Category Archives: Creative Responsibility
We can be taught craft and technique. What is less talked about is the artistic decisions we have to make and how to learn to trust ourselves enough to make them about our work.
What do we need within ourselves to make sound artistic judgments about how we create and shape our work? Where do we learn to trust our own opinion more than anyone else’s as we assume the role of “artist”?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Own Your Role as Artist
What is an artist? One who brings forth into existence something for the first time. As such, we are responsible for what it is we bring forth and because we are the First Trustee of that work, we are ultimately the only one who can decide what form the work will take. Until you assume and own your role as “artist” in whatever media and format you work in, you will not have the foundation within to make the decisions you need to make.
When do you stop being a student of art or an amateur and claim your role as artist? Some people feel that they must sell their work before they can claim that role. I disagree. Commerce equates a certain level of professionalism perhaps, but more so, it just backs up the artist’s decision to get serious about being an artist. Money does not make you an artist. It makes you a paid artist. But you most likely won’t offer your art for sale until you fully claim your role as artist. So if you are waiting for someone to buy your work or discover you, you’re waiting for the wrong thing. You have to claim the role first, then you’ll make your art available for commerce.
You own the role of artist usually when you are actively producing work, when you find that creating art is when you feel most alive and when you can’t imagine your life without it. It becomes an identity that feels natural and right within, because it simply is who you are.
So, the first step to being able to make artistic decisions is to fully own your role as an artist/creator/conduit.
Now that you know who you are, what’s next?
Own the Necessity to Be Different
Artists who are just starting out on their journey often begin by emulating an artist they admire. There’s also pressure from industry to conform and create “what sells”. Yet, the truest work and the work that resonates most deeply with audiences is work that is lit by the artist’s spark. Work that is fresh, authentic, pure and different.
Studying those who have crafted work we admire is a natural learning path. But it should only be used to learn craft and technique. Not voice, not subject matter, not style. The world needs something that only we can give. It needs us to birth what has never been brought forth before. It needs our particular insight, our care, our nurturing, our vision. And it needs us to be strong enough to stand up and believe in ourselves.
The industry – which is commerce – wants what sells because it reduces risk. What delights the industry though is when an artist answers to his or her own vision and offers something that has never been seen before.
Do Not Base Your Artistic Decisions Solely on What the Industry Says they Want
Every art industry has established formulae and protocol that do a couple of things: 1) define professional standards and 2) make it easier to repeat the process.
What artists are called to do is be mindful of that and then forget it. Artists can get too caught up in the desires of the industry, in worrying about the details of format, in making sure that their work “fits in” – that we forget that by definition we are supposed to be bringing forth something new and emergent.
If we all bring forth work that cautiously fits current form, how will we evolve art?
There is, of course, a fine line to walk. To reach an audience today, we typically have to engage with the industries who have the power and resources to present our work. We have to meet professional standards. We can do this and still be original. We can conform to format and tell original stories. But we can also be bold enough and willing to risk bringing forth something entirely original. This is innovation.
We expect and require innovation in technology, medicine, manufacturing – we need it just as desperately in art.
So, while we have to know what the industry wants and expects, we also have to know that they need us to be innovative and original. We need to know what part of our art – such as the formatting of a script – needs to be honored because dozens of other creative professionals will use it to do their work – and what parts to make fresh.
Be Willing to Listen to Your Intuition
Artists are by nature perceptive, intuitive and to some degree psychic. We deal with realms that other people are not receptive to. Characters that exist in totality, visions, feeling color as emotion, sensing a form within a block of solid material, we connect to a realm that is real and quite often channels itself through us. We are conduits between the seen and unseen and chosen to relate to and with each world.
Which is why, in the end, we alone can make the necessary decisions about the shape and structure of our work. We alone know the Story, the Characters, the Image, the Form. Because we alone are the ones the work has chosen to communicate itself through.
Emergent artists often doubt themselves because they’re still learning craft and technique. Don’t confuse questions about technique with questions about the art itself. What’s the difference? Other artists can teach you craft, give insight on technique – but no one can teach you the art. It comes to you from the art realm. To receive insight on a particular work, you have to listen to your intuition and the guidance from the work itself. No one can hear that but you.
Be Careful with Feedback
Asking for feedback may or may not be beneficial. What we should ask ourselves before we ask for feedback is: what are we really looking for?
Do we want professional insight on craft and technique? Or are we looking for someone to validate us? Do we want to gauge how our work is resonating with a sample audience? Or are we feeling insecure? Do we want ideas for how to improve a particular element of our work? Or do we want someone to tell us that we’re doing a good job? What is the purpose of the feedback?
