You have dreams of being recognised for your art. Your music on the radio. Your books in the foyer of Waterstone’s. You’ll be able to give up your day job and live handsomely from your creative efforts.
Maybe you’ll be a regular on TV or in magazines. Once you don’t need the money from your day job you’ll have so much more time for your creative pursuits. It will be nice to be less busy and not have to fit your art into tiny stretches of time.
So for now you are happy to work hard for these dreams, to make sacrifices and to accept a ridiculously busy life. It will be worth it in the end.
But what if those dreams don’t happen? What if all the hard work is for nothing? What if you have set yourself a time limit to ‘make it’ — and it comes and goes. What then?
Focus on what you can control
It’s harsh but the chances of making it from a financial point of view are stacked against you — and against me. For every amazing success story there are thousands of disappointed people. The best artists or musicians or writers don’t always make it to the top of the tree.
Therefore you have to be internally motivated. If you are just doing it for the externals you are likely to crash and burn.
You can only control what you put into the process, the actual making of your art and the steps that you take to market it. Then it is out of your hands. You can’t influence whether people like it or hate it or whether word of your project spreads like wildfire on social media or falls into a black hole of nothing.
If you are too much invested in the external validation then you will be crushed if you don’t get it. This could be catastrophic for your art.
What it means to me to ‘make it’ or not
Seventeen years ago, when I came up with the idea for my novel Tales of the Countess I was immediately seduced by the thoughts of money and fame. This wasn’t my only motivator. I loved the characters that I had created. I desperately wanted them to be “seen” in the world and for them to entertain people.
I always imagined people reading my book on their commute on the London Underground and chuckling to themselves, their day having been made a little brighter by my story. But I will admit that being known for being the author of this book and the glitziness that could go with this was a huge lure to me.
In 2008 I ran out of steam with this project and decided to park it. It wasn’t traumatic; I just knew that I couldn’t do anymore with it. It lay dormant until the end of 2016 when I chose to revisit it.
In this intervening period my attitude to my creativity changed. I realised that the act of creating itself was the most important thing. It became more and more imperative to me just to have the courage to create and be true to myself. The thoughts of fame still dance around my head but I know I have to keep check on them or else they will be the undoing of me.
I love being immersed in the project again and spending time with the characters. I want them to have the light of day and for people who have known about the novel all these years to be able to read and enjoy it. One way or another I want to get this story out into the world even if I self-publish it for my friends.
However, a few weeks ago I was struck by this scary thought. What if that’s all the novel achieves — just a few copies sold to people who know me?
What if none of the razzmatazz that has seduced me over the years happens? How will I really feel about that?
The worst case scenario is that I am crushed by the end of my dreams for a lavish retirement fund and that all of my creative motivation disappears. However, on the plus side I will know that I have done it. There will be a book with my name on the cover and my story inside. I will have been true to myself and my character of the Countess will be out in the world, albeit a small world.
The only choice is moving forward
I could get bogged down with potential negative outcomes but what is the point? The best choice is to keep moving forward. Even if the worst happened and the bottom did fall out of my creative mojo, it would eventually come back.
No matter what may be in your head about fame and success, try to keep coming back to the art itself and your creative process. This is the most important thing.
What do you want to say on your deathbed?
“I never made it” or
“I didn’t do it in case it didn’t work out” or
“I did it anyway!”