Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Yes, You Suck. Keep Doing It, Though!

This is the funniest, truest statement I’ve read on a blog in a while:

This is the golden age for aspiring writers. We have a worldwide communications and distribution network where you can publish anything you want and—if you can manage to get anybody’s attention—get near-instant feedback. Writers just 20 years ago would have killed for that kind of feedback loop. Killed! And you’re asking me what word processor I use? Just fucking write, then publish, then write some more. One day your writing will get featured on a site like Reddit and you’ll go from 5 readers to 5000 in a matter of hours, and they’ll all tell you how much your writing sucks. And most of them will be right!

Thanks, Mark. Honest and spot-on.

One, I’m generalizing this to artists, not just writers. This is a golden age for artists (actors, writers, painters, programmers, etc.). That is, if by “golden age,” what you mean is not-making-insane-butt-tons-of-money-with-what-I-did. Not talking about that. Rather, if I may add to the terse and insightful statement above, I told a friend once that “success” has to be an irrelevant measure of art. She was a little caught up in the fact that she was writing (less than she wanted) and she didn’t see any way to get her work out to the world; how to ever make a career off of it. Here’s two things to know: not everybody loves what you love. (REALLY!?) If doing what matters to everyone else matters to you, then do what you think everyone else loves and spend years investing in the fact that you were entirely wrong (or .005% of the time, right1). I mean, how many kids are out there behaving obnoxiously while drunk in orange tans, who aren’t getting paid? There’s nearly 7 billion of us here! You can’t figure out what everybody loves unless you stub your toe on it!

But here’s a better game to play: if you do what you love and love it, you have an exactly equal chance of getting everyone else to love it as you did when you were doing what you thought everyone else wanted. You just have to keep doing it over and over beyond any level where it seems to make sense. I mean, it’s kind of funny that what I just said and the definition of insanity aren’t much different: keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Insanity fits the bill. Of course, one would hope that your art gets “better,” but only by some measure that you establish. But then, my niece’s art is pretty awesome as it is and as she grows up into an adult she’ll probably screw it up more than she improves it along the way, and then she’ll figure out that what she originally did was pretty awesome and revert back to that, only then to discover that anything retro was overhyped to begin with, and then, well, what’s this whole art thing mean anyway—was I innocent or an idiot?—did my lack of awareness of cultural norms help or hurt my work or inform my skill?

Yeah, I tricked you. Ok, lovely niece, stop pontificating the future of your awesome life that does not exist yet. These lines of questions are meant to deceive you, dear reader, into meaningfully doing what other people want—which as I’ve already established, you can’t do (except by stubbing your toe). So, again, do what you love doing? You’re not just disregarding convention. You have to assume that convention has poisoned you and that you need to find the anecdote2 and that only someone you trust has the antidote, but then the virus is making people act crazy anyway and you can’t trust anyone you trust!

This imaginary rhetoric from my niece is meant to imply that she’ll try to make her stuff more like other people’s stuff, not like her stuff. (By the way, I’m 35 and have no idea where the dividing line is between my stuff and your stuff. Frankly, I’m glad that Steinbeck is dead. No lawsuits! Ah, see!—I just used a quick exclamation to end a line of thought—glad Vonnegut’s dead too!) Whatever, I’ve gone on here too long for a blog post. Face it. You suck at what you’re trying to do. That old ipod headphone jewelry is a stupid idea. But if you like it, you should keep doing it regardless of what Simon Cowell thinks.

  1. This is not even a reasonably accurate number. What .005 of 7 billion? 35 million. That’s still WAY larger than the number of successful (i.e. rich) artists in the world. However, I would argue that 35 million is lower then the number of important artists in the world. 

  2. No, I meant anecdote, grammar Nazi! 

« Previously: