I. The Purpose of Advice
Advice is worth squat, in terms of teaching us what we don't know.
NOTE: I'm not talking about advice on stuff like how to change the mechanism in your toilet tank, which I recently had to do.
[Doesn't this toilet flapper look like a certain starship?]
That's not advice; for people like me, that's lifesaving.
No, I mean "Advice on How to Live the Creative Life," specifically advice to writers.
It's good stuff, but its purpose, I'd say, is not to advise us.
Rather, its purpose is to be a
of what we already know. But that we don't credit enough, or are afraid to act on or commit to.
When it comes to advice, most of us are like Rose, Olympia Dukakis's character in the movie Moonstruck: we're looking for a reflection of what we already sense is true.
Rose's husband is having an affair, and she goes around asking everyone why men chase women. She suspects it's because they fear death.
People give her different answers, which she brushes off. When someone finally says, "It's because they fear death," she is elated.
"That's it!" she says. "Thank you for answering my question!"
We like to give advice for the same reasons, eh?
We get to shore up the constantly eroding shores of our beliefs.
If both adviser and would-be-writer need to say it and hear it a million times, it's not because we don't know it but because somehow we don't do it.
I mean, come on: what possible use could it be to advise writers to set aside time for writing?
That's not advice.
That's stating the bloody obvious.
Unless you're a blithering idiot, you've figured out that you have to sit down and write to be a writer, and that means taking time for yourself.
Time you don't have because you have a baby/job/sick parent/dry houseplants/dirty hair that all legitimately need attending to.
The use of that piece of advice isn't that it imparts information but that it gives us a permissions to be selfish, to take like a toddler.
If you're not brave enough to be selfish, you probably aren't going to create much personal work.
If I were to give advice to myself or any other writer/artist/creator, that'd be first:
No. 1. Cultivate Selfishness
No one's going to give you what you need to write, and probably no one's going to thank you for taking it.
No. 2. Take Your Life Seriously.
(Ooh... already I'm getting that rush people get when we write lists of advice--makes us feel like we have a clue. Could be addictive.)
II. The G Element
Here's what I think:
Hard work--making time to write and all that--is 99 percent of success.
So, by all means, let's take time to write, read, research...
But if you don't have that mysterious 1 percent of the G element (grace/genius/guts), you'll just be a hardworking success no one reads tomorrow.
"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."
— Arthur Schopenhauer
Is there anything we can do to cultivate the G element?
(Sheesh. This sounds like a crap bestselling book.)
Well, I think there is.
We all have some genius---the Roman term meant one's guiding spirit:
the genie in the bottle.
We all see something no one else can see:
what it looks like when we look out of our eyes.
The genie feels all warm and floaty and protected its confinement, like a baby growing in the womb.
So, how to get the genie out of the bottle?
I think we know, even if we don't want to.
We could probably all write a list of advice--advice to ourselves.
So, here's my Advice to Myself and Others Who Would Pursue a Creative Life.
(The first 2 are above.)
3. Get Into Yourself
The only--only--raw material we artists have is our selves. We may work on paper, bronze, musical notes, binary code, wool, whatever, but the matter is our own being.
Attend to it.
As a friend who is a huge proponent of therapy says, "Do your work."
4. Get Out of Yourself
After we've mined our past, done our therapy, written our memoirs, we might want to look around.
We are not alone.
This may be a special challenge for Americans.
It was for me.
NOT because Americans are a mutant species of humanity, but because [relative] privilege and geopolitical isolation on a huge continent are like lube--they reduce the friction of rubbing up against others.
5. Get Over Yourself
It's human to get attached to stuff we make.
Get over it.
Criticism is hard to take.
But here's a weird thing: praise is not necessarily any easier.
For me, praise triggers more of the shame-and-blame cycle than criticism. Because praise makes me want to figure out what I did to deserve it, and then keep doing it.
If this isn't a killer recipe, I don't know what is.
Criticism makes me retreat to my bed.
But if/when I get up and write again, I know it's because I want to, other people's criticism notwithstanding.
6. Figure Out What Success Means to You
If you want to make money as a creator, say, praise/criticism will be a good guide--like an invisible electric fence.
It will give you a shock when you go outside its perimeters.
On the other hand, if authenticity is what makes you happy, take this fence too seriously and you'll imprison yourself.
Once when I was out for a walk, a border collie came rushing out of her unfenced yard, up to me. Her person called her back, explaining to me that there was an invisible fence, but
"She's learned that if she runs fast enough, it doesn't hurt."
The woman's golden retriever had stayed happily within the yard.
It pays to figure out what type you are.
A golden doesn't thrive without boundaries. If you need them, put them in place.
Western culture tends to hero-ify those who rush through borders. Or else it shoots them as they try to get through.
But that's rubbish.
It's who you are that determines how tightly you need to be held or how much open space you need.
7. There's No Right or Wrong Way; Its Your Way All the Way
This--self-determination--is an element of all the above steps, but it deserves to stand on its own, because it's hard to believe. Or, it has been for me. It's been hard for me to grant this truth to others; but that's key too.
8. You Have Genius