Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Hope you all have something cool lined up for the last night of 2015. My big plans involve gaming with my wife and going to bed at a reasonable hour, because I’ve done the whole “stay up all night partying” thing before and it long ago lost all its charm for me.
Anyway, I want to go out on a positive and hopefully encouraging note and offer a few borrowed words of advice for all the artists out there. Yes, I use the word “writers” in the title of this post, but really, what I’m about to say applies to any artist who’s been dragging his or her feet about taking the next step with their art and putting it out there for the masses.
Stop dragging. Start doing.
At this point, some of you are whipping out your mental list of Reasons Why I Can’t Make Art so you can tell me that you have a job that takes up all your time, or you’re not that good at what you do, or making a living (even a partial living) as an artist is impractical because you have bills to pay, etc.
Did you just recite your reasons? Guess what? I can’t hear you.
You didn’t tell me why you can’t make art; you told yourself. You shut yourself down.
Why would you do that?
For a lot of would-be artists, the answer is: because I fear failing. I am afraid of putting my art out there only to be rejected and criticized. I’m afraid no one will like what I create.
You’re not wrong. All those things are possible outcomes — and in the Internet age, we’ve elevated criticism to a perverse art form of its own. Some people (too many) delight in tearing others down as if it’s their personal mission in life to find artists they deem unworthy of recognition and kick their legs out from under them.
Shitty people saying shitty things for the mere sake of their own entertainment is not a good reason to deny yourself.
In David Wong’s essay Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, he touches on the motivation-crushing fear of criticism:
It’s incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don’t create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created.
It’s so much easier to just sit back and criticize other people’s creations. This movie is stupid. That couple’s kids are brats. That other couple’s relationship is a mess. That rich guy is shallow. This restaurant sucks. This Internet writer is an asshole. I’d better leave a mean comment demanding that the website fire him. See, I created something.
Oh, wait, did I forget to mention that part? Yeah, whatever you try to build or create — be it a poem, or a new skill, or a new relationship — you will find yourself immediately surrounded by non-creators who trash it. Maybe not to your face, but they’ll do it. Your drunk friends do not want you to get sober. Your fat friends do not want you to start a fitness regimen. Your jobless friends do not want to see you embark on a career.
Just remember, they’re only expressing their own fear, since trashing other people’s work is another excuse to do nothing. “Why should I create anything when the things other people create suck? I would totally have written a novel by now, but I’m going to wait for something good, I don’t want to write the next Twilight!” As long as they never produce anything, their work will forever be perfect and beyond reproach. Or if they do produce something, they’ll make sure they do it with detached irony. They’ll make it intentionally bad to make it clear to everyone else that this isn’t their real effort. Their real effort would have been amazing. Not like the shit you made.
Personally, I believe that’s what it all comes down to: people who can’t get themselves in gear well enough to create and muster the courage to put their art out there project their own frustration, fear, and self-loathing outward at all those who are brave enough to expose themselves to the world.
Story time: Many years ago, when I was still jockeying a convenience store cash register, I was chatting with a co-worker about my dream of becoming a professional writer. A customer, an older man, overheard this conversation and told me, “It’ll never happen.” He told me that I would never become a working writer and I should give up on that dream now and be content having a “regular” job rather than live a life of constant disappointment. He should know, because he too once dreamed of becoming a writer and it never happened, and it would never happen for me either.
Think about that for a minute. A man who failed to realize his own dream invested time and energy to tell a perfect stranger to give up on pursuing his dream. Why would anyone do that?
They’re only expressing their own fear, since trashing other people’s work is another excuse to do nothing.
Don’t do nothing. Don’t give in to your fear. Fuck the haters. Create. Make your art. Make 2016 the year you let the world discover you.