Being a writer has been forefront on my mind lately. My lovely partner is a writer, and I watch her struggle with the business side of things – researching literary agents and publishing houses, writing query letters, dealing with rejections, and all that. I’m impressed by her commitment and fortitude, truly, but I also get to think about my past desire to be in the writing game.
There was a time when I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories as a youth and poems as a teenager (of course I did). Somewhere in my digital archives I’ve managed to keep works from my early adulthood: there are poems, stories, and even a book! I haven’t read them but I can assure you that they are terrible and probably quite embarrassing. I’m not willing to open them and find out.
That unwillingness to open up the archive, refine the work, and pursue the story until it’s finally told and in the world – that’s why I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer because it doesn’t interest me the way other artistic pursuits do. Sure, if I were famous enough where I could just get that book deal – I’d do it. Putting in the time and effort, though, to actually make it happen? No thank you. This blog is the maximum amount of effort I’m willing to put into writing and this basically sums up to being a public journal.
I try harder with music. I research song structures and how other producers make music. I submit to contests in the hopes of getting my name out there. I submit songs to playlists. I release to Bandcamp and successfully submitted to the editorial staff for my last album. I always release my music with a release date that’s 30-60 days in the future – for playlist submission to Spotify mostly. (Fun frustrating fact: you can only have one active pitch to for a single song to Spotify for playlist submission and it’s only available during that pre-release period. You get zero notification if the pitch is even viewed and zero notification when you aren’t put on a playlist.) Every now and again, I remember to get on Twitter and see what other musicians are doing.
Maybe next year, I’ll figure out how to actually do the marketing part…
Obviously, my past self was naïve. My past self thought that publishing a single book would bring untold riches and allow me to live the most luxurious life. It wouldn’t take any work and everything would be easy, because that’s exactly how the world works. It is nice to dream…
I can’t say I remember exactly where I was trying to get in this post so I’ll just wrap with this. If you’re among the creatives out there struggling to be heard, don’t give up. There is an audience for you, it just might take some time to find them.
September is here and that means Autumn is right around the corner. In my area, it should remain warm for another month or two but it will still be a marked change from the summer months. It’s time for things to cool off a little – just enough to make you think it’s time to get out winter attire. Then you’ll get it out and it’ll heat up again forcing you to find those summer clothes again.
On the upside: it’s not much of a problem for me since I don’t really have separate wardrobes but I do hear the complaints every year!
Autumn is the time of year when I put away my water shoes and find the hiking boots. It’s time for the mosquitoes to go away and that cool, crisp air to come in. The humidity finally fades and it no longer feels quite like walking through a think water blanket whenever I’m outside. (Admittedly, I like the humidity… until about mid-August. By that point, I’m ready to move on!)
This time of year, you’ll find me dragging my family to the nearest (and safest) mountain trails to go “hiking”. It’s less proper hiking and more a long walk with some trees around and periodically coming across other people out for the same thing. You can’t deny the views are beautiful, though, and combined with that crisp air – it’s a refreshing experience.
One thing that I like about experiencing the changing seasons… No, wait, one thing that I’ll miss the most when climate change takes away our seasons, is the change that comes with every season. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not fond of winter – the thought of it brings a bit of heaviness to my heart. The idea of being home bound because it’s too cold to do anything outside and, even if it were warmer, too dark.
I do like the change though. By the time I’m sick of the summer, it’s gone and I’m left with my happy feelings about all that warmth and sunshine – waiting for it to come back again. With autumn, there will be different activities and experiences coming just in time to save us from the activities we’ve been doing for months – and getting a little bored of doing.
Change is an important force in refreshing our creativity. It’s too easy to get stuck in routine, it’s too easy to get bored. Change can be forced on us from the outside or we can enforce the change ourselves. Whatever the case, though, the most important thing is to not be afraid of the change and embrace it for what it really is – a new opportunity.
I’m looking forward to the new season and starting a new project. I’m looking forward to closing out the project I’ve been working on for months. I’m looking forward to the change that is Autumn.
Maybe I mentioned this before, maybe not, but just in case: I’m a runner. I actually enjoy running and I gather that many people think this is weird, because most don’t find that same enjoyment. Granted, some days are tough and it is a chore but mostly it’s just great to be alive and active. Health and mental benefits aside, one thing I enjoy is imagining the lives of the other people that happen to be out and about.
On most days, I’m time-bound in my runs meaning that I have a set amount of time when I need to be done so that I can get back to my desk and do the work thing. As a result, I tend to run the same route every time I go out because I know exactly how long it takes and there are multiple shortcuts I can take to get back home in the event that I need to cut the run short.
This route takes me through some busier areas in my little city so I’m always seeing people. Sometimes, I see the same people. Sometimes, I don’t see those people but I know they are out because I see their car parked in the usual spot. At least twice, I’m pretty sure I saw the former mayor out for a walk but since he’s not wearing a “I was the mayor” t-shirt, I can’t be sure.
There’s usually at least one person out practicing guitar, a few people experiencing homelessness, the obvious tourists, a couple people on a coffee break, younger moms with their pre-school children, and pretty much always the same people running. I always love seeing the other runners because there’s nearly always a wave and a smile, like, “Yeah, I’m crazy too!”
When I don’t have pressing issues of my own to solve, seeing all of these different people is a fantastic exercise in imagination. I like to imagine what they are doing out and the decisions they made that led to this point. Sometimes I might think about the decisions I’ve made that got me to where I am today, how different decisions may have landed me in their positions. I might imagine an entire alternative life where had I made some series of other decisions, I could be that other person.
Going through this imaginative process often leaves me feeling pretty good about where I’ve ended up. Have I made choices in my life that were bad? Yes. Some of them were likely downright terrible. There are things that are cringeworthy and just stupid. (One upside to being a little older: none of my bad decisions are recorded on the internet!) But that’s life, and sometimes making a wrong turn can lead you to something unexpected and fantastic.
Going through that imaginative process also leaves me feeling creatively refreshed. It’s not that I’m going to capture those lives in my music – it’s just that I’m reminded that I wouldn’t be pursuing any art if not for the decisions that I’ve made in life. Some were good, some were bad, but they all led me to the place I am today.
I think I’ve touched on this topic over previous posts but I don’t recall directly writing about burnout. While I imagine people experience burnout differently, it’s a fairly common problem that so many of us deal with. It’s also near and dear to my heart because I’ve often been on the edge of burnout.
My day job can be pretty high stress and demanding. The hardest part, especially working remote, is being able to turn it off at night. Before you know it, you’ve spent the day working and dragged those problems into the evening. You never truly decompress and suddenly it’s time for bed, but you can’t sleep, so you grab a nightcap and try to sleep. But your sleep is troubled and you wake up in the night thinking about those problems you were having all day – and how you’re going to solve them the next day.
Burnout is basically that over a long period of time. It’s allowing something to consume every aspect of your life until you become so tired and demotivated that you can’t even seem to do the things you used to enjoy. It’s like the kudzu vine slowly creeping and growing. At first, there’s not a lot and maybe it’s at the base of one tree. Let it go long enough and the forest is consumed and the vines have sucked all the life out of those trees… looking pretty on the outside but empty on the inside.
I’ve been there before.
That experience is why self-care is so important to me and why I’ve tried so hard to strike a balance between my life and my day job. I worry a lot about ending up on the other side again – a place where being creative isn’t an option because the joy is lost. That, of course, leads to a different problem: the worry of burning out.
I can’t really force creativity – I’m either up for it or I’m not. But whenever I’m not in a creative mood, I have a brief moment of worry that it’s the burnout creeping up on me. I have to constantly remind myself: “Hey, it’s okay to relax.” Worrying about it doesn’t help and it doesn’t make the situation better. I just have to recognize that there will be a natural ebb and flow to my creative endeavors. Some days will be far more productive than others.
Also, it’s okay because I’m still progressing and moving forward. Most importantly, I’m still enjoying the process and have the desire to produce more music. I shouldn’t have to worry about approaching burnout because I know myself. I know the difference in feeling between needing a creative break and not wanting to do anything at all.
And having a little self-check like this, reminding myself of what I have accomplished and how I’m feeling – that goes a long way towards keeping that kudzu under control.
