Over the last several years, Julia and I have done a lot of work supporting the artistic process and goals of our clients as they develop and launch new projects. It’s been wonderful and rewarding—and, it’s given me the itch to work on an artistic project of my own! I knew I could apply the methods we teach to our clients to my personal process.
I’ve been very artistically, musically, and creatively engaged since starting iCadenza and Cadenza Artists, both through our work and through “extracurricular” activities like singing with the Stanford Chamber Chorale while I’ve been in graduate school.
But it’s been a long time since I’ve embarked on my own artistic project. While in many ways I feel very rusty, I know that I have a whole host of resources and tools that I didn’t have back in high school and college when I was “creating” most actively. So the big questions are: Do I have what it takes? How is this all going to work out?
I’m pleased to report that I’m now about 3 weeks into a new personal artistic project, and learnings abound everywhere.
For a little bit of context, here’s the gist of what I’m working on: I’m developing a musical theater piece based on the White Rose, a very brief student-led resistance movement in Nazi Germany.
This is a historical event that has fascinated me for years, especially because it’s not very well-known, at least in the US.
I also have a bit of a twist in mind in terms of how I want to present the story. Why a musical? Well, only because I think it is the perfect art form. (Just kidding!) But in all seriousness, anyone who knew me in high school knows how obsessed I’ve been with musical theater for the longest time.
So for now, as part of my 3-week check in, I want to share about an aspect of my process that have had me thinking a lot—largely because these are elements that we frequently work on with our consulting clients. It’s been interesting to be on “the other side” and experiment with applying certain tools to my own process.
In starting this process, I keep thinking about the book we’ve recommended to clients more than any other, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.
The War of Art prominently features the concept of Resistance with a capital R—that shapeshifting thing that stands in the way of our creative process and very often gives us great reasons for why we shouldn’t do that thing we want to do. (Musical theater nerds, think “Die Vampire Die” from [title of show]).
I’ve encountered a TON of resistance so far, mainly in the form of self-doubt. This shows up even in my most readily-accessible definition of success for this project: to create something that doesn’t suck. (Really? That’s the best I can do?)
More specifically, the inner monologue I’ve been hearing has been along these lines:
—Since I’ve never written a musical before (aside from that time when I was nine), how could I possibly write something good?
—What if what I write is just flat-out terrible?
—What if it’s bad and I don’t realize it?
As Pressfield says, resistance is often rational. And I agree. All of my doubts seem completely legitimate.
I spent several weeks going back and forth over whether I wanted to embark on this project. Yes, these doubts could very easily (and truthfully almost did) stop me from starting in the first place. I realized that if I were to do this, I would need to use some of our iCadenza strategies.
Strategy #1: Accountability System
There’s nothing like having another person there to hold you accountable to what you say you’re going to do.
Fortunately, I had an opportunity to create an accountability system through school. I’m in my final term of my JD/MBA program at Stanford University, and I managed to find a business school professor who comes from the film industry who agreed to supervise me in an independent study as I worked on this project. So now, not only does he have a stake in me getting my project done, my grade depends on it!
Strategy #2: Publicly Commit
At some point I realized I needed to start telling people I was working on this project. Admitting it in real life means running the risk of people asking me in the coming months and years, “Hey, whatever happened with that musical you were working on?”
In sharing the news (which, by the way, I did very tentatively so as not to overstate my ability to create anything of fantastic quality, see: “resistance” above), the strangest thing has happened.
Oddly, not one person has echoed my insecurities back to me with questions like, “You’re writing a musical? What do you know about writing a musical?”
Apparently I’m the only one who is having (or at least admitting to having) those thoughts! Instead, people have responded with incredible encouragement, excitement, and enthusiasm. As I’ve described my topic and concept, that enthusiasm has seem to increase, as people offer ideas and suggestions.
Now of course, no one has actually seen my work yet, but I’ve truly been stunned at the vast dichotomy between my internal reaction to the decision to start this project and the reaction of others. I’m beginning to wonder what would happen if I adopted their mindset in how I encourage myself.
Obviously, lots of work lies ahead and this is only the beginning. But so far, a lot of thoughts have been brewing as I’ve slowly stepped into the reality that I am working on an artistic project and owning that it’s important for me to do.
A question for you: Do you have any words of wisdom for me as I start this journey?