Creativity Isn't a Solo Endeavor

6 Ways to Facilitate Impactful Content Through Relationships

What’s with the tortured artist cliché? Who says you have to be miserable and alone to convey significance and meaning through your work?

Artists, photographers, videographers, writers, poets, and all other creatives across the whole spectrum are often predisposed to working in isolation. Like there is some nobility in the private struggle.

But rarely is great work created in a vacuum. And what’s more is that these people are ultimately storytellers. They tell their own story, or the story of others, through their chosen medium.

But that’s pretty difficult to accomplish by yourself.

A Campfire Can be the Tinder for Relationships… and Collaborative Storytelling

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Off Trail On Track wants to shift the paradigm - to bring relationships and storytelling together through our preferred medium of backpacking.

Our non-profit organization is training creatives to be more impactful by utilizing relationships to amplify their storytelling ability. We want to create a community that supports and enables one another to make waves – to make real change.

Off Trail On Track teaches minimalist backpacking to small groups. You learn a lot about yourself and others out on the trail – and that’s a prerequisite for authentic relationships. Here are a few of the benefits of such relationships:

1. Increase your Reach

There is incredible, undiscovered talent everywhere.

Stop inside any bar in Nashville and you’ll find countless musicians that are equal to those we hear on the radio. Peruse a local coffee shop and find photos from local photographers that rival the pictures on the cover of National Geographic.

Prodigal talent might be one-in-a-million but having the opportunity to share that talent on the world stage is one-in-a-billion.

So why go it alone?

Every relationship, personal or professional, can be a potential ally to broadcast your work. They act as a relay – spreading your message beyond the first-degree connections of your immediate circle to second and third-degrees.

It’s a common strategy for social media influencers, usually called “social pods”. By resharing the work of everyone in the pod, everybody benefits. Why not extend that strategy to our stories and our art?

2. Discipline and Accountability

Read any autobiography of a successful person, any self-help book, or even one of those dumb “5 Things Every Billionaire Does” articles. What do they all have in common?

At least one trait: discipline.

As a creative, I know the struggle. For authors it’s writer’s block, for photographers it’s… leaving the lens cap on or something. The point is, a lot us sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. For motivation.

If you’re particularly driven, you might even print out some nice quotes on a landscape photo to hang behind your monitor.

That’s the wrong approach. Discipline is a reliable source for productivity (and just as good a muse). Discipline is a learned behavior; a habit you have to instill.

But that is hard as hell to do. That’s why you should team up.

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“Accountability buddy” sounds really lame, but if you’re anything like me, you hate letting people down. I simply won’t do it. It’s a perfectionist thing – and I know many of you are perfectionists.

When you bring other people on board, by including them in the creative process or by promising them a result, you make yourself accountable to them and you’ll get all the motivation you need. Making those sorts of commitments is the first step towards real discipline too!

Now I just gotta get to the gym…

3. Complementary Strengths

I’ll be honest with you – I’m a great photographer and a horrible writer.

Could I be good at writing? Yeah, probably, if I devoted a lot of time and energy to it. But I don’t think that’s the best use of my efforts. I’d rather improve a skill that I’m passionate about.

Still… they say a picture is worth a thousand words and I think a thousand words deserves a good picture too.

Stories are much more impactful when they combine multiple forms of media. Have you ever pitched to a magazine? They don’t often accept just text or just images – a good story is the whole package.

Friends that possess a different skillset than you do are a valuable asset. If you give generously of your own talent you can depend on them to reciprocate when necessary. Two or more skilled creatives can reliably produce something greater than the sum of its parts.

4. Leverage Opportunity

Sure, it’s a little mundane, but the importance of networking cannot be understated.

You always hear the adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” And – news flash – that’s the cold, hard truth.

Having friends is not only enjoyable (I hope) but pragmatic. A good friend is looking out for your best interests and depends on you to do the same.

Many writers, photographers, artists, and other creatives gain their livelihood through freelancing. One-off projects and short-term contracts are the norm, and many of us spend more time looking for work than actually completing it!

It’s incredibly gratifying, then, when a buddy tells me “Hey, my client is looking for a photographer to come shoot their philanthropy event – you free?” Or if I get asked to collaborate on large project that takes place over a few months.

Those kinds of freebies are a godsend. It’s another win-win situation that requires nothing more than sending some memes back and forth occasionally.

5. Unique Perspectives Can Inspire

Everyone’s experience in life has been different. No two people, not even twins, have the same perspective.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to share their perspective. Not everyone has the mouthpiece to broadcast it.

Any relationship, whether it’s with a fellow creative-type or with anyone else, has the potential to give you insight into that perspective. Unlike the other entries in this list, though, it requires more than a passing familiarity with the person. You have to know them intimately.

And that’s daunting, no doubt about it. Some of us have trouble forming intimate relationships; others don’t have any desire to.

That’s one of the great advantages of backpacking. The (temporary) hardship of roughing it creates bonds. People open up around the campfire; trust builds naturally. When you come out of the woods on the other side of the trail, you have a lot of respect for and a deep understanding of your trail-buddies.

That’s where you get a glimpse of a different perspective.

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And those unique perspectives are a severely under-utilized resource. They are one of the few methods of drawing novel and authentic inspiration. Most, or all, of your art is drawn from your own journey through life.

If you have the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, take it.

6. Increase Your Potential to Enact Change

Some people create for a purpose larger than themselves. They want to generate meaningful change, to positively influence, to touch peoples’ lives and leave them better than they were before.

This noble pursuit is a common theme among creative-types. Maybe it’s tied to the ability, and to the desire, to tell stories through some medium. Maybe they want to make a story that will be experienced and told by others.

It’s hard for one person alone to make a significant impact on the world. It’s really hard.

But if you find a few like-minded people, picking up trash off the beach can turn from an exercise in futility to the restoration of an ecosystem. Instead of volunteering to mentor a kid, you can uplift entire communities through coordinating an after-school program.

Many hands make light work.


Sometimes it’s tempting for us to put our heads down and just grind it out alone. That kind of determined puttering might just lead to something eventually, but there’s no guarantee.

When you add other people like yourself – creators, artists, storytellers – to your journey, your chance of success increases dramatically. And that success is shared, enriching everyone you come in contact with.

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Find those people out in the true wilderness, where people are often at their best. Backpacking will get you on the right path (literally), and minimalism will cut out the distractions so you can focus on the people. That’s what Off Trail On Track is all about.

Interested in taking that next step towards bettering yourself, your craft, and your world? Click here to learn more about Off Trail On Track.

Duncan Cheung