P.S. Don’t underestimate the value of talking to someone if you’re feeling like you might be burned out. It will help.
Well, it happened! About eight months into this project and I ran out of ideas for my weekly posting… which is why nothing went up last week! Now I’m down to the wire of my self-imposed deadline, again, wondering: what am I supposed to write about? Should I go into more personal topics? Should I try to dive into more technical postings and explain something about my work?
I’m not really sure. Up to this point, I’ve tried a few different things but the one I like the most are the opinion posts. The posts usually tie into music in some way or have a point that might help give some inspiration but they all serve to keep me accountable in this project. They give a little insight into the kind of person I am without spilling unnecessary details about my life onto the internet. Also, bonus points: they are the easiest to write because there isn’t much research involved.
Thinking about all of this, led me to thinking about having direction.
I feel like you have a few options in life: a) you can wander aimlessly never knowing where you want to be or caring where you end up, b) you can plot out every single point and plan exactly how you are going to get somewhere, or c) you can pick a direction and just go towards it. You probably know people that are on each of these paths. Or more likely, you’re thinking that it’s not such a simple choice and it’s situational.
You’re right. When it’s road trip time, I’m definitely more in the Option B category! But when it comes to general living, I think I gravitate towards Option C.
This option is right in the middle – you know you need to be somewhere or want to be somewhere, but you aren’t concerned with the specifics of how you get there. It affords flexibility, plan changes, and random acts of life that would just interrupt all your carefully laid plans anyway. It’s a way of enjoying the journey without being disappointed by every planned stop going awry along the way. But the path to your destination is winding and a little longer than it needed to be.
Also, this option is the best for me because I accept two truths: a) We don’t have control over everything; and b) Your fate and future isn’t predetermined. Which I guess is just another way of saying that youneed to work hard for what you want and accept that failure is an option along the way.
Missing my schedule last week? That was a minor setback. A minor failure. But it’s okay, it’s not going to derail the direction I’m heading and I’m back at it today – getting something out there and holding myself accountable. Maybe my path is a little longer now but I’m still pointed in the right direction.
If you can take anything from this post, maybe it’s this: don’t let little set backs get in your way. The most successful people have lots of failures along the way, what makes them successful is that they continue to push forward.
Anyone reading this has heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” I’m a subscriber to this and it’s a firm part of every aspect of my life. I can freely admit that some things come easier to me than perhaps they do for others. Most technology, for example, is easier for me than for my partner. The joke around our house is that all I need to do is walk in the room, breathe on whatever tech was broken, and it’ll just magically work.
The reality is often different. There’s occasionally a time or two when things just magically worked, but most of the time, it’s directly related to my years and years of practice.
The truth is that I’ve spent over two decades practicing these skills and learning from observation. While I may have some natural skill for learning technology, that talent isn’t the same as the wisdom and accumulated knowledge I’ve built up over decades. That’s why when I walk into a room and fix a problem, it seems so easy – I’ve either seen the exact problem before, I’ve seen a similar problem, or I know enough about the underlying technology that I can make a pretty good guess at where the problem would be.
Thus, my position: practice is more important than raw talent. No matter what it is, I’d rather work with the person that put in the time to practice over someone that just happens to be good.
Part of my argument is probably rooted in jealousy. I’ve had to beat my head against the wall for years now to get anywhere with drawing, painting, music, or just anything creative. It’s taken consistent effort, every single day, to get anywhere. Drawing has been the most consistent point of practice as I’ve been sketching nearly every day now for some time – even when I don’t spend a lot of time on it, I spend at least 10 minutes every night before bed sketching.
And you know what I see? Improvements. Consistent improvements over time. The drawings I have now are better than what I had last year and vastly improved over the drawings from years before. The topics I choose to research more in-depth stick with me for longer and I’m apply to apply what I learn easier because I practiced those things every day. Music is the same. I practice every day and I’ve gotten better every day.
So when it comes to practice being more important than raw talent, I think the other part of my argument is this: If you’re putting in the time to practice every day to get better, you’ve got the right attitude. You already know that you’ll have to work hard and put in time to get the results you want. You already know that this is something you want badly enough to put in that time and effort. And, probably, you’re humble enough to accept that you don’t know everything about the subject – that’s why you were practicing.
