The time is finally right, guys. The days are longer, the sun is brighter, and you’ve finally gotten out of college/ that annoying long-term relationship/ prison/ whatever. There’s never been a better time to do that awesome thing you’ve always wanted to do!
That one special, precious creative desire that you’ve nursed in secret for years, but have always been scared to act on? Yeah, we’re going to start doing that awesome thing, right now. Today you finally set aside all your hang-ups (like: what if it turns out shitty?; what if it turns out awesome but then no one cares anyway?; what if my mom is right and I should just forget all of this nonsense and go have a baby?) and just do this creative thing, just like you have always wanted. Today we ride, my friend!
Just to be clear here: I have no insight into how to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do in a manner that will make you rich and/or famous. In all likelihood, you will pour your heart and soul into a creative project, and still remain less culturally relevant than a video of a French bulldog eating string cheese. Sorry.
But I am writing to tell you to do that thing anyway. It might not make you rich, but it will make you happier, more confident, more relaxed, more present–more able to truly, deeply enjoy that video of the bulldog eating the cheese. I am writing to you as someone who took a long (long) time to do any of the things I always wanted to do, because I was convinced that they worked better as perfect dreams than sloppy, problem-riddled realities. I was wrong. The sloppy reality is so, so much better, it’s not even funny. And I’d like to give you any help that I can to get you on your way there yourself.
1. “Thick skin” is a thing that you develop, not a thing that you’re born with.
In the years before I ever actually showed my writing to anyone, I was a total fucking dick to anyone who had the balls to actually write something and publish it. I mean, I was also a total fucking dick in general, but especially to anyone who was able to actually sit down and write. But when my friends asked why I didn’t actually try to write for websites instead of just going off on the people who did, I’d always tell them that I “wasn’t good at handling rejection.”
Here is a secret: do you know who is good at handling rejection? Nobody! Literally nobody is good at handling rejection. There is not a secret class of human beings who are born with an innate capacity to not be bothered by rejection. Everybody hurts, everybody cries, everybody eats an entire pizza alone in their room when they get rejected from grad school, or they lose a photography contest, or they find out that nobody wants to publish their volume of “Burn Notice” erotic fan fiction.
Everyone, when they start out, experiences every rejection as complete utter fucking emotional armageddon. But the good news is that you can develop thick skin, over time! And the even better news is that you can develop it at your own pace.
In fact, the only way you can develop genuine, usable thick skin is at your own pace, by taking on creative challenges at the rate that you’re able to emotionally handle. You’re going to have to do some embarrassing hippie self-evaluation shit here, and look really deeply into your own mind, see how much stress you can handle, how quickly you can process rejection, what kind of reserves of self-worth you have at your disposal. Be honest, and don’t force it—thick skin won’t develop if you force it.
You have nothing to gain from ignoring your own instincts, just because you think creative people have to act in some certain specific way, or work at a certain speed. You have nothing to gain from rushing in too fast, and then freaking yourself out. You can work slowly. You can submit your story to one literary magazine a year, or sew one original piece of clothing every six months, or contact one art gallery every two years, if that’s the pace you can handle right now.
Even doing one thing a year is still doing a goddamned thing! Be proud of yourself. Any progress towards thick skin will eventually pay off, as long as you keep at it. I know that sounds like something a squirrel puppet would tell you in an elementary school assembly about self-esteem, but damn it, it is true.
2. Adjust your definition of success.
No matter how difficult you think it is going to be, and how long you thnk it is going to take to achieve your creative goal, it is actually going to take longer and be more difficult. So, re-asses your definition of “success,” and make sure it’s about something besides money /fame /all that other “end of the rainbow” shit, because that is the only way you’re going to have the internal reserves of energy needed to carry you through the times when the whole enterprise seems utterly hopeless.
If you’re lucky enough to already have a more well-rounded idea of success—good for you! Pass “go,” collect $500, go eat some Pringles, etc. You are my social better, and I am cool with admitting that in public.
But: if you believe that the only way you can feel successful is after your book is a New York Times bestseller, or your band gets “Best New Music”, or everyone at your high school reunion apologizes to you and tells you that you have very nice hair now, etc, now would be a good time to re-think those things. Not only can’t you count on any of that it, you’re not going to produce the best work you can if those are the only prizes you have your eyes on.
So: what’s a meaning of success that would carry some real emotional weight for you? Figure it out, and measure how well your work is going by that. Also, no one ever actually apologizes for having been a dick to you in high school at the reunions, unfortunately. All you can do at them is get super-drunk and try to make the best out of the buffet situation.
3. Don’t DVR “Seinfeld.”
There are all sorts of sacrifices that you have to make when you decide to start doing your thing—but you’ll have to sacrifice free time the most. Time spent with friends/ boyfriends/ girlfriends seems to figure itself out, but time you spend devoted to consuming other people’s art and media is going to shrink.
There are some work-arounds that you can use to help maximize art consumption in the free time that you still have—listen to audiobooks while you drive, blah blah blah—but really, you’re going to have to say goodbye to a lot of new TV shows, ignore a lot of new albums, and accept that you’re not going to have the time to figure out why everyone on Twitter is so outraged about some new gum commercial or whatever.
For a lot of people, maybe this isn’t a huge deal—but for people who obsessively keep up with popular culture (as people who actually want to create popular culture, but haven’t quite found the cajones to start yet, often do), this change can be kind of startling.
So just go in knowing that your habits are going to have to change, at least a little—if you try to keep up with your old media consumption habits, you’re going to turn watching all the TV shows that you DVR’d into some weird, joyless second/ third job.
4. Take vitamins.
You’re gonna get run down now that you’re working so hard and caring so much about so many new awesome things. So take some goddamned vitamins. Even Flintstones Chewables are better than nothing (and the orange ones are, frankly, delicious).
Also, don’t try to get by on less sleep. If you’re like basically everyone in America, you are already operating on the barest possible minimum of sleep at all times. Not sleeping in order to “get more stuff done” is actually a very popular way to sabotage yourself, so that your project falls apart because you’re too tired to do it right, and then you can say you knew that would happen the whole time, and it was stupid to even try, and now you have an excuse to just hang around, eating Cheez Whiz directly from the jar with a spoon like some kind of Lovecraftian horror-beast. Accept it: you’re definitely not a super-sleeper. Just go the fuck to sleep.
5. Forgive yourself.
Sometimes, shit doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes you get brain-fried, and can barely any work all week, and everything you write or play or paint seems like utter garbage. Sometimes you feel scared about all this new stuff you’ve started doing, and become convinced that trying new things was a mistake.
All you can do is feel that feeling, try your hardest to forgive yourself, and then try your hardest to move on. Sometimes physically changing what you’re doing helps break the thought pattern—go for a walk around the block, go listen to some new music, go play with a dog. But most importantly, remember that you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t forget everything you’ve learned about your project and yourself, and there is no genuine barrier to getting back on that horse except you.
So let yourself get back on that fucking horse! It’s worth it, I swear to god. The world tells you that you should only create things when they make you lots of money and make your peers envious, but that’s total bullshit. You should really create because creating things will make you stronger. It will make the millions of tiny humiliations that constitute adult life bearable. It will be what holds you together when your parents won’t stop asking you why you’re poor, or why you don’t have a boyfriend, or why your boyfriend is so poor. It will be what gives you strength when all the things parts of life that you have no control over fall apart. It will be your superpower, hidden in plain sight, the thing that makes you different and beautiful and formidable and the cool kind of terrifying. Are you seriously going to deprive yourself of having an actual superpower, when it’s right there in front of you? Come on. Just fucking do it. Make something cool.