We’re all sensitive and prone to insecurity because we deal with what hasn’t been brought forth before. We are continually creating something new. And it’s so easy to doubt ourselves. So easy to want someone else to assume the responsibility of determining if we are bringing forth the work as it is meant to be done. We need to remember that we can’t allow ourselves to pass off our responsibility as the Artist to others’ feedback.
We can get beneficial feedback on technique, format, craft – but it will be limited to what has been done before. If we have a truly emergent work – one that creates a new category – then there is little feedback that can be useful – except for the preliminary reactions people have to it. But even then, is that beneficial? And to what?
Which leads me to ask: what is the purpose of art?
Is it to please audiences, agents and industries or is it to simply bring forth the work?
Does it ultimately matter what others think or is it enough just to be the conduit, to channel the work, to birth it into the world and have it exist.
Why does art want to flow into our world? What is its reason for being? Every artist has a different perception. We each need to find an answer that resonates.
Trust Your Judgment
It’s not easy to live up to our responsibility as the First Trustee of our work. It’s a lot of responsibility. And we’re all prone to doubting ourselves, to feeling we’re not good enough, to questioning our ability to do it well enough. No matter how long you’ve been an artist or how much prior “success” you’ve had. Each new work is a new work. And it comes as a whole new experience.
It helps to remember that if we were not meant to bring forth a particular work, it wouldn’t have chosen us. The work has faith in us. Of all the artists in the world it could have chosen to express itself through, it chose us. That means that we must have the ability to give it what it needs, to have the exact perception it needs us to have to give it its place in the world. And no one can reverse its decision. When you’re chosen, you’re chosen.
It takes a leap of faith and saying no to fear to make the final decisions on a work of art. If you’ve listened to the work, made decisions that resonated with what you feel to be true to the work, blocked out voices that do not have the best interests of the work or you in mind, and sense that you’ve given it everything you can to survive on its own – you’ll feel more comfortable deciding it’s done. But you may never feel absolutely certain.
Creating art is a process and one that evolves as we evolve – which means we could literally continue to improve and change a work over time as we change. All art has the potential to never be done. Be aware that this tendency exists.
Art is always at risk of us not having the courage to own our role as artist and make the decisions it needs us to make.
There are far too many unfinished and nearly finished works of art languishing in our world.
Let’s not let our work be one of them.
Revision is a task all writers must master. But it’s often seen, particularly among inexperienced writers, as something to dread.
Don’t dread revision. Embrace it. It is one of the biggest gifts writers are given – the opportunity to re-work our work to allow it to more fully grow into its deepest self. This is where Story meets up with Craft in its most intense relationship.
Here’s some tips to make it easier:
1. Start by realizing that revision requires you to let go of the Story as you currently perceive it.
It’s the Story that matters most. By Story I mean the journey toward a particular spiritual/emotional/physical realization for the main characters. How they go about this is malleable. Your Characters know their Story, but you have say in how to best reveal that journey to the audience.
2. Realize that there is more to bring out.
In the first draft, the Story pours out (and if it’s not pouring out, you may be tugging at it before it’s ready) – the first draft is the core material of the Story. It’s in its purest form – where theme, characters, dialogue – reveal themselves, undisturbed yet by the writer’s hand. It is raw, malleable material that is never meant for anyone elses’ eyes and always meant to be shaped and nurtured and tended to by the writer.
3. Take on the role of director when revision begins.
Particularly for scripts, but also for novels, your job as a writer includes the role of director when you start revision. Why? Because while you are writing, you are also directing the Story – and you have decisions to make. Director’s decisions – not just writing decisions. That means you start to take the Story apart and look at it structurally. You look at character development, you decide what best serves the Story and you get rid of or change what doesn’t. You keep the big picture in mind and you get tough with what’s working and what’s not. You also start to really get to know your characters and deal with their issues in a supportive, caring manner. You take command of the page and accept responsibility for what’s on it and what’s not.
4. Partner with your characters and let them inform your decisions.
Characters trust you with their story and that’s not an easy thing to do. They deserve respect. They also know far more than we do when it comes to who they are, what they’re after and what they’re not telling you. You have to be a very good listener. They are invested in the success of your work and they will give you what you need. Ask them. They’ll surprise you. They’ll also reveal more when you let them have a say in how their Story is told.
5. Bring in a second set of professional eyes when it’s ready.
No one will ever know your Story as well as you do, but we lose our ability to accurately perceive whether or not we have expressed the Story as well as we intended. That’s where having a second set of professional eyes provide feedback is invaluable.