Practice builds talent – talent that is repeatable and reliable.
That’s it. No advice, just respect. If you’re one of those people out there working hard every day to hone your craft, I respect you for that, and I hope you keep it up!
P.S. Another thing about practicing… Raw talent eventually fades when you don’t put in the time because no one is born with knowledge, you have to work at that.
No matter where you are in life or what you’re doing with your time, you probably have a goal. Maybe you want to lose five pounds or learn a new language. Perhaps, the goal is broader: try something new. Whatever the case, you probably have something you’re striving to get to and that’s great! It’s important. It’s a reason to get up and keep working at something every day.
I’m pretty sure anytime I’ve read, watched, or heard something about being successful it typically involves not accepting defeat and having defined goals. One problem that I’ve had in the past, though, is that sometimes I don’t know where to go after reaching a goal.
A long time ago, I had this goal: learn the piano. To learn the piano, I would take some lessons and I would play my favorite classical pieces. I practiced as much as I could as often as I could and eventually, I could play those songs wonderfully… but then, I didn’t know what to do. I had met my initial goals and I didn’t have anywhere to go at the time. I wasn’t interested in playing the same songs but there weren’t any other songs that really inspired me the same way.
So, I stopped playing for a long time.
This didn’t last forever as you may have noticed in previous posts on this site. Now, arguably, I’m a worse piano player than I was back then. My hands have a hard time working independently, sight-reading is a chore if I can even read the music at all anymore, and freestyle play is full of accidentals – not the good kind either.
This happened because I had goals. I had very specific goals and a very specific end point and when I got there, I was bored with no where to go. Was I particularly great? Nope, not really, but it didn’t matter because my goal wasn’t to “be great.” My goals were built around learning the instrument and playing specific scores because I grew up loving those songs and just wanted to replicate the sound myself.
Fast forward all of these years and I’m on a different journey. I’m practicing my playing (albeit on a keyboard which is good but doesn’t have that full piano feel) regularly and I’ve started learning a new instrument: guitar. It’s another one of those things I’ve always wanted to do and kept putting off until I had the time. Life never just hands you time, so a few months ago, I finally made the plunge. This time around, I set some goals and am working towards those, but more importantly, my outlook is different.
What seems obvious to me now is that it needs to be less about reaching some arbitrary goal and more about enjoyment of the music. Enjoying the sound of a guitar or piano and wanting to have it make those sounds is a much better reason to show up every day and put in the practice to get better rather than learning how to play a handful of favorite songs. Realizing that practicing these this music is an art and something that brings calm into my life – turns out, that’s more important to me than being able to play any one song.
I know I can’t see the future, but I think this time I’m on a better track. I believe that a few years from now, I’ll be better at playing piano and guitar and I can look back on this year in my life as the turning point – because this is the time when I finally figured out that goals aren’t everything. Sometimes, you need to do a thing just because it makes you happy. And this is my advice to you: set goals but remember to smile and enjoy the thing you are doing.
P.S. Another thing that has helped me is understanding my own limitations. I accept the limited amount of time I can put into learning something new and I accept that it will be years before I’m any good. Accepting that makes everything more enjoyable because I’m not rushing – if I want to spend today just working chord progressions for the dozen chords I’ve learned, then that’s what I do. I get better while just having fun.
Patience is a hard thing to learn and practice that mostly just comes with time. I won’t say it’s universally true, but with age comes patience. There’s a willingness to sit back and just accept things as they come – to sit back and listen. I think you can practice patience by doing things that require you to just be still and in the moment but mostly, I think it just comes with time.
Perhaps it’s less about age and more about acceptance that there are things you can’t control in life. When you are younger, so much of life is out of your personal control and you don’t really accept that thinking, “Hey, I’ll get out of this house someday and do whatever I want!” You eventually get some freedom but then the reality of life steps in – turns out, you can’t do just do anything you want without consequence. It also turns out that there are just some things in life, these days, that you can’t change.
My life experience was exactly that.
