The Secret to Your Next Creative Breakthrough

We all want a breakthrough. We want to be epic, to leave a dent in the universe. But there’s always a cost to success, something gained and something lost.

Breakthrough Photo
Photo credit: Marc Falardeau (Creative Commons)

I hate to state the obvious, but in order for a breakthrough to happen, something has to break:

  • Maybe it’s you.
  • Maybe it’s your job.
  • Maybe it’s Resistance.

But. Something. Has. To. Give.

This is the real secret to success, the stuff of outliers. It’s what nobody wants to talk about, because it sounds so scary. And it is.

Want to know the ugly truth? Sometimes, the breakthrough’s worth it, and sometimes it’s not. Every time, it’s up to you.

Mortgaging your life for your dream

There has to be a life behind the writing. I’ve lived and struggled through this. Still am, in fact. I understand the natural tension between dreaming and living.

I recognize in myself the desire to go to any lengths to pursue my art, even at the cost of the things that inspire it: family, friends, and work.

This is an important topic, one we often neglect. If I have a dream, what is it worth? Can I shirk all responsibility to pursue it? Maybe not.

Recently, I wrote an article about this topic of pursuing your dream without quitting your commitments. In it, I shared my own struggle with chasing a dream and hanging on to my marriage and job through the process.

Embracing this tension is not easy, but it’s worth it. Otherwise, you end up with something special and no one to share it with.

You end up going to a lot of conferences, writing a lot of books, and doing a lot of great things — completely alone. And who wants that?

What writing is really about

I think about this a lot. Living in a city full of performers, I regularly bump into people whose lives have been sacrificed for the sake of their art.

Sometimes, it’s divorce. Other times, drugs. Eventually, though, the art destroys the life. And something about that just seems wrong.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The thought I keep coming back to is a wonderful quote by Stephen King from On Writing:

Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

If we are going to pursue our callings as writers, artists, and entrepreneurs, we are going to have to make a decision.

Will this career support a life? Or will this life support a career?

Think about it. Dwell on it. Measure it against how you’re living today. Then answer the question honestly (there’s a lot riding on this). After you do that, it’s time to decide.

The challenge ever artist faces

[T]his business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, ‘How alive am I willing to be?’
—Anne Lamott

Go. Live. And write from that. There’s no other healthy way to do this, no other way to be an artist.

A writer can write a life he longs to live, or he can live one he longs to write. I’ve tried former; it doesn’t work (trust me on this). Be brave: opt for the latter.

It’s easier to find a way to write while you live than to find a life while you write.

Art and life are meant to go together. They’re supposed to be complements, not competitors. If one has to steal from the other, I hope it’s the life that steals from the art.

Want to live to see your next creative breakthrough? You’re going to have to start living. And when I say you, I mean me.

What’s an example of a time when your art stole from your life? Share in the comments.