Andy J. Miller: How To Unearth Your Creative Gold
September 20, 2016
How do you get to that creative place where you’re really soaring? How do you find those things in you that are truly special? Today, we’re going to dig deep and find the supernatural nuggets of creative gold that will take you to the next level. To do that, we’re going to talk about the steps of unearthing the creative gold inside you.
In the book Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, there’s a true story of a man who believed a certain piece of land had an abundant amount of gold in it. But his calculations were just a little bit off and, at a certain point, he gave into doubt and abandoned his dig. Another person came along and realized the miscalculation and, by going just 3 feet deeper, he discovered the treasure. This is a story is about not giving up right when you’re on the cusp of something fantastic.
1. Believe in Your Creative Gold
First, you really have to believe that there is a creative path, that there is a thing you should be doing, that you have real, true value and that your value is in demand in the market. Now, I know some of you are going to have knee jerk reactions to advice like “believe.” I get it. So I want to explain why it’s incredibly important. Actually, the more you can muster belief in this, the more likely you’re going to see big results and traction in the market.
I recently heard Joanna Newsom on Marc Maron say that writing a song is sometimes like remembering a song. And that’s what my creative path has felt like. I always had this feeling about what I was supposed to be doing, but I had no idea what that would look like. I only had these vague notions of tiny things, breadcrumbs leading me to this kind of work. Looking back, it would have been so easy to ignore these little hints because they were so vague and felt far-fetched.
Finding your artistic voice is supposed to be a path that you cannot see down because nobody else has walked it yet. This is why it’s so much easier to just copy somebody else’s path. But just a little bit of faith into those vague notions brought me here. And if that little amount of betting on that notion brought me here—a place I’m loving—what would it look like if I went all in? And that’s what I’m encouraging you to do today.
If you have yet to experience what it’s like to tap into those deeper layers of what you’re really capable of, know this: The people who have been dedicated to finding their creative path for the longest time are the ones who are most euphoric about their work. So take that feeling seriously.
2. Consult the (Creative) Gold-Mining Experts
Okay, so you’ve got faith that the gold is there inside you. But to mine it, you’ll need to consult some experts. There are two kinds of experts you need to seek out:
a. Gold Experts:
These are people who have experience unearthing gold. They’re people who seem to be at the heart of their creative path, creating and thriving on another level. Their talent and skills are met with a giant demand in the world. Make them your mentors and ask them how they worked that out.
A word of caution here: There are some people working at that level who got there by blind luck or accident. Don’t make those people your mentor; it’s like asking for financial advice from somebody who won the lottery. You actually want to find people who struggled through it, who strived to figure out those answers and then really hit that sweetspot.
So identify your creative heroes, study their lives, read their biographies, connect with them if they’re accessible. Eke out every bit of learning you can.
b. Geography Experts:
These people have a deep understanding of the particular terrain you’re working in. They know you.
Ask yourself: who are the experts on you? Who are the people who know you better than anybody else? If you’re going to be self-aware enough to truly understand when you’re doing something supernatural with your creativity, you’re going to have to feel close to people who feel extremely safe being honest with you.
3. Start Digging for Creative Gold
The idea is that you take your hunch and you start to dig. Now, when I say “start digging,” I’m not saying go headlong and risk everything. But, in a systematic way, you can take your belief and your expert input and begin to make little bets. With few barriers to entry, it’s easy to find ways to create something small.
For example, when I started this podcast, I didn’t rent a studio and buy equipment or hire a producer. I did the exact opposite: I started recording podcast episodes on my phone. In fact, the first 10 episodes of this podcast were recorded like that—creating a minimal viable product so I could start collecting data. And as I got more data, I dipped a bigger toe in, I bought a microphone, I made the episodes a little more invested, I shared them with more people.
In the early stages, it can’t all be about the feedback you get from others (30 episodes in my audience was still very small). But it can be about whether the work feels right. Do a little sample dig—look for the right kinds of minerals in the soil if there’s likely to be gold. If all signs are positive, keep digging. Turn that doodle into a finished piece of work. Then, give yourself a small project. Then, try selling that work to a client.
4. Sift Your Sample of Creative Gold
A few years back I had an inkling that I wanted to do some book cover illustrations and decided to make screen prints based on classic books from the public domain titles. I realized after doing a few of these that I didn’t really want to read every book, it wasn’t making me passionate, so it wasn’t translating into the best work. As I was testing and analyzing this gold, I realized it wasn’t the inflection point I was looking for. So I moved on from the book covers.
That didn’t mean I wasted my time on the small dig into book covers. The work of crossing off options was part of the journey; I was just one step closer to finding the work that I should have been doing.The point here is that not every “decent” dig is a direction you want to go. You’re really looking for those supernatural results—something where there’s this real meeting point of your internal and the external.
Let’s compare that to the podcast: Although the numbers were steady and small for a long time, I kept getting these emails and responses at levels I had never experienced. While the numbers can take a long time for something to start to catch on, you can judge quality of the response from the start. Moreover, I loved the process of doing this work; it lit me on fire.
There are people who won’t commit long enough and then there are people who commit too long—they just won’t let go of a direction that they should have let go of a long time ago. So don’t just keep digging when nobody’s sharing and excited about it. Try borrowing this idea from Seth Godin that if you have an idea, tell 10 friends. If none of them tell another person, it’s probably not that good an idea. When people share, that’s how you know you got something good on your hands.
However, if you’re only driven by awards, page views, reach and the other metrics, but you hate the creative process, you’re not on the right journey. It has to be worthy of committing more time of your life. So, try to find that sweet spot of true grit, doing something long enough to get some data to make decisions and not so long that you keep digging long past after you should have moved on to another spot.
But don’t give up on mining altogether… don’t stop believing that there’s creative gold to be found.
Listen to the full original podcast this post was based on:
about the author
Andy J. Miller is a commercial artist who breathes life and weirdness into simple shapes. He specializes in brand collaborations, advertising illustration, kids market illustration, editorial illustration, gig posters, album art, hand lettering, mural design, visual development for animation and book design. Listen to his podcast, Creative Pep Talk.