A few winters back, I was teaching solo performance at a writer’s retreat here in New Mexico.
During my talk, I said something that resonated so deeply with the audience members, that when the participants connected with me after the event was over, the same phrase was mentioned to me from dozens of people, one at a time.
The phrase that impacted so many folks that day was:
“When you abandon your creative projects, you are, in essence, abandoning yourself.”
Many creative people have a proclivity for working on several projects at once, then abandoning them. It’s common for both working artists and creative people have several ideas, not fully developed, written in journals or files on our computers for articles, memoirs, novels, solo shows. We have two or three poems written under a category for a possible volume.
Newer, shinier, more exciting ideas often tug at us. They clamor away, pulling us away from our original beginnings and middles, over and over again.
Now, let me say, that it is important to have a concept that has the legs to go the distance. It has to have enough substance to if it going to be developed into a show, a talk or a book.
But, you’re never going to find out if it does or doesn’t, unless you become serious about the art of completion.
It took me ten years from the time I met my solo performance mentor, Spalding Gray, until the time I wrote and performed my first solo show, “Honeymoon in India.”
There were many reasons for that, including the fact that I had essentially no background as a writer or storyteller of any kind. I was trained as an actor and I was still performing in other people’s plays.
It was a time when I attended many writing workshops and got into a regular creative flow. I learned about our right to write “shitty first drafts” and to keep showing up to the blank page, no matter how uninspired we feel, until it became a practice. And, during this time, every day I woke up and was aware of the relentless drive to do my first show.
My first three scripts were not strong enough to produce, and I knew it. But I was exploring, and teaching myself, through trial and error, what worked, what stage-worthy material sounded like and looked like and the courage to begin again.
As it is apt to happen when we keep showing up for ourselves and our creative projects, the Universe eventually put me in the right place at the right time and a strong script for my first solo show was essentially written during a two week period while I was in India.
The inspiration was there, the story that I was living out was “big enough” material for an autobiographical, theatrical show and the personal emotional stakes were high. I added some characters who I met along the way, along with a side helping of deep, ironic humor in the face of disillusionment. Voila! I had an almost completed script to take into production.
I came home to New Mexico, began to polish the script, hired a director and set up a staged reading, then we mounted a full production, all within about five months.
The show received standing ovations and was extended for an extra week-end. It received some great local reviews and was voted in the Top Ten Shows of Santa Fe by the SF Reporter in 1996. It launched my entire story coaching career.
But above all, it gave me the critical knowing that I could take an idea and manifest it into the world in a satisfying way. I learned that I was capable of completing a creative project, no matter how much fear arose or how many obstacles stood in my way, or how many times I wanted to give up because things weren’t coming together “easily.”
On a personal level, it completely changed my life. I do not abandon my creative projects and I have made a living by coaching others to do the same. Another important thing I’ve learned is to stick with it regardless of how long it takes. Identify what your top three projects are, write them down, and think about them on a regular basis, whether you are currently working on one of them or not.
The Art of Completion actually draws the line in the sand between creative people and those who have the right to call themselves artists. Many of us have the potential, but if it is not brought, in some way, into form, our greatest projects simply remain in the land of dreams.
We pay a too-high emotional price from abandoning that deep aspect of ourselves, unless we find a way to move through it.
I urge you love yourself enough to commit to doing whatever it takes to embrace yourself and your creative projects, no matter how long it takes.
Assignment for Today:
1. What is your artistic dream? What would you like to do, in this part of your life more than anything? Write your memoir, write and perform a solo show, do a TED talk, headline at a storytelling festival? Create your story coaching business?
2. Make a list today, of regular action steps that you can do, to further this dream becoming a reality.
3. Take out your calendar for the year and write down some dates when you are going to work on this.
For the love of story,
PS – Below you’ll find more information about my offerings for story coaches. Two of them are new and one is my online program, S-School, that gives you everything you need to know to start your story coaching business.