January 20, 2012
How to be Miserable …
I recently read a list on Facebook – “How to be Miserable as an Artist”. I don’t know the original author of the post, and I can’t give credit where it’s due. But I do appreciate that so many people have shared it, because it really hit home. And at the risk of infringing on someone else’s copyright (take THAT, SOPA!), I thought I’d publish it here, as well.
- Constantly compare yourself to other artists.
- Talk to your family about what you do and expect them to cheer you on.
- Base the success of your entire career on one project.
- Stick with what you know.
- Undervalue your expertise.
- Let money dictate what you do.
- Bow to societal pressures.
- Only do work that your family would love.
- Do whatever the client/customers/gallery owner/patron/investor/*fan* asks. (I added that last one)
- Set unachievable/overwhelming goals, to be accomplished tomorrow.
The two most important lessons in this list – for me – are #1 and #10. I find that when I’m feeling the pressure … when the muse refuses to cooperate and all I produce is absolutely craptastic, I start comparing my work to other writers and identifying all the places where I’ve gone wrong. Why didn’t I come up with that turn of phrase? Why don’t I see the world that way? How did I miss this, that, or the other? There is nothing worse for your self esteem than to compare your work with others’ and berate yourself for being somehow … less … than they are.
I’m pretty lucky. I’m part of a group of fantastic writers who create within the same genre. I’m always learning from them. I’m always inspired by them. I get fantastic support, incredibly helpful editorial advice, and the belief that no matter how long it takes, I will get it done. But there are times when I have to remind myself that these amazing writers go through the same struggles as I: sometimes, inspiration just hits … and sometimes – often – they have to work for it. Instead of comparing myself to them, instead of identifying all the places where I fall short, I can look at the work of these artists and think, “Wow. I want to work harder. I want to do better. I want to feel about my work the way I feel about theirs.” And you know what? Eventually, I do. When I produce something I’m genuinely proud of, I know what it’s like to not be miserable. So … lesson learned. Use other artists as inspiring examples … but never compare yourself to them. Never try to be like them. Your art is yours. You are unique and different, and your voice deserves to be heard.
And that brings me to #10, which I’m pretty sure has plagued me since the day I started this blog (possibly before). Avoid setting goals that are unrealistic, unachievable, overwhelming … and expecting them to be done tomorrow. Life gets in the way. Careers matter, and bills, and kids, and spouses, and pets. Your commitments are important, and if you allow yourself to be derailed every time something else needs your attention, you’ll only beat yourself up when you don’t accomplish what you set out to do.
I’ve been working on the same story for almost four years (egads! FOUR YEARS!) … and so many times, I’ve had to step back because what was going on in the rest of my life took up my time, my fuel, my creative energy. I’m still working on this lesson, and many days it’s a major struggle. But it’s necessary to remember that, ultimately, we’re not creating for other people. When we start to do what others want or expect, when we produce for them instead of for ourselves … we lose sight of why we started in the first place. So what if it takes four months to write a craptastic chapter? And what if it takes another two or three months to turn into something wonderful? Well then, so be it! Don’t set unreasonable deadlines. Let the muse guide you. (I say this with a sheepish hint of irony, given that I set a New Year’s resolution to finish my story by year-end).
When all is said and done, the only pressure we artists really need to listen to is the one that comes from within … from the voice that says, “Make the time. Trudge ahead. Don’t give up. Keep practicing.”
So keep at it, friends. However long it takes. The work will always be there – it’s up to you to decide how you’ll approach it. Just remember to have fun with it! Laugh a little! Give the muse a good beating now and then! But never … NEVER … make yourself miserable doing it. If you’re miserable … then what’s the point?
Happy New Year!