“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
― Calvin Coolidge
A former colleague of mine today found out that her latest book is going to be published both in print and digital form. This is someone who has dedicated her entire life to writing and has taught the craft of writing all over the world at Universities and Community Colleges. As most writers and artists, she has had to deal with the overwhelming odds that all her work, talent, and passion would go unnoticed. And like all of us who try to make a living in the arts, she has continuously created her work in the face of apathy and persistently submitted manuscripts to publishers in the face of probable rejection.
I once read a best-selling book back in the 90’s called, “Rich Dad. Poor Dad.” (I had a lot of student loan debt…) In it, the author talks about how the best selling hamburger (McDonald’s) is hardly the best tasting or best crafted hamburger. In fact, it happens to be the hamburger that is the most successfully marketed. (I don’t actually eat hamburgers by the way. See my short animation, Veggie Propaganda.) This happens to be the world we live in. It’s not a meritocracy where the most talented people automatically become the most successful. The world is rife with nepotism. Talented people go undiscovered all the time while the nephew of so-and-so gets a big gallery show in SoHo.
I’ve been making art all my life and have been teaching budding artists, designers, and filmmakers since 2000. I would say that the number one thing I wish I had focused on as a student and what I feel should be emphasized more today in an arts education is the need to develop a thick skin. Sadly the world cares little about what we have to say… except when it finally does. The trick is to keep making work and to keep getting better. Become self-motivated and persevere in the face of apathy. This is, as one can imagine, an incredibly difficult undertaking. People as a rule want some sort of reward for their hard work. Suffering for one’s art hardly seems worth it.
In terms of making sure you are always creating something, personally I’m a fan of quantity. Quantity begets quality. If you produce a lot of work, even sketches and drafts, you won’t fuss over one thing or get creatively blocked so easily. If you always have several projects cooking on the back burners, you can switch when obstacles arise or you are burnt out in a particular area. I also recommend participating in creative activities that are quick (if you, like me normally take years to complete one project.) Conversely, if you always do everything in ten minutes, your work might benefit if you try to create something more slowly. This is part of the reason I’ve started writing more often on my once-neglected blog. It just feels nice to make something, even if it’s just a few words on the screen each day.
So the REAL writer I am saluting today is the incredibly talented Amanda Holmes Duffy. Aside from having a brand new book deal to celebrate, she also writes a wonderful blog called The Irrelevance of Hope. To truly illustrate how life can always seem the darkest before the dawn, check out her beautiful essay written several months ago about the pain of rejection:
“When your creative work is repeatedly rejected, it begins to feel definitive. You’ve submitted your novel for the hundredth time – your painting, your audition piece, your CD, whatever it might be – and ‘they’ have turned you down. Again. It must mean they are right. You are a failure.” Read More: Being Icarus and Dealing With Rejection
Amanda’s words seem even more powerful now that I know her story has a happy ending. A failure? Not today! (Not yesterday either..)
All artists must face rejection in order to even have the hope of acceptance. That can take a bit of soul-searching and practice, particularly for those just starting out.
So today, Amanda’s victory is a small shared victory for all the artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians who do what they do for the love of the craft whether anyone else notices or not. They create their work because life would be too painful if they stopped. The world can be slow to care about what you do, but when your work resonates, even with just one other person, it can make all the difference.