I mentor many artists; usually, writers, actors and directors. I worked with this one writer on his script and then he produced it and hired me to direct it. It was a fabulous piece of work he created and I was honored to be a part of it. But when it closed I heard nothing more of his plans to move forward with it so I wrote him.
Me: What's going on with the show?
Writer: Nothing happened with the show, the only raves have been my own. It is going as I expected it to.
Me: Let's talk for, as I would say, what you expect is what will happen. I can help you. You've spent a lot of money and worked so hard - let's make it happen. Seriously, call me so I can talk you through this.
Writer: Sorry John, I don’t have it in me. I can’t be successful, that was the point of this whole effort.
Me: No, no, just talk to me, no charge, via email or call. Let me try to help you. It's too good a project to let die, and it always takes lots of repeated effort, by ALL of us, to find any success. Success doesn't come because of talent, it comes because of persistence.
Writer: I don’t have the persistence to promote my own mediocre work. The point of this exercise was to see if people cared, and the statistics reveal no one does. I received the conformation I was looking for.
Me: I was going to write my script this morning, or some dreadful platitude on Facebook, but I think I will write you instead.
I will say it again - your work is not mediocre. Your work is, in fact, quite good.
It is your outlook that sucks.
Perception is everything and the way we, you, look at the world controls our, your, world to a great extent. Perception is everything.
What do you want? Do want to write? Do you want to tell stories? Because the WANT is everything. If you want it, do it, like you have done. Now, as you know, craft is involved in writing well but craft takes time. TIME and practice, again and again. Now I think you are a good writer, and as you know, I work with a lot of writers at different stages. I would tell the same thing to them as I would to you: stop thinking about how good (or bad) you are. It doesn't do any good and just breeds insecurity. Get that critic out of your life.
Just write. And write. And write. You will get better if you show up, apply yourself and just keep doing it. If I can help in that process, fine, but do it regardless.
Now, there are a lot of writers and artists who are immensely gifted and who have produced great work and yet, no audience has ever seen their work. Why is that? It's not lack of work, or even lack of talent. It's lack of getting people to find and see their work.
I used to believe that if I was talented people would jump at working with me. I now know that is absolutely not true. It is my job to produce the best work I can, but it is also my job to get my work out there, to show my work so people can see my efforts, and so I can learn, from hearing them, how to get better.
Either I learn how to do this - no one is born knowing how to do this - or my work will never get out into the public, because it won;t walk out the door and do it by itself. So, learning how to get my work out there, like learning how to write better, is a craft, too. One that I have to focus on every day and practice. I have to practice how to get people to see my work. And so i have directed plays that have 6 people in the audience, and i have directed crappy plays, and I have written shitty screenplays, and I have given bad direction and... my list of crappy work is very long.
As is, I assume, everyone’s. But, WE KEEP GOING. I do not let that critic in, because he stops me from working or doing anything. I just keep at the writing, and I keep at figuring out how to get people to come see my work, and to hire me. A lot of people never do either, and sometimes I get hurt they don't support me, and I take it personally. And that stopped me sometimes and made me want to hide, as it does a lot if not all, people.
You can't go off one attempt of a play which hardly anyone knew about, because you are young and do not have the breadth of relationships to reach a lot of people, and you can’t go off on the failure of your idea of having that person through Twitter lead people to you as proof of anything except that you need to learn how to market and sell your work better. And that takes time. And practice. And determination.
You got to want it, and I think you do. I think you want it and you are just scared of failure. Get over it. FAIL UP, which means, keep failing, keep failing, keep failing - you are smart as hell, you'll figure it out, and you'll get better. Writing well is a lot harder than getting people to come see our work, but nevertheless, they both take skill, determination and work to learn how to be good at.
What you are feeling is normal, but you must push through it. You can not let fear stop you. You may say it is the mediocre work that is stopping you, but it is not. It is your fear. Because mediocre work, which you do NOT practice in any case, can always improve, but fear will stop us dead in our tracks.
Writer: I appreciate the effort you put towards this long response, but I know how things work out in my life. This is just another failure.
Me: It is not another failure. It is another attempt. An attempt that was immensely successful in its production, and can use some further attempts in its marketing.
Fail up, fail up, fail up. Do not quit. You will be forever disappointed in your self if you quit.
We all want to be Heroes of our own journey. I want to be a Hero in my writing, to leave something that I did that was actually GOOD. I don't think I've really done that yet and am afraid I will never do so. You should see some of my very early productions – the Smithsonian has recorded them for posterity as “Possibly The Worst Calamities in Human History”. Seriously, it worries me. The clock is ticking, and I want desperately for to think I am good at something. Really good.
Look at those stories and photos I post on Facebook sometimes. In truth, they are small, they are inconsequential, but it feels good when people respond positively to my work. But look, it's still only about 100 people a story that say they like it, if that. That's pretty tiny. A 100 people out of all my "friends" on Facebook. A 100 people out of all the people I know, out of the entire world. Don’t get me started on counting the aliens who never like my work, either.
And yet, it is something. To me, at least. Maybe I'll take those stories and make a book, as people suggest. But that scares me. What if no one buys it? What if people think it's egotistical? What if the New York Times crucifies me and everyone I knew as a child uses my book as a splash guard by their toilet? Will this just reaffirm my mother’s opinion of me? And when I get hired to write, I am scared they will hate it and when they say they like it they are just being nice. When you say you love my work I tend not to believe you and when you say you hate it I think you are telling the truth.
Don’t get me started on MY fears.
But over the years, through many scripts, films, photos, stories, and productions, I have slowly - slowly - gotten a bit more confidence, and sometimes I actually write something that I like. And that feels good and drives me to get that feeling more. And I can feel myself getting less dependent on what others think, and relying more on what I think.
Step by step. Take a step, with or without me. Talk to someone – a life coach, a therapist, a good friend. Keep taking steps and don't judge yourself. All you have to do is to show up and try. I promise. I PROMISE.
Writer: My life has been failing down. This is only a continuation of it.
Me: Let me help you. It's what I do.
Me: How you doing? Let me know what's up, not with the show, but you – I haven’t heard from you. What are you doing for Thanksgiving?
Writer: The attendance confirmed it. People didn’t come. Which means that those that did come determined it is crap early on and didn’t recommend it. I’m done.
Me: Hi - I wish we could get together so I could talk with you. Seriously.
I’ll remind you that on my first professional show a total on 9 people came. 9. And the show ran for a week and still we only had 9 people. That’s right, five performances for a total of 9 people. And my Dad saw the show 4 times. He said he couldn’t bear to sit with the homeless people I was letting in.
But the next show I did had 20 people, and they weren't all homeless. Then 40. Then a hundred, then, well, back to 9.
Merry Christmas. And I'll say it again: you are talented, you are such a nice person, and I believe in your talent and you.
Writer: I don’t have the money nor will to continue something which has had no positive impact on my life.
Me: Well, hell, I didn't have any money either. What beginning artist has money? But I did have the will, because I wanted to do it and thought maybe I had just a tad of talent. More likely it’s because I didn’t think I could do anything else and the idea of siting in a cubicle all my life gave me hives.
I mean, who knows how much talent one has? I don't even think it's an important question. The young artist wants to do something, he likes it, it gives him pleasure to create it. So he does it.
But that isn't enough, to just create it. What good are fifty songs in a drawer if no one hears them? So the artist wants people to hear his work. Now the artist must get good at something beyond just creating the work itself. How to get people to hear it? So the artist gets his work out there somehow. Any way he can. And typically most people just walk on by, not even hearing the work, so busy are they in their day. Did you see that video of the master violinist playing in the subway station and no one stopped to hear him play?
So maybe the artist learns to play his music on a different corner where people are more likely to linger, or perhaps he adjusts his music to songs that do stop people more often. Or maybe he is just determined to get better and keeps working at his craft, day in and day out, seeking out help and working harder than he ever thought possible.
But one day someone will stop to listen, and one day, maybe, that person will say, "I love your shit. Here's ten bucks." And that day is the best day because someone, other than you, loved your music. So you keep playing and you work hard on getting better and you keep trying new ways to get your music out there. Some ways will work, some will not. Some songs will be hits, some will be the suckiest songs ever written. The point is, you do not quit. You do not quit.
Not if you want it.
Now if you don't want it, that's a different story. No one says you have to be an artist. Then the question really becomes, what do you want?
If it’s money you want, then I always suggest going into the concrete business. There’s not a lot of competition here in that field and you only need to buy rocks and sand and water, I think.
Look, I’ve think the most effective writing and living are done when we are willing to be vulnerable. I think we spend most of our lives trying to cover up our insecurities and what a waste of time is that. Use those insecurities, talk about them, write about them and before you know it, everyone will be talking to you because we all have them. Everyone of us. There’s no such thing as a secure person, there’s just a bunch of us with varying levels of insecurity. And we’ll appreciate you for sharing your vulnerabilities with us, and making us all realize it’s okay to admit we are not perfect, that we are scared sometimes, and that we are human.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas. Call me if you want to talk.
Your pal – John
And that was it. No more emails from him.