Claim Your Birthright to Make More Art
Becoming successful as a creative person requires a combination of both internal and external skills. You have to overcome resistance, let go fo your need for validation, and develop the confidence to believe in the value of your work. But that’s only half the battle. That’s the inner layer.
The inner layer is a mental game. You’ll have to lick your wounds and heal them in therapy. You might read enough self-help books to open your own therapy practice. But at some point, you’ll see there are no external solutions for your internal wounds.
You also have to do the work. You have to develop habits, design systems, learn to manage your attention, finish the things you start, and master your craft. If you’re serious about it, this will take a minimum of 5 years of focused action. But it’s more likely it will take 10 years of showing up whether you’re inspired, drunk, sober, or hungover.
You will take punches in the face. You’ll have to overcome critics, naysayers, and people who doubt your capabilities. Sometimes they will be the people closest to you. Other times, they’ll be strangers on the internet.
If you’re driven by the desire to prove them wrong, your work will get tainted with that energy. The desire for external validation can be toxic to the creative process. Those who do their work solely with the desire to impress an audience rarely do.
You’ll also have to learn to create work that stands out in a sea of noise. Everybody has a microphone. Many people have one bigger than yours. Shouting louder isn’t going to get the job done. Mimicry at best will make you a pale imitation of your predecessors. At worst, you’ll be completely ignored.
Thus, the only viable long term strategy to become a successful creative is to be so good they can’t ignore you. You get that good by focusing mastery of metrics. You have to be driven by meaning instead of money, fame, or external accolades.
Make art you’re proud to put your signature on. If it doesn’t succeed commercially, as Neil Gaiman says, “At least, you’ll have the work.”
When you do finally get that thing you think will make you feel whole, complete and vindicated for all the people who didn’t believe in you, you’ll realize it won’t. There’s no I’ve made it moment.
Dax Shepard asks his podcasts guests, “You’re rich, you’re famous, and successful. Has it solved all the problems you thought it would?” NOBODY has said yes.
You realize that creative success is not an outcome, but an infinite game. The main benefit of being commercially successful with your art is that you get to keep making more of it.
It won’t make you more enlightened or a better person. If you're an asshole, you might be a bigger one. If you’re kind, you’ll be kinder. Even if you make The New York Times Best Sellers list, you’ll realize you’re not that famous.
To your barista, you’re just another schmuck ordering coffee. To your grocery clerk, just a guy or gal in line at the store. Nobody on the internet is as famous as you think they are.
You may receive lots of digital validation in the form of hearts, likes and vanity metrics with creative success. But this worthless social currency can’t pay your rent or put food on the table.
Remember that you, like Gods, were born to create. Creativity is not a trait. It’s a habit. In the words of my friend Chase Jarvis, “It’s your birthright. Claim it and turn your life into the masterpiece it was meant to be.”
Fuck the Critics. Make More Art.
Being prolific means coming to terms with the fact that not everything you do is going to be a hit. In fact, most of it won’t. Prolific creators fail, fall and produce commercial flops.
- Readers will hate some of your books.
- Concertgoers will hate some of your albums.
- Moviegoers will hate some of your movies.
Bono isn’t sitting around crying because I hated Discoteque.
Kevin Costner didn’t stop acting after Waterworld (No offense, Kevin).
You might not win an Oscar, a Grammy or make The New York Times Best Sellers list. You’re not going to knock it out of the park every single time. But you can always make more art.
Lick your wounds, drown your sorrows, retreat to the cave, close the door and make more art. If you do that, your failures and flops will get buried under your success.
You can wallow in the pain and bullshit of the people who hate your art. Or you can make more of it for the people who are eagerly anticipating what you’re going to do next. If you want to navigate a life in the arts with guts and grace, leave the world a bit different and better for your having been here, and live a life that you’re proud to put your signature on…
Fuck the critics. Make more art.
This is part of a series about how to become a more prolific creator. You can download the entire book for free here.