As a teen, I had about zero patience but I was also willing to walk away from something when it wasn’t going my way. In other words, my teenage version of patience was apathy and the ability to walk away from anything not specifically going my way. In my early 20s, it was much the same except I wasn’t able to walk away so apathy turned to anger – anger at bosses for being so slow to take my suggestions; anger at co-workers for being so dumb as to not know the basics of our job; anger at the parents that took days off because their kids were sick. Misguided anger, everywhere and for everyone.
Mid-to-late 20s? I had kids. I can honestly tell you that nothing changes your outlook on life quite as much as having kids but it can take some time to fully set in. In terms of patience? I gained some, sure, but probably not as much as you would think. In fact, having children really pushed me to change my life and left me feeling like I had wasted the first 20-some years of my life. (Which is a broad, incorrect generalization, but I’m sure you understand.) Feeling that way spurred me to change a lot, mostly for the better, but was a source of anxiety and stress for a long time.
It still is in some ways. I was an avid video game player – it consumed my life for many years – but when I had kids, I walked away from the worst of that. As my kids get older, though, they play video games now and I struggle every day with my own past – I want them to have fun with their friends while also ensuring they don’t waste years like I did. But hey, this isn’t a parenting blog, so moving on…
Getting to 30s, well, I finally found more patience. I think it was the cross-section of a lot of things in my life. I’ve achieved some goals and as my children get older – I have more free time to get back to pursuing dreams. Also, there are some fundamental differences between me now and the person that existed 10 and 20 years ago – differences rooted heavily in those life changes I alluded to but continue to provide zero details. The main point is that I finally found something.
Maybe it’s better to just say that I found some peace. For a lot of my earlier years, there was a sense of urgency tied to every pursuit: “If I do this, I need to be amazing so I can make a bazillion dollars and never work again.” Even in more recent years, I stressed about my paintings and how I needed to produce something that would get me known. The goal was less about adding something positive to the world and more about how I can walk away from my current career.
Reality hurts. As it turns out, all of these pursuits are extremely hard work and require a lot of effort and first attempts are rarely as good as we’d like to think. Even when you do turn out something great, you’re unknown so money doesn’t just pour in through some funnel without stopping. Even with my career – the reason why I’m good at what I do in my day job is because I now have years of experience and accumulated knowledge behind me that puts me above a lot of the competition. I haven’t crossed the peak into a place where new technologies are completely foreign to me and the younger generation is taking my place. That’ll come in the next decade, I’m sure.
These days? I have enough patience to understand that it’s a long game I’m playing. I might have little successes along the way but I expect to be struggling to get this off the ground for a long time, depending on the amount of effort I can realistically put into it.
So that brings me back around to our core topic. Looking back, there are a few things that I wish I had known which contribute heavily to my ability to be patient. Those items, in no particular order:
Don’t put off doing the thing you love thinking that life will somehow afford you an opportunity later. Life will never work out that way. You have to make time and chase those things.
You’re never as good as you think you are at first. That first album? Not the best. That first painting? Not the best. BUT, that’s okay.
When you suffer a setback, don’t give up. Just keep working at it.
Define what your version of success looks like in realistic terms. “Being rich and famous” is not a realistic goal when you are starting out, so don’t make it your measure of success from the start.
If I had practiced these things from the start, my anxiety would have been reduced and perhaps I could have been more patient, stuck with something for longer, and found modest success earlier in life while following my dreams.
If you have some secrets for staying patient, send them my way via email or twitter, I’d love to hear it!
P.S. Patience also comes from acceptance that failure is a potential outcome and accepting that it is better to have tried than to have done nothing at all.
I’ve spent some time in a previous post talking about failure and criticism, but there’s a very specific kind of criticism I wanted to focus on separately today: comparing yourself or your work to others.
Where to start…
As an artist in any medium, internal criticism can drive you to be better and to make something better. It can help you produce your best work… but it could also just be a spiral of self-doubt that causes you to stop moving forward and results in you stopping the thing you love out of fear that it’ll never be good enough.
I generally feel that a lot of internal criticism comes from comparing ourselves and our work to some golden standard. “My work doesn’t look or sound like that, therefore it’s not good enough.” But, you know, all that great art you love? It’s not often produced by a single mind.
