone can do. Maybe dying possum… I’m not sure of the hierarchy of dying animals. But if you’re really enjoying yourself, you shouldn’t stop. Just make sure you live alone. And even for those more versed in their craft, there will still be those days where, as Amie put it, “you don’t always strike gold.” It’s just part of a creative process. But if you keep showing up and shoveling, eventually you will.
4) Art can be made from joy
This one is about challenging the concept of the ‘suffering artist’ and considering the emotional state we’re in when we make our art.
I found myself remembering the different creative gusts I’ve been caught in throughout my life. How I’d play with action figures for hours as a child. Making computer games in highschool and learning scooter tricks. Then as a young adult, recording raps in my bedroom closet and teaching myself to dance. Also writing my book in the last few years. These all came from a state I haven’t experienced in a long time. A state of joy. Where things flow and I’m having fun.
I recognise resistance is part of the journey and I love War of Art, Steven Pressfield’s book dedicated to the subject. But the conversation reunited me with something I once read by Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly…” Which is why I’m going to scrap the self-imposed deadline for my next book. I’ve been pushing myself to finish it. Not enjoying what I was producing or the process itself. So I’m stepping back until a gust pulls me back in.
5) Find metrics that matter.
This point wasn’t discussed during the workshop. But being witness to everyone’s passion reinforced something I had previously pondered. Likes, shares, comments and toks – these are junk food metrics. They provide short instant hits which are never truly satisfying. What’s better is deep work. Work that has a real impact on others and for ourselves.
For example, my focus has been to create daily short poetry snippets for Instagram because it gets a response. Even though they don’t do as much for me compared to longer pieces like this, I write them because those hearts make my brain buzz. And people generally don’t like to leave their newsfeeds. So writing a blog often feels like performing in an empty room. But now, I’m re-committing myself to the kind of writing that moves something in me. That leaves me feeling satisfied. Because these are the metrics that matter.
Of course, we shouldn’t completely ignore the response we receive. It gives us an idea of what is or isn’t working. And in the workshop we discussed other metrics like book sales and digital streams which all have their place. But hanging everything on how the world responds can pummel the creative spirits right out of ourselves. As it can be f**ing ruthless out there.
As I shared in Living in Cream, people often ask me about how my book ‘has gone’. Which is a response to the pressure to view and validate every accompaniment through monetary means. I don’t tell them because I don’t know.
What I do tell them about is the private message I received on a forum where someone told me my book saved their life. I tell them about a person who reached out to me from the UK. How we formed a pen-pal relationship which allowed me to get to know her and her son over the last few years. I tell them how he sent me a handwritten poem that included the line, “just give life another chance” which is now tattooed on my shoulder. I tell them how writing my book gave me a chance to appreciate so much about myself and the work I’ve put in over the years. And I honestly tell them, sure, I dreamed of “making it” while writing my book. But all these years later, I’m completely happy to say the best thing about my book is just that I made it.
That’s a wrap
I left the workshop with a full stomach and soul. And a commitment to myself to keep keeping on – rain or shine. This is relevant because last year it did shine. I had my biggest creative ‘success’ – I was in the paper and on national TV. While this year, I’ve found myself in the rain, disorientated. The truth is, the sudden validation got me seeking more of it and holding myself to a standard I can’t maintain. Can’t always strike gold, hey.
But now I’m back on course. I’m going to keep working on my hardcover book, The Texture Of Words – which is a collection of my street art poetry pieces. But I’m going to pace myself, creating from a place of joy, focusing on metrics that matter while being okay with days where I turn up work equivalent to a squealing dolphin.
Thank you to everyone who attended and shared. And to Amie for holding the workshop – even though her first one had only 3 people. I’m glad you kept believing in yourself. And this just proves you’re living what you share.
Check out Amie’s website for content you can enjoy in person and online. You can also check out the episode of the Feelz podcast where I talk about my creative journey and the below video of my top book recommendations for creatives. I made it four years ago on a whim. It’s shitty – and that’s what makes it gold.