A drawing from my sick bed!
A LITTLE FISH IN A BIG OCEAN: DEALING WITH REJECTION IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
One thing I have struggled with is pursuing what I love when there is little or no encouragement. In the age of social media, we end up relying on other people’s ‘likes’ , ‘shares’ or ‘retweets’ for validation of what we do. No one will tell you you’re anything special because, well, there are thousands of other artists who are just as good or better than you. If you can’t complete a commission someone else will fill your shoes. If you don’t draw or paint or write or compose the world will still continue to turn. People are too busy to give you feedback; you could be very good at what you do but you may rarely be told that. You push doors, you ring art directors, you put on exhibitions, you submit manuscripts, send out samples, contact agents and spend hours creating. You get a few likes on your Facebook page, a recent blog post goes viral, you sell some prints, you get more followers on twitter and Behance, but does that give you enough validation to continue and to press on through the rejections? You are just a little fish a big ocean. You slowly ease off for a while; take a break. You invest in your 9-5 job. You give up.
And the ocean got a little bit less colourful.
And then another artist somewhere is thinking just the same. He’s had enough of pushing doors: of not being in the right place at the right time. While other writers get their lucky breaks, he’s wondering when his time will come (if at all). He’s an amazing poet, but there are plenty more out there. He’s a mere fish in the big sea. So he gives up.
And slowly the ocean got a little less interesting.
And then a child somewhere is in Drama Class and they tell the teacher that they would like to be an actor someday, and the teacher tells them that they’re unlikely to make a living doing that. After all, she’s been there and tried herself and her dreams were squashed when she had no feedback after several failed auditions. So she gave up.
And the ocean got a little more lifeless.
You are just a little fish in a huge ocean, but imagine if every artist gave up because of it.
Don’t let yourself be swamped by the ocean, but become part of it – let your impact inspire others. Allow your ripples to spread and express something new. See the part you play in the huge expanse and enjoy riding its waves. Along with the storms will come the peaceful waters and the rivers of change.
I guess I want to be part of a world that is full of colour and creation and passion. I do not want to settle for a duller existence just because it is safer. There comes a point where you need to rise above the rejection and the disappointment. You need to be inspired by others, not compete. So keep going and don’t give up, because someone, somewhere, will need to see, hear or read your creations. Imagine if JK Rowling, or Walt Disney had given up at the first rejection. The ocean may be pretty big, but there’s room for you in it.
Now go make a splash.
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THE PROBLEM WITH PASSION: CHANNELLING CREATIVITY
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”
— Roald Dahl
Being passionate is much more than just enjoying what you do. There is a distinct difference between those who have passion and those who are simply driven. I recall all of the people who are well known for their skill, their poetry or intelligence, and I see something different in them than the millionaire who owns several business, or the would-be painter who doesn’t have time to paint. They all have one thing: passion.
I’m guessing, if you’re reading this, that you will probably have some sort of passion yourself. The problem often comes, not when you don’t have enough, but when you have plenty - oodles of the stuff in fact, so much so that you don’t quite know where to start. And what if you’re passionate about lots of different things? Which passions do you pick up and run with and which do you drop?
There is, unfortunately, a downside to creativity. People will tell me how lucky I am to be good at a variety of things, but the years I spent working out what to invest my time into meant that I never really got to be passionate about any of them in the ways that I wanted to. I was doing things to please people, to somehow prove I was good enough, or because people told me it was a waste not to. I became shallow in my pursuit of passion; I’d lost it in the midst of striving.
Sometimes you have to just stop and – without meaning to sound like a spiritual guru – find yourself again; do a bit of that awkward soul searching stuff that initially makes you feel uncomfortable but eventually makes you realise what’s important to you. I could invest in any one of my ‘passions’ because they are all a means of expression and creativity, but there are only some that excite me. Like, really excite me. This is different from feeling that you simply enjoy things – it’s when things make your tummy do some sort of acrobatics at the thought of doing it. And I guess that’s the difference between an interest and a passion; just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean you have the passion to do it; Just because you’re good at something doesn’t make you passionate either.
The best way to find out your true passion is to remember what you were like as a child. More often than not, the things you were truly passionate about then will have stayed with you. The difference when you’re a child is that you don’t have everyone telling you what to do with your life, you simply live it. For me it was drawing and writing. I was always drawing. I liked stories too - I’d love to hear my Dad reading them and making them up. I wrote and illustrated my own children’s book aged nine. I still have it. It reminds me what I’m about and what I love to do.
Maybe you know exactly what your passion is, but what does it mean to ‘embrace it with two arms’? People love to encourage others to be passionate about what they do, but I’ve met plenty of people who have turned their passion into an obsession, cutting out other people along the way. There needs to be a healthy obsession with it; an ability to put it down; a determination to invest in it but not to be controlled by it. It is an expression, not an oppression. That doesn’t always mean it will be easy to pursue it, it just means that the challenges will be driven by a healthy drive. Somehow true passions always have time for other things like family and friends. They are inspired by the simple things; other opportunities to explore life; walks in nature; time invested in relationships. True passions become a lifestyle; they fit in with your life and those around you, like a great tapestry.
Interestingly, I read an article this week about how you should never base your career on your passion – as though passions were too close to the heart and inconsistent to pursue. Jobs should primarily be based upon skill, so it said, in order to develop a successful career. The question was asked: will people pay me for my passion? It’s an interesting point. After all, passions may not always pay the bills and we need to be realistic, but if skills have no passion to back them up I would imagine that you would be embarking on a very unfulfilling career. I doubt that Roald Dahl questioned how much money he could make out of writing before he embraced it with two arms. There’s also no question that Roald was extremely good at his passion too, so I guess there needs to be a collaboration between the two; a perfect partnership between skill and passion.
