Now and then, someone will ask me for advice about living the creative life, how to take photos or write fiction.
How do I recruit my models? Where do I get my ideas? How do I meet people? Where are these costumes from? How do I get published? Where should I submit my stuff?
Some of these questions can have very specific answers, but what works for me might not work for you. I’ve found that the specifics of each particular creative persons path to success are always different. A young comedian puts up videos on YouTube and gets picked up to write for a sitcom. A musician creates a podcast giving his stuff away for free until he gains a devoted fan following. A writer addresses her work to a niche market that’s not being served. Different pathways to success – each one totally valid, but each one might never work the same way again.
However, I’ve found that there there are three common elements to most success stories. Three things that always seem to pay off for me, and the people I know. These are generalizations, of course, but the fact is, your path is going to be as creative as you are. The three big peices of advice I’d give to any creator are these: Work, be persistent, and make friends.
Work is vital.
Creative work is still work. Create and create and create. Make stuff. Share it. Or don’t. But make it. Look at what other people are making. Don’t steal, but learn. Stand on the shoulders of giants. Look at the masters, absorb what they do. Try it yourself. Fail utterly. Try again. Read. Write. Paint. Create. This is your job. Your calling. Look at things that suck. Figure out why they suck. Learn from it.
Persistence is the next step.
The people that I’ve seen succeed are those that don’t give up even when everything in their life seems to say that they really, really should. Rejection becomes a way of life. Failure is another way to learn. These people are a little bit mad, because they will get told, and shown in a million different tiny and giant ways that they Are Not Doing It Right, and they will continue on. The writer posts the rejections on his wall. The painter puts up a new canvas. The photographer takes another picture. Year after year, the writer submits to the editor who has rejected everything that has come before. This time, the creator says to themselves, maybe this time.
And if they don’t get what they want this time? They don’t give up. They never give up. They just make something new. Submit your work. Submit it everywhere. You will be rejected. Workshop. Submit some more. Enter a contest. Lose. Do it again. Maybe someday you’ll win. But you’ll have to try. You’ll always have to try.
Friendship is the third key.
Make friends. Make friends with actors and directors and painters and writers and movers and shakers and organizers. Do not simply make friends with people who are doing what you are doing, but with creative people who are doing things you would never do, but that you admire. If you are a landscape photographer, make friends with a portrait photographer. If you are an actor, make friends with the lighting guy. If you are in lighting, make friends with a writer. Help these people, because these are the people who are your network, and a rising tide will lift all of you. It is easy to think of the creative life as a competition, that you are in conflict with other writers or actors. The truth is that you are all on the same team. When you take a picture for that theater group, you show twenty actors that you are the nicest photographer in town.
Persistence, work and friendship are the three things that I’ve done that have never let me down. They are not quick or easy, but they are infinitely rewarding. In a life where the journey is just as important as the goal, they are what I’ll take with me everywhere I go, and the advice I’ll always give.