6. Revise again.
After you get feedback, take what makes sense for the Story (not for your ego) and revise again. Chances are some of the suggestions made to you will take your work to a higher level. Some won’t fit and you’ll leave those behind.
7. Take responsibility for the final completion of the Story.
It’s easy to wallow in a never-ending state of revision. But that won’t move your Story to its next stage of development. You have to accept responsibility for deciding when you’ve brought the Story to the highest level you can, at this stage, with the information, feedback and understanding that you have right now. Part of this is something you’ll just know. Part of it is an actual decision to stop revising and declare it ready to stand on its own in the world. You have to determine if you’ve given it everything it needs to sustain its life. If you have, then make the decision. Declare it done at this stage.
People advise you to be yourself, develop your own unique voice/style in your work. But other voices tell you that if you want to get paid, you need to conform to industry expectations and what is “hot” right now. These “other voices” are usually business executives. They often see you through stereotypes and preconceived notions of how they expect you and/or your work to appear. Why? Because they are tending to the commerce of art.
What they’re ultimately looking for is the response you generate in others. This is true for actors, writers, musicians, visual artists – people buy art (and what we are all creating is art) when it generates an emotional and visceral response.
But there’s a fine line to walk as artists.
Business wants what has been proven to sell because it minimizes financial risk. Artists want to create what is yet uncreated.
Both are valid and necessary.
What is ironic in this, is that audiences respond the deepest to artists who are unique and individual – but overall they tend to buy art that is predictable. Art in all mediums is purchased because of its ability to move people emotionally – for the Story it tells, the feeling it evokes, the dream it inspires, the beauty it endows.
This is just as true for films as for novels, paintings, sculpture and music albums. It also makes the business of art unpredictable because every human being responds individually to art and artists.
So we have this tension between the business of art and artists themselves. We are each responsible for ensuring that our part of the whole succeeds. As artists, we need to keep in mind what it is that business executives need from us and our work, as we both serve the audience.
But we also have to develop our unique creative voice. If we do not, we risk being forgettable. And being forgettable means you haven’t touched people emotionally. Not good for any artist’s ability to sell.
The good news is that when you stay true to your own creative voice, you retain the power to move people. When business can package and present your art in a form that has the comforting ring of predictability to it that audiences pay for – you have the conditions to surprise people with your unique voice in a medium that can sell.
So, should you consider what will sell when you create or develop your art?
Yes. And. No.
Yes, in the sense that you need to be aware of the business side of your industry, you need to know and meet the professional standards of your industry and you need to remain conscience at all times of the response you intend to evoke in an audience.
No, in the sense that while you have all this business “noise” in the background, you are the ARTIST in this industry and you need to bring and create what is fresh and unique in voice, style and content.
So be conscious of what the business folks need, but don’t let them decide who you are. And always, always, always put your soul and yourself into your work.
The most memorable art is art that touches the human spirit in ways we didn’t expect it would. That connection to spirit comes through only when the artists involved stay true to their unique voices/styles and the business side of art is willing to take a chance that that connection will drive sales. Oftentimes, they’re very pleasantly surprised.
Why? Because as much as audiences are proven to buy what’s predictable, the human spirit craves art that connects, inspires, and reminds us of our humanity in a way that blesses.
That’s what makes art and artists unforgettable.
Tips to Shape Your Creative Voice:
1. Listen to credible mentors, but make decisions based on your own inner guidance.
2. The best way to connect with your unique voice is to allow yourself to connect to vulnerable emotions. Feel it.
3. Stay true to the Stories and Themes that mean something to you.
4. Make your art personal, bring all of yourself to it, every time.
5. Own your art. Take responsibility for your work, your style, your voice, your purpose.
Is it possible to spend too much time studying craft?
Information on how to improve your craft is everywhere. And there’s some solid, very useful stuff out there. But I believe you can fall into a trap where you spend more time reading/discussing/learning/talking about your craft than actually doing it. It can be a form of avoidance. Learning from credible sources is valuable, yes. And you need to take the lead and find out what you need to know. But after you’ve gleaned that info, you have to act. There is no other way to learn the physical and emotional aspects of your work than by doing it yourself. And it’s the only way you will grow into yourself and learn to trust your own opinions.
Why do we avoid actually doing the work? Is it some kind of block?
Fear, mostly. I run into it all the time. Often when stepping back from a revised draft and needing to come back to it. It isn’t always fear, but hesitation to confront the heavy subject matter of the characters and content. I’m not always ready to be in the character’s space, to dwell in their conflicts and pain. Or to feel it. What do I do? I put on some inspirational music, sit down with the writing and characters, and do it anyway. I’ve never come away from an experience like that wishing that I had done something else.
