I am an aspiring writer. I’ve been at it for several years with moderate success. My question is about what to do when people ask me about my work. For example, my husband and I were at dinner with some friends last week. One of them asked me about my latest project, and when I told him, his response was, “There aren’t very many people making money at that.” My feelings were really hurt. I’ve thought about that conversation over and over, and each time I replay it I have a snappy comeback. But, really, at the time I was so stunned I muttered something about “giving it a try anyway” and then changed the subject.
What do you suggest in these situations? This isn’t the first time someone has shot down an idea. I’m getting tired of being bruised when I should be among supportive friends or family. What would you do?
Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read my Book?
Oh, Dear Dear,
I wonder how qualified your friend was to offer a take on the potential revenue to be realized from your project? There seems to be an epidemic of people who offer opinions about topics they know nothing about these days. Big sigh.
I’m sorry your feelings were hurt by your friend’s response. Artists—and you are an artist—are subjected to this kind of comment all the time. It’s hard for people to imagine making money at what they judge to not be a “real job.” You describe your status as a writer as a “moderate success,” so I take it that your pursuit of this vocation has earned some income, but hasn’t resulted in a financial windfall. That’s been my experience, too. There are writers making good money doing what they love. So, my question is: Why can’t it be you? Or me?
That same question would be my response to your friend. Like you, though, I’m not sure I could have pulled it out in the moment. My suggestion to you in handling these situations is this: don’t let yourself get in these situations. Be very selective about the people with whom you share your ideas. Your inspirations are precious: treat them that way. Some people don’t get what a writer does, and when we try to explain, it’s just too hard to get their heads around. Walk into a bookstore, and you see the tangible results of the process. Talk about it while you’re in process, and they shake their heads, wondering, “How will you make money at that?”
The money question is one of the quickest ways ideas get shot down. Artists must balance necessary income and pursuing their craft. Ideally, the two are one and the same, or at least there’s overlap. If that’s not the case right now, it’s a worthy goal. As you have pursued your writing career, and had some success, you’ve met people who think your work is great, and get what you are doing. Hang with those people, and with people who are doing the work you aspire to do. Their energy will encourage you, especially when you’re feeling low, or have an idea that’s just emerging, and still in a vulnerable stage.
So, the next time someone asks about your work, tell them, “It’s great! I enjoy my projects, and the people I’m working with. How’s your work going?” Then, look at the person intently. If they probe further about your work, go back to a recent success and celebrate a fait accompli. Radiate the confidence you feel when you’re at your best in your work. My dad used to quote Dizzy Dean, the great Cardinals pitcher: “It ain’t bragging if ya done it.” (The quote has been edited for this meme, but I like the first one better. It sounds more like a man who’d say he “slud into second.”) Read on for some inspiration from Ol’ Blue Eyes. Good luck with your work!
A song for recovering creatives: I’ve Got [the Muse] Under My Skin
Julia Cameron nurtures and shoves Recovering Creatives out of the nest in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way. This Frank Sinatra standard celebrates the internal tug-of-war the Creative has with the Muse: pulling between expression and safety. Let’s ride along and see who wins. The whole trip takes about three and a half minutes.
The song’s opening beat is the recovering Creative trudging through life. The Creative sighs:
I’ve got you under my skin
And to whom is she singing? It’s the Muse, reviving artistic desire that the Creative deserted miles ago. Perhaps she has dipped back into the gift: a few words scrawled on the back of a napkin; a doodle in the margin of a legal pad; the music cranked when no one else is home. The Creative walks her familiar path, but is restless now. She’s indulged the Muse enough times to know she’d:
Sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near
But there’s that warning voice, the Inner Critic, the tapes of parents, teachers, and employers and others that play a soundtrack of discouragement. They tell her the dream is not realistic, not worth pursuing, and slap down her fledgling aspirations with one stroke of the pen, or one side-eye glance:
Don’t you know little fool, you never can win – wake up to reality
But the Muse protests:
Each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin
As the Creative concedes:
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin
Flashback to the recording studio, January 1956, and biographer James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman. The Voice swaggered into this session knowing exactly what he was looking for from the state-of-the-art musicians assembled. He’d presented this song to his arranger, the brilliant Nelson Riddle, just hours before. Sinatra told him: “I want a long crescendo.”
Up all night working on the arrangement, Riddle received a standing ovation from the orchestra after the song’s first run through. Sinatra usually captured the recording he wanted in 5 or so takes, but this night was different. This one went eleven, twelve, thirteen takes—“some of them would have been false starts, only seconds long, but some went on longer until Frank raised a hand, shaking his head, stopping the music, and telling the band and the control booth what had to change,” wrote Kaplan. “Then take twenty-two.”
The first verse, bridge and chorus end, and the harrumphing base rhythm builds. The interlude builds to a show-stopping trombone solo—the voice of the Muse itself, sputtering, shining, stretching into fullness, released from the confines of common sense like a genie from a bottle. Kindred spirits of brass and strings swell in support. The trombone tucks back in as Sinatra vamps for the Creative, dismissing the nay-sayers with a flick of jazzy arrogance. He sings “as easily and bell-clearly as if he had just stepped out of the shower and taken it into his mind to do a little Cole Porter,” wrote Kaplan. Trombone soloist Milt Bernhart later recalled how Sinatra “knew something special was happening” in this session.
The long crescendo complete, the Creative returns to the familiar, syncopated rhythm that started the song. Same notes, made new. Recovery goes on. Under her skin. Over the top.
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