A Young Artist’s Guide to Playing For Keeps, Pt. 2

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!

1. Preserve your freedom. As an artist, I don’t ask for much. I just want to stay free enough to write what I want to read – not what the market wants to buy. I want to define my own private creative domain. And if that means I need to walk away from certain projects, clients and opportunities, fine. If that means I have to say no for the sake of my own autonomy and creativity sovereignty, fine.

That’s the covenant I made with myself, and I will preserve my artistic freedom at all cost.

Here’s why: I think when you create to infect people with your art instead of trying to create from what the market wants – you win. Hugh McLeod made a powerful point about this in Ignore Everybody: “The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.”

Your challenge is to approach life as a creation, not a reaction. To stay focused on creating art, not being an artist. That’s how you stay the course – your course. Otherwise you destroy yourself in response to an invitation from others to stop living. Where are you holding back from expressing yourself?

2. Be emotionally ready for success. Becoming too successful, too fast, too early will either turn you into an arrogant ass or cause you to burn out. Or both. That’s what I learned the hard way: While money loves speed, velocity creates stress – and stress kills people.

Hell, it almost killed me.

When I started my career as a writer, I lacked the emotional foundation to support my (unexpected) early successes. And as a result, I ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung and a tube in my chest. Gasp.

Pace yourself. Get rich slowly. Avoid getting sucked into the addictive vortex of success and achievement. Otherwise complacency will erase what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. My friend Jason Koteki writes and cartoons extensively on this very topic. In a popular blog post, he wrote the following:

“It’s alarming how often we chase down the secrets to success without ever stopping to consider the side effects of the ideas we are so eager to implement. We can drive ourselves crazy in that pursuit, and we can drive away the people we love the most while we do it.”

Bottom line: Working at a breakneck pace works for about six weeks. After that, you can’t bullshit your body and you can’t fool your family. Just be careful what you begin. Otherwise you’ll be so busy fighting your inner battles that you won’t have time to execute any art, much less share that art with the people who matter most. Are you monitoring your momentum?

3. Be afraid – be very afraid. One of the prerequisites of the artistic journey is acquiring the aptitude to embrace the unknown. To overcome the paralyzing fear of failure. To tear yourself away from the safe harbor of certainty, stare into the abyss and keep going.

John Keats referred to this skill as “negative capability,” or the power to remain in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any fact or reason.

That’s how true artists play for keeps: They accept fear as an inevitable part of the equation. And they understand that fear is acceptable as long as it’s proportionate to the situation. My suggestion: Stop trying to stamp out uncertainty. Instead, make friends with it. Figure out what it’s trying to teach you about yourself. That’s how you convert ambiguity into ammo.

Because as much as the advertisers would love for you to believe it, life is not a sports drink commercial. People who have no fear are either liars or robots. Truth is: Courage isn’t acting without fear – it’s acting beyond it. If you want to make art that matters, consider that the world isn’t trying to knock you down – it’s trying to educate you. Stop freaking out and just listen. How will you use fear as a compass?

4. Learn to weather ridicule. The more successful you become, the more torpedoes will be shot at you. This is a good thing. Being ridiculed means being noticed. Being ridiculed means being remembered.


While being ridiculed does sting – being ignored will flat out kill you. That’s the real enemy. No use losing your head because some wanker left a nasty comment on your Facebook wall.

Look: You’re nobody until somebody hates you. And if everybody loves your art, you’re doing something wrong. I’m reminded of the advice given to me by graphic novelist David Mack, “An idea is not any good unless it’s on the verge of being stupid.”

Are you willing to polarize to monetize?
Are you wiling to make people react to make a difference?

Hope so. Because anything worth doing is worth being attacked for.

Instead of allowing your self-worth to hinge on the words of a few haters, consider it an honor to be criticized. Release your bottomless need for approval. And stop organizing your life around the people who don’t get the joke.

Remember: Better to be hated for what you are then loved for what you aren’t. Whom have you pissed off this week?

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, “49 Ways to become an Idea Powerhouse,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

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

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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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