A Young Artist’s Guide to Playing for Keeps, Pt. 4

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 and part three here.)

1. Plunge immediately into action. The word “start” comes from the Old English term, stiertan, which means, “a sudden movement.” Doesn’t say anything about being perfect. Or big. Or good. Just sudden.

And understandably, starting can be hard. Especially when you’re paralyzed by the prospect of the artistic task in front of you. The smartest response to this challenge is to lower the threat level of execution.

Here’s how: Instead of overwhelming yourself with fears of how daunting your project is, give yourself permission to begin small. Learn to love the drudgery of small simple tasks that push you in the right direction. You’ll discover that executing small steps builds your artistic confidence – plus – gives you the freedom to pause, test, reevaluate and adjust along the way.

As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, “Books are written by nibbling away one sentence at a time.” That’s what successful artists know: All that counts it that you make progress in your work.

You don’t need to take the tour – you need to buy a guest past and go. Don’t to take slow for an answer. There is a clock inside of you saying now. How will you convert inertia into demonstrable forward action?

2. Brand your honesty. Here’s my official definition of writing: “Slice open a vein and bleed your truth all over the page.” This distinction is core to my work because, in my experience, bloody art gives audiences access to their truest inmost selves. It meets them where they are. It rewards them from any angle.

Unfortunately, honest art scares people. Apparently not everybody is ready for the truth. But the cool part is: The more personal your work is, the more universal your appeal is; and the more universal your appeal is, the more your fans relate to it. It’s almost spooky how that works.

But that’s what people love. Art that fails to be autobiographical, on the other hand, usually falls short. It remains flat and uninspiring.

Your challenge, if you want to strike a consistent cord of novelty, is to spin the work out yourself. To write with your pen dipped in your own blood, pulling your voice from where your pain lives. No need to justify your hungers. No need to defend your obsessions.

Just let your art be an extension of yourself, and it will infect the people who matter most. What are you doing to keep your work honest?

3. Labor heroically. Anybody can be successful for a short period of time before the rest of the world finds out. Sustainability, on the other hand, is a different animal. It requires patience, stamina, persistence and labor.

That’s how you build something real: By fully engaging of all your faculties. By enlisting everything you’ve got. And by committing to an ongoing investment of energy.

There’s a subject art schools don’t teach: Commitment. Probably because it’s not something that can be comfortably quantified. But it still has to be part of the equation. Because the moment you stop making art, part of you dies.

My suggestion: Never stop sending work out into the world. Instead of fabricating fantastic strategies to avoid making art, make a commitment to laying a certain amount of track, every single day. Because while you can pretend to be an artist, you can’t pretend to make art. What kind of structure can you place around yourself to make sure you remember to execute consistently?

4. Create a space where it’s impossible to hide from yourself. Some days I wish I were delusional. It would probably make things a lot easier. But I can’t stomach it. Literally. I know what happens to my body when I lie to myself. And it’s simply not worth it.

Turns out, looking away from what you need to face causes more anxiety than actually facing it. Dang it.

That’s why I write morning pages, first thing, every day of my life: They keep me from getting away with self-evasion. They align me with things that will never lie to me. And they enable me to meet myself and not turn away.

Try this: Build structure around yourself to make sure you remember to do that consistently. Honor the existence of what you’ve been evading. Then, engage in a regular practice of healthy self-confrontation.

After all, artistic originality is an ongoing process of staying true to yourself. And if you never face the page, you’ll never know who you really are. Maybe it’s time to call yourself out on the carpet and induce a little self-squirming. When was the last time you laid your world bare?

5. Develop deeper trust in your own instincts. Feedback is highly overrated. It rarely reflects who you are as an artist. More often than not, it just projects the insecure concerns and character flaws of the person giving it.

In my experience: Unless it comes from the small group of who truly matter most, it’s nothing but a confusing, discouraging, stressful waste of time and tears. What’s more, spending too much time living in other people’s worlds leads you away from your own voice.

Look: You can only be bounced around like a pinball for so long. And life’s too short to create art in response to demands of the market.

Is there something that keeps scraping away inside of you? Good. Use that. Stop worrying about which shelf your book belongs to. Just write the damn thing. Stop stressing over which genre your music is classified as. Just sing your face off.

Love yourself enough to honor the demands of the gift inside of you. Make the art you care about. Expose the place where you really live. And if people don’t like it, tough shit. Their loss. Believe in your heart that the people who matter most, will. How much of the world’s best art came from a committee?

6. Talent is overrated. As an artist, you have two options: You can squander energy worrying about how much talent you have, or, you can spend energy splattering the canvas with your heart. Choose wisely.

Because the reality is, history proves time and time again that achievements trump qualifications every day of the week.

Think about it: If you never produce anything, nobody will even care if you’re talented. If you never produce anything, nobody will ever get a chance to see how talented your work is. And if you never produce anything, nobody will ever react to your work in a way that helps you make it better.

What matters is execution. What matters is that you ship. What matters it that you sing with a human voice. If you want to play for keeps, stop operating out of the toxic idea that you need to know what you’re doing. You don’t. You just need to do it.

Hell, I’ve been doing this for ten years and I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I sure do a lot of it. And the people who matter notice. Just remember: Art existed long before degrees did. You don’t need another acronym – you need a bigger portfolio. What have you executed 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, “26 Ways to Out Brand Your Competition,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

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

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

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