Keeping the Creative Faith
“You’re writing a book?” they ask.
“Yeah, it’s a book of fables,” I say. “I’ve been working on it for almost two years. I just finished the final rounds of editing, and now I’m doing the illustrations.”
“Wow, that sounds like a ton of work. I’m sure it’ll sell lots of copies and pay off in the end!”
I smile and nod, appreciating the kindness of their intent, all while thinking to myself, You don’t know that. We can’t predict how it’ll do when it’s out.
Despite all my extra efforts and ruthless revisions, there’s no guarantee that those efforts will translate to book sales. The book’s success as a product depends on many other factors beyond the quality of the work, like how niche it is (a short story collection is niche, a book of fables is really niche), how much effort I put into marketing, and, of course, luck.
So, without any guarantee of an external reward, why do it?
There is a force within me that compels me to make this book.
You might call it creative faith: A sustained belief that something is worth making, even if I can’t predict its outcome.
I believe in the mission behind my book of fables. I believe adults deserve to learn from whimsical illustrated stories, not just nonfiction books. I believe children comprehend far more than we give them credit for. Society has used the power of fables and folklore to guide countless generations, but their impact has lessened in recent times, and I believe it’s worth trying to revive their role.
I can’t know who my stories might help, or how it might help them. But if there’s a chance it can offer a perspective that eases their struggle, then it’s worth it. In that sense, I agree with all the kind friends and family who tell me it’ll pay off—we’re just thinking in different currencies.
Sometimes, I have a nightmare in a daydream: The whole project vanishes into thin air. No one is making me do it, after all. I am the ultimate driver and decider. So if, all of a sudden, I were to lose heart and stop showing up entirely, then poof the book could suddenly cease to exist. It seems like a silly fear (especially at this late stage of its development), but just because it is improbable doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The shiver from that faint fear keeps me devoted, and I always run back to light its flame again, eager to escort it home to that ever-so-close finish line.
Whenever the nightmare gets too real, I remind myself of these powerful words from Seth Godin:
“We’re not entitled to an audience, to applause or to make a living. The work we most want to do, the thing that pushes us to be show up — it might not resonate with the audience we bring it to.
There’s no guarantee, none at all.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t show up. The lack of a guarantee is precisely why the work is worth doing, because it’s the guarantee that we’ve been brainwashed to require, and without it, few people have the guts enough to show up anyway.” —Seth Godin, The promise of a practice
And so I show up, day after day. As long as I stay in creative motion, I continue to perform my acts of devotion.
With every word, sentence and paragraph I write, I keep the creative faith.