A Young Artist’s Guide to Playing For Keeps, Pt. 11

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

I’ve been there myself, and here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way:(Read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, part five here, part six here, part seven, part eight, part nine and part ten

1. Paint yourself into a committed corner. When I started my career as an artist, I never had a plan. But I never had a backup plan, either. And looking back, I realize how powerful that notion was. After all, backup plans are nothing but sabotage waiting to happen. It’s like quitting in advance. As Tom Peters once told me:

“The best, if scariest, path to commitment is purposefully going public and cutting off escape routes.”

That’s the essence of playing for keeps: Answering your whispered call. Deliberately putting yourself in a position where there’s no turning back. Taking a risk. Then watching what the universe does.

Without that level of commitment, you’ll never hold yourself accountable. You’ll never go all in. And resistance will happily stand by to help you throw in the towel. Are you jumping off the edge or sliding down the side of the mountain on your butt?

2. Interact with flaming intensity. As an artist, people need to see that you are possessed. They should feel that you are on fire every time they interact with you. And your flame should shoot a ray of beauty into their hearts that inspires their belief in you, your work and your why.

Without that exchange, without that infection of emotion, the people who matter most will continue to resent your calling, resist your creativity and restrain your expression. And the weight of that negativity will be the end of you.

No, your job is not to make everybody happy – it’s to stop time. To give people a brief and precious glimpse of what they really are. If your work can accomplish that task, it will change all who see it. Forever. What does the recipient of your art receive?

3. Complacency is the hallmark of comfort. As an artist, your title fight is never as important as defending it. That’s the peril of victory: When you’re the challenger, nobody sees you coming. You have the element of surprise on your side.

But when you’re the champ, everybody sees you coming. And because they know what you’re capable of, they throw everything they’ve got at you. This is a dangerous incarnation of resistance. And if you’re not careful, it will beat you senseless.

That’s why I put everything I’ve got into anything I write. Every sentence is an innovation. Every sentence has my entire life behind it. And every sentence is coated with as much blood as possible. Because I know that if I don’t get a fraction better with each one I write, I do my readers a disservice.

Real artists stay hungry. They root out any sense of entitlement. Otherwise complacency knocks them out in the first round. Are you too comfortable?

4. Learn to pull teeth. Inspiration is great – when it shows up. But most of the time, it needs to be yanked out of hiding. You have to create it. You have to channel it. You have to command it. Every. Single. Day.

And that’s the complaint: Creativity can be like pulling teeth. But there’s no point in making mountain out of a molar. If something is like pulling teeth, maybe it’s time to get a new pair of pliers. Here are a few from my toolbox: First, honor the wave. When inspiration strikes, go with it. Write until the vein is out. Because it might not fill up again for a while.

Second, inspiration is the fruit of sustained effort. Build structure into your creative time. Force yourself to be due at the page. Third, book blank time. Regularly go perpendicular to the activity at hand.

By physically and mentally displacing yourself, you allow the lungs of inspiration exhale into your life. Are you standing by for inspiration to arrive or stepping up and taking it?

5. You can’t set art off in a corner. Performance isn’t a nicety – it’s a necessity. You have to be willing stand up and be recognized for your work. Otherwise your art will be ignored. In a recent interview on public radio, songwriter Sheryl Crow made an interesting point on this topic:

“Nobody buys records anymore. That’s why touring is so essential. The best way to afford being an artist is, always has been, and always will be, to go out and play for people.”

When was your last show? When is your next show? Because if you’re not regularly getting up in front of people and giving the gift of your art, what’s the point of doing it?

Without a collision between your work and the outside world, you’re just winking in the dark. Your art is the tree in the forest that nobody heard. The upside of exposure is everything. Are you safe and invisible or risky and everywhere?

6. Artists who don’t sell, suffer. I once met a romance novelist at a writer’s conference. We got on the subject of book marketing, branding and the like. And when I asked her which channel she found to be the most profitable for promotion, she said something I’ll never forget:

“I write books – I don’t sell them.”

That pretty much ended our conversation. Clearly, that woman had zero understanding of what it means to play for keeps. Yes, you’re an artist. But you’re also a salesman. And if you’re not there to sell, you’re just a visitor.

Believe me, I’d rather jump out of a burning building in my boxer shorts — again — than make a sales call. But it’s part of the artistic package. Every product must be sold. Beware of sliding into an entitlement attitude that assumes your art will sell itself. When was the first time someone took you seriously as a salesperson?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.

Have you committed with both feet yet?

For the list called, “52 Random Insights to Grow Your Business,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011-2012!

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