I recently had a conversation with a fellow freelancer/entrepreneur and something about our interaction left me a bit ... ruffled. Not upset. Not angry. Just ... ruffled.
You see, I consider myself a creative professional. I use my creative talents as a writer, editor and devourer of all things artistic to make a living for myself. When I'm not pitching magazines, penning content for clients, or editing the prose of eager authors, I find other ways to paint with words, either through audio, literature or blogs. Although I prefer the realm of nonfiction, I do consider what I do to be creative as it's my job to build a story in such a way that readers walk away feeling as if the last 2, 5 or 10 minutes they devoted their lives to consuming that copy was worth their while and brought some inherent value to their lives -- if only for a moment.
That takes talent. And I'm good at what I do.
But this conversation I had with a colleague of the creative world held a viewpoint that doesn't reflect my approach to my profession or my art. Throughout our discussion, m'colleague often used phrases like, "That's just how creatives are" or "Well, y'know. I tell you that's because he's a creative," whenever we discussed working with someone in the artistic realm who was a bit scattered, disorganized or didn't communicate what they needed well. This highly successful entrepreneur seemed to assert the idea that being a creative is a glorious mix of Jackson Pollock, Lord Byron and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with a soupçon of Serge Gainsbourg for good measure.
M'colleague painted a picture of the creative life that seemed to thrive on 17 ideas per day with no sense of division or structure. And when said creative was "in the zone," they could be found in such a focused state neither food, sleep or moment of meditation could be spared or given its due.
Honestly, I respect this vision of the creative life. It's a world I think so many of us who dare to think of ourselves as artists or, at the very least, creative entrepreneurs aspire to. But this is a very skewed, dare I say, erroneous view of the so-called creative life. The notion that a truly creative person struggles to communicate, plan or relate to an environment where we might be viewed as just another hardworking schmoe is false. We don't have to be a reflection of the bohemian clichés of 1920's Montparnasse or mid-century Greenwich Village to be a creative. Some of us choose to be, but we certainly don't have to be.
Creatives can and do keep well-manicured filing systems, compose thoroughly constructed email messages, and complete tasks they begin in a timely manner without sacrificing quality for speed. I may not execute all of those actions all the time, every time, but it's certainly within the scope of my talent, and not doing so doesn't display a sense of absentminded genius. Although you are more than welcome to call me a genius any time you like.
My point is: There is no one type of creative. Thornton Dial's creativity doesn't have to look like Zara Hadid's creativity in order to be recognized as such. The concept of a professional life dedicated to pursuing the written word, dance, theater, music, architecture, photography or anything of the aesthetic sphere need not fuel the stereotypes, limitations and clichés used to excuse behavior that would be regarded as unprofessional in other fields.
The image of the emotional artiste starving for attention (or their next meal) has made asses of us all who believe that professional doesn't just mean "this is how I support myself." It also means that we can slip into any environment and approach our craft or vocation with the same level of tenacious commitment and respect as the next accountant, real estate agent or college professor.
I wasn't offended by my compadre's words, but I was ruffled by them. Did they consider me to be somehow less creative than others because I attempted and, oftentimes, succeeded in staying organized and aware of my to-dos from day-to-day? Was I less understanding of other professionals in the business of content creation because I became frustrated when they're unable to communicate what they need from me? Am I wrong to expect them to follow up with me in a timely manner if their request is urgent or a deadline is looming?
And if this is all true, will my success in a full-time creative professional life be forever stalled because my talent for logistics and project management is equal to my talent for creating something extraordinary that resonates with the audience?
Mark Rothko often professed in interviews the importance of punching a clock and maintaining a routine in his approach to the creative process. And Twyla Tharp wrote a book about why true creativity is far from capricious and a deliberate strategy is necessary to maintain any form of longevity, let alone success.
So I'm not of the mind that a creative must live a certain way, approach their work in a certain style, and is a victim of a certain mind. An INTJ can be just as creative as an ESFP, and more importantly, build a successful career from their inherent creativity that's worthy of admiration and imitation. I by no means wish m'colleague any ill will, but I fear how many people are receiving this harmful message because of the insistence that a creative looks like Oscar Madison, but never like Felix Unger.
Because I wholeheartedly disagree. I've always had more in common with Felix than Oscar, and I'm what a creative looks like.