Passions need to be cultivated, to be encouraged. It takes wisdom to know how to develop the skills to go alongside them. How do you develop your passions? Primarily this is through time – a commitment to invest in the thing you love. It may mean sacrificing other things or setting aside a few evenings a week to develop your skills. Secondly, you need to get inspiration from other people too – courses you can do or books you can read. And finally you need to seek out opportunities – relevant voluntary work or competitions you can enter. Keep your eyes open to find ways to develop your passion to it’s fullest and seek out people who will inspire you and be honest with you too.
Then just do it. Just pick up your pencil or your computer or your pen, or whatever it is you need, and just do it. Do it because of passion and not because of a drive for success or recognition. This will be hard sometimes because it means pressing on when you feel like there are mountains to climb. It means being faithful. It means going at it full speed ahead. It means not giving up. It means embracing it with two hands.
© 2014 www.lisamaltby.com
Lately I have been doing more writing for children. My previous books have been picture books for 5-8 year olds, but I’ve recently been writing one for 7-12 year olds called ‘Where’s the Remote?’. This is a story about the mysterious disappearance of the TV remote and how the re-discovery of it transforms the life of one girl called Ava. Ava’s Dad is an inventor (when he’s not working as a postman that is). He finds a way of transforming an ordinary TV control into a Time control device, meaning that Ava’s somewhat disorganised family will never be late for anything again. When Ava gets her hands on it, she can’t believe her luck. But after a series of funny and exciting events, Ava soon realises the huge responsibility of being able to control time.
I will be entering this book into the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing. Wish me luck!
I managed to get some time this bank holiday to do some painting, which sounds great, except that in reality this generally means giving up something else - like washing or cleaning, or even eating. Sometimes the creative expression is more important to me so I have to ignore the mess of the house and just get my paints out. Because I work digitally most of the time, there’s something amazing about creating something very ‘physical’ again and literally getting my hands dirty.
This piece is about the times when you feel like you have nothing left - your jar is empty. You’re close to giving up and then you dare to open the jar; you dare to hope and dream again.
I’ve been feeling a lot like this lately - like I’m running on empty, so I wanted to have a visual reminder, encouraging me to take creative risks, though they may seem uncomfortable. I always want to be someone who finds ways to let that out, even if it feels like the dregs!
When you are a creative person you will probably, like me, need to surround yourself with creative inspiration and, more importantly, opportunities to create. If I don’t do it, I start to get a bit twitchy - like when you’re really hungry and you need to eat.
The problem is that when your role evolves to take on more creative projects you are essentially having to sell your ideas to people. Your ideas mean money and therefore you have a danger of becoming a conveyor belt of creative ideas. There is always an element of working with others to create things that are tailored to their specific project, but what if there’s no room left for creative flair or even doing things just for fun? Suddenly you find that what was once a love has turned into something that is far from passionate; something that is about making money, self promotion or keeping others happy at the cost of what you really believe in. Your work suffers; there’s no sense of play or exploration; it becomes an obsession with getting your work noticed.
Recently I have had a few set backs, to say the least. My work has been rejected by a number of people. I’ve felt disheartened and lacking in motivation and my work started to reflect this.
So I stopped.
I stopped trying so hard and I decided to do what I love instead. I decided to give myself a bit of a break from the cut-throat art and publishing world and just draw and write for myself again. I decided to just do things like dig in the allotment and listen to the birds and learn from the plants that don’t work so hard but seem to do okay. I’m learning to take life a little slower; to appreciate the journey and the people in my life; to live a little simpler. Maybe trying so hard makes others succeed, but for me I just feel burnt out - like I am going against the grain of life somehow.
So if you’re feeling a little bit like you’re chasing your tail today, maybe it’s time to take some time out and realise that trying too hard makes you less fun to be around and your work becomes dull and unoriginal.
If in doubt, go get your spade out and do some digging.
I’ve not updated my blog for a while. It’s not that I haven’t been doing creative things, it’s just that I haven’t felt the need to promote myself or prove to anyone that I’m actually being creative or not. The truth is, social media is about making yourself look better than you actually are - trying to convince the world that you’re successful; that you have far more commissions under your belt than your tax return would tell us.
Admittedly there are times when I actively think about what I can post on social media, rather than social media being a natural overflow of what I’m already doing. Of course, there’s an element of self promotion that is important - the things you write could put people off or gain new clients, but if your interest in new followers has suddenly gone past the point of connecting with interesting people then I think we’ve lost the point. We get into a vicious cycle of followers = success, happy that we’ve just got another 5 followers who, actually, we have nothing in common with and are merely trying to get other followers too. You end up with hundreds of followers who are following you just because you’re following them.
Part of me doesn’t even know who I am on social media. Primarily I’m an artist, but I come under my own name, not a business, therefore I am more than that: I am a writer, a singer; I love music and dancing; I love fashion and beauty; I’m a mother too - but that makes me kind of uncool - spamming your feed with random photos of my kid in a cute outfit doesn’t always go down well with trying to promote yourself as an artist.
I guess my point is that we need to be genuine, else who can trust us and connect with us? And why are we posting on social media? Is it because we just want to share what we’ve been up to or are we better off investing our time into developing our work, investigating new avenues for selling it, or just simply enjoying what we do just because it’s who we are. No one needs to like your drawings to tell you you are good. That’s not what it’s about.
I guess I just want to connect with genuine people, people I can be inspired by or get advice from or hopefully work with. I want my work to be shared because that’s what visual work is all about- it needs to be seen to fulfil it’s purpose. I hope it inspires you too, but if it doesn’t, no hard cheddar, I’ll get over it, because my work is more than your opinion and whether you decide to unfollow me today.
drawing at the allotment today :)