Today’s Note To Self is a distillation of some feelings I’ve had lately. They’re not new feelings, and I’ve had to face them before, so I wanted to share the note and also talk a bit about what I’ve discovered in the course of making my book my only priority for 90 days:
When you set your mind to a thing — write a book, start a blog, become a fashion model, illustrate a comic book, become a full-time Instagram Lifestyle Coach, whatever — you’re making a choice. You’re deciding that the thing you want to do is to be a priority.
First, the only fact that really matters: There are 24 hours in every day. You have to eat, sleep, shower, shit and for some folks, shave. So all that time is accounted for.
If you work a full-time job, and you are serious about your project, you are choosing to eliminate something in the non-work hours. If you go to the gym, hang with friends, play video games, and shop, something is going to have to go away to make time for this thing you’ve decided to do. Additionally, the thing you want to do can only be done in the time you’re doing it, so the more time you put toward it, the more likely it is that it’ll get done. Which means, every single decision you make that isn’t “work on your thing” is a decision to prioritize whatever you do over your project.
So at some point you have to realize that, when weeks have gone by and your book remains unwritten, your comic remains undrawn, your Instagram Lifestyle Feed is sparsely populated, it’s your fault. So what in your life would you like to say goodbye to to make time for the thing you say you want to do? How bad do you want it?
Related is the concept of peoples’ involvement in your thing. You can ask for help. You can team up with others. You can hire work done to help bring your thing to fruition. You must always remember that the motivation to help you belongs solely to the other person. There’s no getting around this: they need to benefit from it as well.
When you hire an artist to draw a comic you’ve written, you both benefit. They get paid, you get art. When you team up with another writer to make a show pilot, or work with a photographer to build out your blog, or whatever, and you both benefit from the publicity and noteriety and the work is fulfilling for both of you (and you are both doing it on equal terms, meaning both of you go into it knowing that the payoff is to be split at the end), you both benefit.
When it’s all one-sided, though… Watch out. Either you’re using them, or they’re using you. And neither is sustainable.
When you go to Facebook or Twitter or Patreon or Kickstarter and ask people to contribute to the success of your thing, their love for you can only go a certain distance — ESPECIALLY if this is your first project. They’re betting on the eventual existence and quality of your work when they tweet, like, share, or pay money up front for it. If you’re on your third or fifth or twentieth thing, you’ve built a track record and reputation of putting out things of a certain quality that they like, that discussion is easy: “I’m making a thing. I’ve made other things. You liked those other things. They were not wastes of your time and/or money. Please give me more of your time and/or money, and this thing will come out.”
That’s an easy discussion to have, because both parties know the ante: You bring the work (and the value), they bring the time and the money, and things happen.
When it’s your first time out, favors can be asked and faith can be displayed, but you have to accept the fact that other people can only get you so far. Their likes, tweets, money and cheering don’t put words on paper. They don’t put paint on illustration board. They don’t put music into Ableton. ONLY YOU CAN DO THAT, and if you take their goodwill and/or money and don’t deliver, you’ll never get it again.
So now we’re back to what in your life are you willing to sacrifice to make time, energy and effort for your project? If you cannot answer that question, you will not succeed.
Lastly, when you decide you’re going to work full-time on something, you need to be able to feed yourself and pay rent. If you have a benefactor, awesome, and good for you. You won the lottery, or your parents are insanely rich, or whatever else has played a role in setting you up very nicely indeed. This doesn’t happen naturally, and is the super mega huge exception. For all the rest of us with the Great American Dream of being a full-time artist, you very likely (or definitely) have to be a full-time employee somewhere during the day and a full-time artist at night (Also, for the rest of us, wasting time being jealous of those with the privilege of being born on third and thinking they hit a triple is just that — a waste of time. Good for them. Wish them love and get back to work).
This will leave very little, if any, time for anything else. If you carve an hour out between the two, will you go to the gym or hang with friends? Or play a video game? Or just sit and stare at the wall and recover some mental energy?
If you’re usually a social butterfly and decide to do a project and take it very seriously and work on it full-time, you may lose friends. Some people may get upset with you and feel you’ve left them. Some people may get jealous because you’re doing something they don’t have the courage to do. If you’re a gym rat and decide to do something else full-time, you may lose some of your hard-fought six pack. You may get fat. You may get lazy.
Of course, these aren’t the only options. You can work a full-time job during the day, work part-time on your project at night and on weekends, and still fit in gym and hang-out time with your friends. Your project will go slower, and it’ll be far, far easier to find ways to put it off so you can do the other things that crop up, but with enough discipline, you can make it work. This isn’t meant to discourage you in any way from having everything you want.
You just need to know that if you make room for quantity of experiences, you lose either quality or speed (or both) on your project. If you sacrifice speed, you can have quantity and quality, but you may never finish. If you sacrifice quality… Well, that’s it’s own hell, because you’ll forever wonder why no one likes this thing you worked “so hard” on.
Also, it’s not like everyone in your life is going to suddenly treat you like a pariah when you decide to work on some project you love. Those who truly love you and your real friends will be there. They will support you. In fact, anyone who doesn’t, was probably never on your team to begin with.
But then we get back to the hard part: It’s still on you to make the thing. They can cheer, they can support you, but you still have to do the work. Talking about it isn’t enough. Wishing it into existence is a waste of time. It’s words on the page that make a book. It’s pencil (or brush or pen) to board that make the drawing/painting/comic. It’s music into the machine that makes a song. And you’re the artist.
So, if you’re going to follow your dream, know that your dream has costs. Only YOU can decide if they’re worth it. So how bad do you want it?