A new year is supposed to bring hope and inspiration. Yet during the first 8 days of 2011, no less than four of my friends (two writers, one musician, and one artist) have messaged me asking basically the same thing:
Why do we keep doing to do this?
In the wake of poor attendance at shows, low book/CD/ticket sales, little enthusiasm from those around them, etc., just why do we continue to torture ourselves by the writing of stories/novels/songs, the drawing/painting of pictures, and the continual practice of our arts? Two of them even claimed they were giving up.
But I have news for them...and for you, if you're a creative type.
You can't give up. So don't even try. If you're a real writer, a real artist, a real dancer, a real musician, a real film maker . . . you'll continue doing what you do because it's in your genetic make-up. Being discouraged over lack of interest or sales of your product is just part of the business end of the artist's life. It's no secret that even those who stick with it their entire life may never gain fame, or that dreamed-of six-figure contract. But that's okay. Because if you're only in this for the money and the money alone, chances are your heart is only partially into your work (if at all).
From 1982-2000 I played bass and then drums in countless bands...most of them original. The only time I made a little bit of money was with the two cover bands I drummed for. I've also been publishing fanzines and books since the early 80s, and have just over the past few years finally seen some money (and a small following) over my writing and some of the books released by my small press. While financially my press is in jeopardy (even after releasing a book last month by one of the all-time best writers in the horror genre), I will continue to publish one way or another. Likewise, while I've been trying to sell my second novel for close to two years, I will continue to do so as I write my third and work on several short stories, regardless of the money that may or may not come.
Why? Because it's what I have to do. I'm engineered to create...in my case, through writing and publishing.
I have friends who continue to play weekend after weekend in "tribute" bands and cover bands at small neighborhood bars, some of them who were at one point signed to major label record deals (my own brother being one of them). Yet instead of leaving when the big time never came calling, or when their CD received negative reviews or no press, some of them continue on because they LOVE to play...it's what they do. Same with some artists I know who may never see their work featured in a prominent gallery or between the pages of a $75.00 hardcover coffee table book. Yet they keep painting...they keep sketching...they keep drawing comics even after Marvel and DC have let them go or avoided them altogether.
While every creator who is serious about his or her craft will see ups and downs (and many will see the artist's life as mostly downs on the financial side), discouragement is going to happen. But we need to brush ourselves off the second a rejection comes, the second the bad reviews come in, the moment your potential boss or buyer says, "No thank you," or "We can't use this at the moment." For those serious about their craft, they need to cherish and take criticism from those who know better...from those who've been there. I'm thankful for the handful of writers/editors who are willing to tear apart my work and point me in the right direction. I'm even thankful for the guy who told me my debut novel was the worst novel he's ever read.
Use the criticism, the poor sales, and the lack of general interest to fuel your fire. Use what you can from the bad (and even good) reviews to make your next project better. If you don't have many, do what you have to to find those who are like-minded and encourage one another, daily if possible. Honestly critique one another's work. Do what you do to please yourself and to fulfill that inner desire that forces you to put everything on hold until you've expressed yourself through your chosen medium as best as you can...then seek to do it even better.
Those who mean business will keep on keeping on, regardless of the levels of success. Those who are playing games or doing it for kicks will eventually fade away.
I hope my four friends (and anyone else reading this) will keep on keeping on.
(Illustration by MC Escher)