Comics are often drawn by one person, colored by another, and are probably written by someone else entirely. Let’s not forget the editors and publishers involved in that process either.
Novels are written by one person, sure. But those commercially successful ones probably also have an editor, an agent for the author, a publisher, and a marketing team. Oh and if there is artwork involved, that’s usually a different person.
Music takes a team of people to get done. Sure there’s the artist you know and love but that person is just the image of a whole team of people. You can have a lyricist, one person for each of those instruments, a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer, and that’s just to get started.
Next time you watch any movie, take a look at the credits. Sure, the actor gets all the praise and money, but there are hundreds of people behind that actor making the movie happen. Too many people for me to bother listing here.
The point is, every commercially successful thing has a team of people behind it that are generally invisible to you and, as a result, it becomes unfair to compare yourself to that level of success. And even if you think you’re doing stuff on your own, there are still teams of people behind you somewhere. There’s a team of people behind that distribution service you use to get your music onto streaming platforms. There’s a team running Bandcamp. There’s a team running this WordPress server so I don’t have to worry about it.
In the end, I can’t do everything myself but as an independent artist, I can’t afford to work with other people. I’m just not profitable enough to pay or well connected enough to ask for favors.
That brings me to two points:
You have to pick and choose how you spend your limited resources.
You can’t compare yourselfto a whole team of people.
I’ll come back to that first item in some future post. As for the second item – yeah, you have to always remind yourself that your point of comparison is probably unfair. Even with all the musical talent in the world, you might not necessarily understand sound engineering or marketing or some other seemingly random thing you’re going to end up working on.
What do I do? Well… comparison is a necessary evil. If I never listened to other music or never aspired to be like one of those established greats, then I wouldn’t have any place to aim my ambition. So, I still compare myself to established artists and sometimes that does lead to a lot of self-doubt. I think that what I’m doing isn’t good enough and never will be but when I feel it coming – or hear those words in my head – I try to put a stop to it. I remind myself of what I said a few blog entries ago: My music, my art, and my life will never be perfect but it doesn’t need to be. Also, I remind myself that I can’t expect to get better if I give up.
Really, you can never be great if you stop before you are good.
Once I accept that, I take a moment to compare where I am now to where I was 3 months, 6 months, or even 12 months ago. A year ago, making music was just something that maybe I would get to eventually and I knew nothing about. Three to six months ago, I was working on trying to make an album of music but focused on just how it sounded. After that, I started focusing on learning about all the things related to music theory, music production, and music marketing. I’ve taken on a number of challenges and am working multiple projects to get more music out into the world.
None of my current success would have been possible without taking that first step: accepting that I’m not one of the greats but I’ll never make it there without trying, practicing, and putting forth a ton of effort.
Today, I only move forward.
P.S. Something else that can help you is to search for inspiration. I find it in a lot of places but, there’s this guy, Charles Cleyn, that I stumbled upon some months back on Youtube because of his Logic Pro tutorials. What I love about him is his story of how he got into music and the personal videos he shares about his own growth. You can learn more about Charles’ story at his site or on youtube. It reminds me, in some ways, of my own life and probably most importantly: you don’t have to start doing this at a certain time in your life, you just need to start.
I’m not sure if it’s really failure if you never tried. That’s the thing that always stopped me from putting anything artistic into the world – what if people don’t like it? What if it’s terrible? Quite honestly, the first few things you put out there probably are terrible and people won’t like it. At least I’m sure that’s true for most of us.
It’s because very little comes from just having natural talent. I will, of course, leave myself some wiggle room and say that most of us don’t have a born ability to be amazing at any one thing. When I used to hear about “child prodigies” doing some thing or another at such a young age, all I could really think was, “Yeah, sure, they are young and fantastical… but they still had to put in the hours to practice.” Nothing good happens without putting in the time to get there.
Thus, my biggest failure. Until now, I’ve never really tried to put anything out there. I never blogged, I never tried to adapt to the modern world and make a presence for myself on social media. I had one of two ideas, which go something like:
Idea 1: My art or music is so terrible that no one will like it and therefore it’s not worth doing.
