Creative compulsion and thoughts on success

I’ve toiled over new styles and new directions, only to have had them fall flat and remain unsold. I’ve worked quickly to create designs that take off for no apparent reason. And I’ve come to this realization: you never can tell.

I’ve pounded out a lot of work in the past three years. I couldn’t have told you ahead of time what would become successful and what would go nowhere. I keep working anyway. Something’s bound to stick. I’ll find my groove, create work that I love – and that the public likes. But that requires a lot of work. It means I have to create items that no one buys and sell out of others. And it means I have to accept that success at anything takes time.

Sometimes I think that all this fast, open media means that we’ve started to think that this “get rich quick” phenomenon is actually the rule, rather than the exception. A product designer’s work makes its round on the blog scene, and suddenly she is besieged with orders. The quick rise of Pinterest and Twitter makes us (in the Bay Area, at least) think that our own startup success is right around the corner. No one who wants to do their own thing wants to hear about how hard doing your own thing is. Less glamorous are the stories of working a side job or taking on uninteresting projects so that you can afford to pay the rent and take your dog to the vet. No. We want success to happen quickly. We want to be big on the internet.

I showed my dad photos of some of my new work this weekend, and he asked me how long it would take before I started to see some money from it. I knew he meant well, but I (nicely) told him he was missing the point. The point is that I am driven to create. It may not be profitable right now, I may not be able to tell what will sell and what won’t, but I do it anyway. And I do it over and over again without expecting to make more than a comfortable living – someday – from this work.

Which leads me back to my original reason for this post: I am working on new stuff (very small sneak peek above). You may or may not like it. It may go no further than my living room and this blog. But I felt compelled to create it and, for now, that’s all that really matters.

4 thoughts on “Creative compulsion and thoughts on success”

  1. For about the past month, I’ve been exploring and writing about creativity. About all I can say after reading your last few posts is “Amen!” Thanks for sharing your process, Jen.

  2. Dear Jen,
    this could have been me in conversation with my parents last weekend … on the other side of the globe things are just the same! But no matter what, there’s always an inner force driving us to create.
    I stumbled on your blog a few weeks ago and enjoy reading it. Thanks for sharing! Oh, and I really like your new collage work. Keep going!
    Greetings from Germany

  3. Wow – thanks for the feedback, everyone! I wrote this post on a whim last night and it sounds like it’s resonated with a lot of people. How do you keep yourselves going when the world tells you everything you do has to be monetized?

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