The Born Freelancer on Why We Do What We Do

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

the born freelancer

Why do we do what we do? And why do we keep on doing it?

Making a living, of course, is a top priority. Get two or more freelancers together and the first topics of conversation will always be (1) how to increase our fees and (2) how to get paid on time.

I’m talking more about what we want to achieve. And why we keep on doing what we do.

Accuracy and truth play into it. Trying to capture a slice of life, good or bad, and persevering to reveal and share something of its essential nature are definitely a part of it.

There must be also something about it that strongly motivates us—for there are far easier ways to make a living.

I’ve thought long and hard about why I have continued to do what I do. The answer remained an elusive mysterious element “x” that I could not put a name to.

That all changed when I heard two simple words.

My “eureka!” moment

Some time ago I was speaking with a visual artist about his latest abstract painting. I asked what it was all about. “Capturing magic” was all he would say by way of an explanation.

What he said caused a chill to run down my spine. It resonated deeply: in that instant I knew that I too was trying to capture magic in my work. And as I thought more about it I realized the process of my work itself also provided some of the magic in my life.

Magic as metaphor

We creative workers take a blank screen or canvas or time on the airwaves and fill it full of content where none before had existed.

It’s like a magician pulling a rabbit out of their hat.

It may be highly subjective but I think we all know when we’ve achieved or come close to capturing what I am now choosing to call magic. Our work feels unusually satisfying and our objectives have all been reached. Indeed perhaps we’ve even achieved something far beyond our original objectives. (The overall impact of any such work being greater than the sum of its parts.) We’ve used our skills and talents to their utmost to bring something new and fresh into existence that defied and challenged us in the first place to do so. It cuts through the noise and chatter and draws attention to itself by its uniqueness and perspective. It may enlighten or move or amuse or anger but it ultimately connects with its audience. It may even inspire.

I call that capturing magic.

We know too when we’ve failed to reach it. Our work, while perfectly serviceable, lacks something. It may lack an indefinable sparkle or added element that makes it stand out amongst its competitors, that indefinable yet very tangible blessing of the muses. As such it just adds to the background noise of our cluttered and noisy information world. It sits there and does no more than it is asked to do.

I call that lacking magic.

We can recognize it in other’s work too. We know it when we see/hear/read it. It is perfection or near perfection, the right elements are all there and we are left feeling transported to a better place (albeit temporarily) having experienced it. It gives more than it was ever expected to give.

As an example: I was rereading a collection of short columns collected in book form written by the late freelancer Arthur Black. I’ve written about him on this website. What I had forgotten was how full of magic his work was—each column fun to read but also perfectly worded, effortlessly full of insight and truth and humanity. I was left feeling elated, and amused but also somehow more thoughtful about topics he raised. His words connected with me deeply in ways I still cannot fully understand or articulate.

I call that capturing magic.

More about capturing so-called magic

For each of us it will be slightly different.

Perhaps the word “magic” puts you off. Too artsy-fartsy? It did me too until I surrendered to it. Now I can think of no better word to describe what it is I try to capture and present to the world in my work. And it also describes my motivation to stay at it—I want to keep feeling that feeling again and again!

So it seems there are two kinds of (related) magic for us creative workers. There’s the magic that’s out there in the world (or in our heads) that we try to capture in our work and hope to expand upon and share with others – and the magic we ourselves feel in the process of creating that work (when it goes well). Both require the benediction of the muses. (I’ve mused about the muses elsewhere on this site.)

Remember what it was that drew you to your work in the first place? That was when the magic first began.

Probably you were a kid. You read something that stuck with you, something that made you want to pick up a pen or keyboard. Or you saw a TV show that made you think, I want to do that too. In my case I visited a radio station when I was a youngster and decided that that was to be (in part) the life for me.

That magic you felt was something that resonated deeply within you. It erupted a spark of life that perhaps had not existed before or you were not previously aware of. But when you later started the process of your work you felt it again, charging you up, connecting you to the world and making you feel more fully alive.

You had met your muses.

That’s the magic that keeps me motivated to keep on doing what I do. Maybe it is for you too. Or have you lost it? Does your work not excite you any longer? Try to remember what you first felt that drew you to your work. Trust your instincts and you’ll regain the feelings of magic you once had.

Now I have identified it, it is easier for me to recognize when I fail capture it. The process itself usually is a giveaway. Perhaps the idea wasn’t so good or maybe my execution failed. Or maybe I had failed to appease the ethereal muses who ultimately decree what is magic and what is not. Nevertheless I try to capture a bit of magic in everything I create. I don’t always succeed. In fact, I frequently fail. But it doesn’t stop me trying—again and again and again.

The takeaway

Since meeting that visual artist I have realized that my desire to capture magic with my work is just an extension of a subconscious wish to find the magic in life. Whether it’s a beautiful sunset or a stirring tale of humanity where none was expected, I know it’s out there. It’s up to me to stop, identify and quietly appreciate it.

I posit that our duty as creative workers is to thereafter reconstitute and recapture the essence of those feelings of that experience through our work. (If not we creative workers, then who?) If I do it right, and if I have the support of the muses, there will be just a little more magic in the world for others… and through the process, for me too.

I don’t know about you but that’s why I do what I do…and keep on doing it.

May I wish you a productive and magic-filled summer!

Posted on June 6, 2023 at 8:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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