Writers run into “writer’s block” which can stem from fear, unprocessed rejection or simply from the story/characters not being ready yet. There’s a fine balance you have to walk between leading the forward progress of a story and listening, waiting and being patient for the story/characters to reveal themselves. If you’re avoiding your work, step back and have a good look at what it is you’re not wanting to face. Is it you or is it the story/characters?
So is it a question of discipline then?
Discipline has such a negative connotation to it. It’s so associated with punishment that I don’t know anyone who really responds well to that word. But we talk a lot about it in the creative professions. I think this discussion is actually about whether or not you will create consistently and complete projects. If you’re a professional, you will. And if you are committed to your project, you will.
Sometimes it really isn’t a matter of discipline, but of making a decision. Too often, for various reasons, we give ourselves room to hedge, options to turn back, and dwell in a place where we haven’t fully made a conscious decision to do something. When we haven’t fully committed it leaves a nagging sense of hesitation. Should I or shouldn’t I? Will I or won’t I? I don’t really have to because I’m not sure if I really want to be doing this, etc. It gives us an excuse not to succeed.
I get that this struggle is complicated if you’re not a full-time creative professional. But I think you can still make the decision to be the artist you want to be, regardless of your current circumstances. And doing so, can change your life in amazing ways.
One of the benefits of being a full-time writer is that it’s a guaranteed fact that I will be writing. It’s what I do. This is who I am. Whether or not I write on a particular day is always girded by the fact that I will be writing in the days to come. I don’t give myself the option of not returning to a project, not writing, not finishing it. If you’re not full-time and you have a day job to manage, you can still make a commitment to your creative work, just as you would if you were going back to college and pursuing more education. When you do that, you decide that you’re going to be a student. You can do the same thing with your creative life. Decide who are you going to be.
We don’t commit: is it fear of failure or success?
People assume they’re afraid of failure, but more often than not, it’s success and achieving a dream that scares us the most. Why? It may be unfamiliar territory, we may not have evolved our inner beliefs about success and what it will mean to us yet, and we may just be scared because we can’t see what will come next. Here’s something to remember: once you achieve one dream, another will take its place. Something new will evolve for you, new desires, new wishes, new creative goals. You expand in spirit as your learn to live in your power. You take on bigger dreams and understand that you can have a bigger impact. You won’t be bored.
But isn’t it because the creative life is hard?
It’s popular to tell ourselves and everyone else we know that creative life/work is hard. I’ve never gotten this one. When you are doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work at all. Time ceases to exist. Hours, days fly by as you’re lost in creating. It is one of the most joy-filled, most satisfying activities one can do. So why do we keep telling ourselves that it’s hard? As in, you shouldn’t expect too much of your work, yourself, the industry because your chances are so little of “making it” that it’s just pointless.
No one who ever achieved success believed this.
Does creative work, take work? Yes. Does it takes time? Yes. Effort? Yes. Does it take being willing to keep at it until your work (and you) grows into its strongest, most powerful form? Yes. But hard? No. Don’t tell yourself that. It’s not hard. You can do this. “Do” is the key word here.
How do you get to a place where you trust your own opinion?
You have to grow into it. By practicing your craft, knowing what you want to create and measuring your work against professional standards and your own. It does not mean not asking for credible feedback or being unwilling to change your work if it strengthens and empowers it. It means having the confidence based on experience to know when and when not to change your work. The more experience you have, the more you know how to separate the chaff from the grain. You take feedback and filter it through a deep trust in yourself and trust in your art.
You know what matters most in your work, and know that only you can determine if you’ve expressed it. You understand that you have to be in command of your work and take responsibility for the executive-style decisions that have to be made about it.
This comes with experience. And the only way to gain experience is to be doing the work.
Rejection is talked about so often in creative circles that one may not take the wounds it can cause seriously enough. Even creative professionals who know that it’s just part of the journey tend to minimize the impact it has when discussing it. We’re brave (or try to be) and since it’s simply a fact of creative life, we often just try to shrug it off.
But is that healthy? And are we really healing from it? Do we even know we need to heal from it?
Rejection comes when we pin our hopes and aspirations on someone elses’ decision to represent or buy our work. Someone passes on our work and says no. If they are gracious enough they might tell us why, but for the most part, we are left guessing.
And what do we guess? You got it. The worst. Fear, doubt and insecurity come crashing in. We feel like failures. We second-guess our ability and our purpose.We wonder if it’s worth it. We blame the person who said no. We come up with excuses, rationales, reasons that make them the bad guy and us the good guy. We feel shattered and down and hit the ground with a thud.
