What Artists Can Learn From the Donner Party

5  Points to Help You Navigate New Creative Territory (So You’re Not Left Dead in Your Tracks)

Have you ever faced an obstacle in your art that sent fear racing through your veins? Maybe you’ve been called to tackle a writing project for which you feel entirely unqualified. Maybe you encountered an insurmountable block–an immovable mountain, that you later learned was a stop sign? As crazy as it might seem to you right now, the Donner Party’s story holds valuable lessons to help navigate new creative territory so you’re not left dead in your tracks. (Affiliate links are included).

Creative People Face Mountains

I love everything about mountains, from the way they poke holes in clouds, catch snowflakes in their fingers and cast long deep shadows across the valley floors. During our trips across the same killer mountain pass where 39 people perished one winter,  I wonder what went through the minds of the Donners and Reeds when they first saw peaks that reach as high as 14,000 feet.  The History Channel covers the story well, so I won’t go into the details. But, my guess is they weren’t suddenly elated, shouting “Glory Hallelujah! Look at those beautiful mountains.” More than likely they were terror-struck by the sight of the insurmountable jagged rock walls standing defiantly between them and  their destination.

You’re a Trailblazer

Creative people like you are trailblazers. You’re following the road less travel, going where no man has gone before. (Thank you, Captain Kirk).

You will face obstacles.

You will face resistance. (Thank you, Steven Pressfield.)

You will face fear.

The good news is creating your art is rarely life-threatening. And if you pay attention to the signs along the way, you’ll make it to your destination with fewer bumps and bruises.

5 Signposts to Keep You Headed in the Right Direction

1. Know Your Why

What’s your motive? It seems most things come together more easily when you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Maybe it’s just my incessant need for context. But, probably not. After all, Simon Sinek preaches the importance of knowing why you do what you do. Why is the thing that inspires you and inspires people around you. So before you sally forth on your new trail, know why are you leaving your path (that’s what the Donner Party did) to blaze a new one? Some compelling reasons might be:

  • You’re lost. What you’ve been doing isn’t working and you’re trying to find what will.
  • You’re bored. You’ve had it with the routine. Your creative mojo is dried up.
  • You’re testing a new idea and just taking a short detour.
  • You have total clarity and know it’s time to pivot.

Any and all of these reasons are valid reasons for moving into new creative territory as long as you know why you are doing what you are doing.

2. Ask the Trail Guide

The Donner Party got into danger because they heeded advice from someone who hadn’t traveled the same path. Therefore, it’s a good idea to talk to several people who have gone before you. No one will have created art just like yours, but the path they traveled might resemble yours. Learn as much as you can and ask for help along the way. For example, this blog is a departure from my other blog. There’s no doubt I’m on a different path. But, before I decided to create this blog, I sought advice  from a pro blogger whose work I respect because I read that she once found herself in a similar position. I wanted to know how she decided to “pivot”. Without her knowledge and experience, I’d be wondering in the wilderness.

3. Don’t Take the Short Cut

It was the short-cut, Hasting’s Cutoff, that lead to that stranded 87 people in the Donner Party for 5 months of winter on the Sierra-Nevada Range. They were eager to save time. Their desire to reach new territory early brought on the kind of tragedy they hadn’t expected. Expediency and creativity do not a match make, as one of my crazy aunts once said. Creativity takes time. So give it all the time it needs.

Hush the voices telling you to hurry.

4. Wait Is A Verb. It’s What You Do.

Ask yourself, is the world ready for your art? Are YOU ready for the world to be ready for you art? Bad timing is still timing. Take the Donners, once again. Because their timing was off, because they tried to save time, they met with extreme tragedy.

Maybe you’ve felt the (perceived) pressure to create more content, build your list, find your tribe, and all those other messages that come along with creating art online. I’ve felt it, too. But, let’s rejoice in the blessings of small beginnings. Truthfully, if 10,000 people subscribed to this blog in a single week, it would crush me. The systems aren’t in place yet to handle all that attention.

Creativity takes times. Be willing to give it all the time it needs. If you need to do something else in the meanwhile, go ahead. But, don’t try to push your wagon train over the pass when winter is coming.

5. Stop. Do Not Pass

Is your mountain an obstacle or a stop sign? I sometimes wonder if the Donners were supposed to be heading West at all. What was their motivation? Some say it was greed. Why did they want to take such enormous risks? With that in mind, I wonder if the Sierra Range was a stop sign that they ignored.

When I find myself stuck, I wonder if I’m stopped temporarily and blocked permanently. God has a way of placing signs in our lives to direct and protect us. We don’t always want to see them for what they are.

Risk Pursuing Your Art

Creativity takes courage. You will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Just keeping reading the signs along the so you know you’re on the right path.

What About You?

Do you find yourself following a well-worn path or are you veering off the trail into new territory? Will you share with us on the Facebook Page? I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

P.S. The Genius Blogger’s Toolkit will be ready to buy October 26. I became an affiliate which allowed me to purchase all of the e-courses and e-books early– and at 40% off. If you’re building a business online, it’s worth looking into becoming an affiliate, too. Or use this link to be notified when the Genius Blogger Toolkit is released on October 26. (I am already using several products!)

Expect good things!


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