Idea 2: Something will be so perfect that someone with power and authority will just reach out and all my dreams will come true! I only need to create that perfect thing...
Sadly, neither of these are true. (You may think otherwise!) It took a long time for me to make it to where I am today and I’m still learning all the time. For example, it’s only been a month or two since wrapping up my first attempt at music and I’ve already learned so much that I wish I could go back and re-mix the whole production. The same is true of anything that I’ve drawn. It’s okay, not great, but a hell of a lot better than it was some years ago.
So over the years, I convinced myself of those two ideas and never really advanced in any meaningful way in my artistic passions. To be clear, I still haven’t tried really. I have never applied to an artistic job, gone to a gallery and asked them to sell my work, or stood on a street playing music. There’s a lot I haven’t tried because it’s a lot of work, it’s new and scary, and I stand to lose a lot by trying to make that change.
Which brings me to 2021 where things have changed. Mostly, I realize, there is no recovering from my past failures. There’s only moving forward and trying again, trying harder, and accepting what comes. An important part of moving forward is also setting reasonable, attainable goals. My 2021 goal is to put some music into the world, figure out how to make the best music that I can, and try to get out there in front of people (digitally, not in person) to find an audience receptive to what I have to offer. If it’s one person (it better be at least one person), cool. If it’s more, that’s even better!
A few years back, though, my main goal would have been: quit my job and sustain my life through art. Ultimately, that goal led to stress, pressure, and disappointment when it didn’t happen. It was too lofty of a goal to jump right into – it didn’t account for the years of hard work and effort that would be necessary to get there. Worse, though, is that having such an unattainable goal also led to a reduction in my own creative output because I was more worried about ensuring as many people liked what I did rather than first making sure that I liked the art myself. And if you want to sell it, you have to love it enough to want to buy it.
I’ve written a bunch about failure, but what about criticism?
Criticism is hard to accept when you’ve done something that you love and all you want is for the people around you to love it too. It can be even harder to accept when you disagree with the criticism. And, trust me, I’m no stranger to this concept. In my household, I’m always asking my wife to give me feedback on my work and she sometimes asks that I offer feedback to her writings.
After all these years, you know the main thing that I have to share? You can’t be angry when someone gives you feedback that you asked them to give. It seems silly to write that down but it’s 100% true. Here’s what happens:
You fall in love with your art.
You think you finished it and immediately call in your partner to give you a review.
Your partner is not as happy as you are and points out some flaws.
Immediately, you’re defensive and a bit angry. How could they not love it like you do?
It can be difficult but that’s the real secret – controlling your anger and disappointment so that people can give you honest feedback without fear that you’ll be hurt. Though it also helps if you ask the right questions or approach the situation in a different way. Here’s what I would advise:
Wait a little while before you ask for feedback.
Don’t ask for generic feedback, ask specific, pointed questions.
Remember that you’re the artist and feedback is something you don’t have to take.
Item one is pretty easy but what do I mean about asking specific questions? Well, don’t ask the question “what do you think about this song?” Instead ask questions like, “Do you experience any specific emotions while listening to this song? Is there any visual that comes to mind when you listen to this song? Did the transition at X:XX sound natural?”
As the artist, you probably set out to create something that evoked a specific emotion or told a specific story. Maybe you’re a writer and you just need to know if the reader could predict your story. Whatever the case, these are specific questions that you can ask and can be helpful in guiding your artistic process. If you wanted to evoke a feeling of loneliness in your song but your listener feels like the song is bright and happy, you’ve probably done something wrong. Better, though, is that the person isn’t being asked to give you a slew of negative comments about your work. They are simply providing the answer to a pointed question.
Granted, you may still be disappointed by the answers you hear and when that happens, you make a choice: Do you revise the work or do you leave it as-is? I typically lean towards setting the piece aside and revisiting it much later and I almost always end up revising the work. Why? After a nice break, the flaws always become more apparent.
I wish I could give you something akin to the “secret sauce” but it seems like this post could be summed up to: Work hard and keep your feelings in check. Also, it helps to adopt an artist name to hide behind…