When you’ve been through it a few times, you know despite what you’re feeling right now that eventually (sooner is better) you have to pick yourself off the ground and get back in the game. And you do.
But this process of being wounded by rejection and having to dig deeper roots and decide to keep going takes its toll on the spirit. And it can change who you are if you let it go unexamined for too long.
What are we telling ourselves?
I’ve said this before, rejection is 97% perception and only 3% fact.
Someone said no. It wasn’t right for them. They weren’t interested. They have their own opinions, their own preferences, their own pressure to perform. Imagine being in their place. How excited would you be if a genre or the subject matter just didn’t interest you or you simply couldn’t stand it (for me = horror films)? Why would you want to force yourself to try to feel enthusiastic about it and sell it?
I’m of the opinion that when you find the right representation or buyer, you do so because you find a fit between interests, beliefs, passions and visions. And that’s what you want. No representation is better than poor, unenthusiastic representation or representation that represents you wrong.
But back to my point. What are we telling ourselves when we feel rejected?
1. This person had the power to decide my fate.
Is that true? Your overall fate is in your decision to keep trying, keep practicing your craft, keep knocking on the doors that are right for you and your work. Fate is a heavy word. The weight of it belongs to you.
2. I’m not good enough.
Did they actually tell you that? If they did, did they specify why they think so? We jump to this conclusion only because we give the other person the right to decide who and what we are. Chances are, the person who rejected you had other reasons – multiple reasons – that went into the decision. You may need to improve your craft, true (we all do), but being or not being good enough is a perception. Your craft may not be up to professional standards yet – does that mean you’re not a good enough person? No. It just means you’re not ready yet, you need more time to grow and develop. There’s nothing wrong with being in that place.
3. I’ll never succeed.
That’s true. But only if you make that decision. You decide.
4. I’m a failure at this.
Only if you quit. But even then, is that really a failure? Failure has such a permanent ring to it. And so little in life is actually permanent. Not even quitting. You can start again. Failure is a term of measurement we use when we’re living according to what we think other people expect of us. I’m not sure anyone actually, really cares that much what we do with our creative lives, do you? Do what makes you happy. Ban failure from your thinking. It’s not a concept that applies to you. If you’ve already quit, you can start again. If you’re happy that you quit, there’s nothing wrong with that. Be happy. This is your life. You decide if you’re enjoying it.
5. I don’t know what to do next.
Take some time. Feel your pain. Let it flow out of you. Then ask for guidance. You will receive it. And trust. Trust, trust, trust the process. Trust yourself, trust your opinion, trust the Universe. Take the next step. Try another avenue. Keep going. Remember, it’s easier for the Universe to guide a moving object than a still one. So find a way to move and trust, trust, trust that you will be led.
What do you do if you’ve been burned one too many times?
Burns leave scars. Reminders that something overwhelmed you, damaged you and that you healed.
You survived the pain, the regrowth, the process of overcoming it and evolved from it.You are different today because of it. And the scar serves to remind you.
If rejection has come in the form where it’s caused you to lose your sense of identity, or if you face it from sources that seemingly have no reason to reject you (like fame), these scars may have altered who you feel yourself to be. You’ve adapted and changed. But you may have also become less daring, less willing to be near the fire, less able to feel the potential warmth out of fear of the potential pain.
Repeated rejection changes how you relate to yourself, your work and your world. And so much of the deeper aspects connect intimately to how you accept or reject yourself in relation to what others are telling you and their reaction to you. This is where connecting to Source is healing. Disconnecting your sense of value as an individual and human being from your place in the world and focusing on the innately beautiful spirit that you are is essential. Nurturing your spirit is essential.
Stop Believing It
One of the biggest things you can do for your spirit is to own your thoughts. How you think about your experiences, the Story you wrap around what people say and do and mean, is ultimately responsible for how much joy or pain you experience. We give meaning to other’s actions and words based on what we believe most deeply about ourselves. We interpret their intentions through the filter of our harsh inner critic. One of the most valuable pieces of insight I received years ago was this:
“Stop believing it. You wouldn’t react so strongly if you didn’t believe it yourself.”
And isn’t that true? When we don’t believe something is true about us, millions of people can say it about us and it won’t affect us at all.
When we believe it, just one word from someone will tip us into a downward spiral of self-judgement.
Our beliefs are the underlying source of the sensation of rejection. And a belief is just a thought that you keep thinking.
You can change your thoughts. And you can insulate yourself from rejection by changing how you interpret what a “no” means.
Think about what you tell yourself, think about what you believe.
Where can you experience healing by changing what you think?