Over the weekend, I read Hugh MacLeod's book, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. He also blogs at gapingvoid.com. It was an interesting book, quite simple and direct and refreshing. There's nothing in it that I don't think you couldn't figure out for yourself, but sometimes we forget the most obvious things. One thing that comes through in the book quite clearly (as you might guess from the title), is the idea that you should have the confidence to pursue your ideas without worrying about what other people think of them.
My years of academic training, even in Creative Writing of all places, taught me to worry about what other people thought constantly. People talk about writing articles that will get published not writing articles that have good ideas. People talk about pursuing paths that are more marketable than others, not pursuing a path that you love. Your work is under constant scrutiny, such that it is difficult to erase that inner voice that's your adviser's or the review committee's or the book publisher's saying this isn't going to work, it's not good enough or original enough and by the way, you're not smart enough. Now I know some people in academe escape that and just pursue an idea for the love of it. But I think that's actually pretty rare these days in a very tight market.
I've broken some of Hugh's rules, like quitting my day job (sort of). In part, I did so because I had become part of what he calls "the watercooler gang," the people who've been around for a long time, have become mediocre at what they do, hate what they do, and complain about it with whoever will listen. Being a part of that crowd was soul sucking, but the job itself had no creative outlets for me and I had few outside of the job, so I think Hugh would agree that quitting, for me, was the right thing to do. And, of course, he suggests not following anyone else's advice anyway, including, presumably, his.
It's a fun read, and certainly gave me hope about my own adventure, however it may turn out.
And the following cartoon had to be my all-time favorite, because it is so. damn. true.