Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Advice to Creative People

I could probably summarize my advice to other creative people in one sentence: "Get comfortable with yourself." What would be the fun in that, though? It takes awhile to grow into that mindset anyway, so here are some thoughts that might help you get there faster.

Value your works

Maybe the first thing you have to appreciate is that what you produce are "works": irreproducible images, passages, and other products of your personal vision, interpretation, and mind. Social media, and the digital age in general, has severely eroded the value that our society once assigned to the arts. Don't stand for that. Demand compensation, within reason of course, that reflects what you put into a given work. Recognize your worth as an artist and human being and don't back down from it.

Don't emulate anyone else

It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you....followed the writing routine of Elmore Leonard, say, you would be much more productive and successful. Balderdash. Not everyone works the same way. A routine that is effective for one person is completely inappropriate for another. Seldom are even two consecutive days the same for my own writing style. If you are producing, then you are doing what works for you. Only if you fail completely to produce, over a long period, do you need to re-think your approach.

Make your art a priority

You do have to make your creative endeavors a priority in your life if you want to be successful. Still, recognize that on some days, even the best at their craft would sooner have a root canal than sit down at the desk, stand at the easel, or whatever. Just the same, remember that healthy eating, exercise, cultivating loving relationships with others, and personal education are also necessary for your productivity. A diversity of activities each day, or at least each week, is key to keeping energized and creative. I make it a point to take a brisk 30-minute walk every day, unless the weather poses a threat to my health.

The myth of the muse

One cannot rely on someone else, or something else for inspiration. "Write (draw, paint, etc) what you know" is a constant refrain from teachers and mentors, but there is good reason for that advice. It is a steady stream feeding your creative self, and it lends uniqueness to your voice. You must believe in your personal perspective, realm of experience, and style of expression. My personal desire to change public attitudes towards insects, spiders, and other "unlovable" creatures drives me daily. What I don't already know I learn; and I infuse my writing and photography with my personal enthusiasm and awe for the natural world.

There is no "writer's block"

If you are passionate about your work, there is no valve on creative flow. It is a constant torrent. What can happen is periodic lack of motivation and/or a lack of focus. Many of us are prone to distraction, maybe even have undiagnosed ADD. Committing to one project, be it an essay, novel, painting, or commissioned sculpture, may seem impossible at times because other projects or life events are clamoring for our attention. That is natural and afflicts everyone regardless of their occupation or career. Accept that this will happen, and take extra care of your physical and mental health when it does.

Don't compare yourself to others

Many times this will be a pitfall, something that consumes you when you are vulnerable to a sudden attack of an inferiority complex. Your measure of success must be your own. You may be prone to jealousy and envy, but most of us are. Use those emotions as motivation, not as an excuse to wallow or give up. Your uniqueness is all you have going for you. Celebrate it.

Get comfortable with turmoil

There is some truth to the "suffering artist" cliché. Passion often comes from personal experiences, circumstances, or world events and issues that you react viscerally to. Channel the rage, anger, hostility, or pain into something that moves others. Personally, I believe my greatest successes are when I express opinions and beliefs that are shared by others, but that those other people never dared broadcast out of fear. What would their friends think? How dare they say that! Be that kind of daredevil.

Don't apologize

This comes on the heels of being fearless. Do not be fearful of changing your mind or attitude when confronted by an opposing point of view that has merit; but don't apologize for expressing yourself in the moment, espousing your own personal interpretations (be they written, drawn, painted, sculpted, sung, etc) of your world. You are not responsible for how others receive your works. Your intent should never be to willfully hurt others, but you are going to cause wounds now and again and you have to accept that as part of the price of the creative process. Forgive yourself when that happens.

Don't live by someone else's standards

Did I say that already? Well, it bears repeating. Here is "A Cartoonist's Advice," by Bill Watterson, the man behind Calvin and Hobbes:

"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble."

Write your own rules

Whatever you may take from this blog post, there is greater value in what you decide is best for yourself. You will always be your own worst critic, but you have to also be your staunchest advocate. There is no one else capable to making you great. So, pin those self-affirming statements to the wall over your desk, to the frame of your easel, or mirror, or monitor. Experience joy. Make sacrifices. Accept occasional poverty (in the financial sense only). Think. Feel. Live. That is all that art is.

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