There is nothing like the hope of falling in love.
And there is nothing like falling in love.
Sometimes I wonder which of the two is more powerful: the hope or reality.
One morning, we enter a typical (or so it seems) day, go the places we go and do the things we do.
But something happens.
We meet someone.
And our life is forever changed from that moment on.
Of course, it happens in different ways for different folks.
But the story structure is the same: we meet someone, fall in love and live happily ever after. Or, as someone said in an interview I read yesterday, “we live pretty much happily ever after”.
Of course, sometimes we don’t.
Have you ever thought of your creative life—your relationship with your art—as a three-act story?
Our creative life, it seems, has the ingredients of an epic story.
In Act I (often referred to as “the setup”), you are trudging along, minding your own business, when you encounter something that alters the pressure and temperature in the room.
It could be the arrival of an idea.
Or the discovery that something you do changes the way people engage the world.
Or your direct exposure to art or someone creative.
Whatever it is, if forever changes you.
You begin a new creative life. And enjoy a honeymoon phase where everything is tingly and exciting.
In Act II (often called “the conflict”), you begin to discover who you are and what you’re supposed to do with this talent you’ve been given.
Your creative endeavors begin to feel more like chores and obligations than exciting adventures.
You experience failure. Indifference. Rejection. Attack. Irrelevance.
Your creative life is chock full of struggle and tension.
There’s lots of blood and colorful language that inevitably climax with the protagonist (i.e. you) wondering if all the work and sacrifice is worth it.
After all, no one else seems to care about your work. Why should you?
And just as you decide it’s time to hang it up, just as you begin to walk away, it happens.
In Act III (called “the resolution”), you achieve breakthrough.
You discover something about yourself you never knew.
And you re-enter your creative work with a renewed spirit of hope that, even though things are tough, you believe you can and will prevail.
The three-act structure is everywhere.
Act I: Setup. Act II: Conflict. Act III: Resolution.
Act I: Eden. Act II: Wilderness. Act III: Promised Land.
Act I: Immigration. Act II: Sacrifice. Act III: American Dream.
Act I: Fall in love. Act II: Marriage. Act III: Happily Ever After.
Act I: Joshua Tree. Act II: Achtung Baby! Act III: All You Can’t Leave Behind
And for you and I as writers, artists and creatives, it looks like this:
Act I: Discovery. Act II: Struggle. Act III: Breakthrough.
Do you know where you are in your story?
If you are in Act I, I’m very excited for you, but it's about to get messy.
If you are in Act II, don’t give up!
And if you are in Act III, congratulations—now it’s time for reinvention. Which means that you have to accept that today’s Act III is tomorrow’s Act I.
Where are you in your creative life?
Where are you in your story?
How invested are you in finding out how that story ends?
We’re all looking for heroes.
We're looking for someone willing make huge sacrifices out of their love for their art and others.
We need a protagonist we can root for.
Why can't it be you?
If you enjoyed today's essay, you may like another I wrote on the 3-act structure here: Are You a One-Act or Three-Act Creative?
And, in the spirit of Valentine's, you may enjoy this one: Art and First Kisses
Happy Valentine's Day!