Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's a fine, fine life. Or not.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Being an actor, a writer or any kind of artist really sucks. I mean it. Published. Unpublished. Paid performer, musician, artist or unpaid. It all sucks. Whether you are making a living at your chosen art form or having to work three jobs in order to pursue your dream – being an artist is hard, hard work. When my voice students tell me that they want to be a professional performer, I tell them all the reasons why it sucks – the uncertainty of a paycheck, the blows to your ego, the fierce competition day in and day out, etc... etc… etc… And if they still say there is nothing else they want to do, well, then I roll up my sleeves and help them do it. But I always keep the reality of the difficult nature of the business in front of them.

No matter how talented you are at writing, no matter how hard you work to perfect your craft and your story telling – there is no guarantee that you will make it as a writer. And while you are working to perfect your voice and your skills there aren’t any tests or measurements you can take to definitively demonstrate your improvement. Yeah – that really sucks.

In school they teach you something. You learn it to the best of your ability. You take a test and you pass or fail based on the hard work you do. In most day jobs you often have reachable benchmarks to measure your success. Did you hit your sales targets? Did you finish the project by your deadline? Did you learn to use the new computer software or teach Moby Dick to your class of high schoolers? Those are measurable goals. You can put a grade after each one to tell you how well you did.

With writing success isn’t so easy to define. There is nothing measurable other than the number of words and pages that you create – and even then there is nothing to tell you if they are good pages. Yes – and editor, an agent or a fellow writer might give you their opinion, but that opinion is just that. An opinion. Art is subjective. What one loves, another will not understand and a third will hate.

Yep – we are all crazy to be in this business.

A writer, a performer, an artist cannot measure success by publishing contracts and jobs. If you do that you are just setting yourself up for unhappiness. You won’t sell every book. You won’t land every role in a show. You won’t get great reviews every time you put your work in front of the public. Those things can’t define who you are. If they do – you might as well hang it up now.

Performer, writers and all artists have to have an inner self-confidence that says “I’ve created something and I am proud of it” in order to survive. This isn’t arrogance – that is something VERY different. That is something that says your way is right and the rest of the world is wrong if they don’t see it. No, I am talking about a quiet sense of certainty that you have strived for your best and that no matter what happens you will not regret the time and effort you put into any project. Because, like I said last week, writing (or performing, or the creation of any art) needs to be for you. If you do it because you are compelled to – you won’t be sorry. If you are looking for measurable success and your name in lights – go find a therapist. Trust me. You’ll need one.


Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Joelle. As a former professional musician-turned-writer, I would add that the artist's passion must reside deep within you, it must be in your blood, in your daily thoughts. It must seize you by the heart and not let go, you must anguish over it. There can be nothing clinical about it. If you feel the fires burning in your darkest corners, then damn the consequences because you really have no choice. Your destiny has chosen you.

Kristi said...

I feel very lucky to be married to my husband, a classically trained singer. He gets the highs and lows of being an artist. We both are raising a family doing what pays the bills and trying to support each other in following our dreams on the side: music and writing.

Joanne Young Elliott said...

It's hard sometimes to accept that this biz is not the easiest to succeed in and by succeed I mean being published, making a living (even they don't go hand in hand). But you're right...that can't be why we do it. We do it because it's what fulfills us and if it fulfills us then maybe we have succeeded.

Dana King said...

Great post, Joelle. Like Mike, I was a musician, though not as accomplished as he. This is part of the reason I've stopped worrying about getting published traditionally and will go direct to e-books. I allowed my musical career to dominate too much of the rest of my life. Now I'm older and wiser. I love writing, and think I have some stories to tell, but it has to know its place. There's too much else in life I don't want to miss.

Alan Orloff said...

Joelle, this post was exactly what I needed to read today, for the frame of mind I'm in. Thanks for the pep talk!