Warning, this blog is long. Posted on my website recently and wanted to share with ND crew. My current day gig is at an old Hollywood prop shop….the trendy film and television folks who use our biz are a constant source of amusement and song fodder. Since I was 14 years old, I have always had some type of job or work that was not at all music related. And have always felt this was a big part of my songwriting… just the regular day to day living, breathing and bumping up against other people. And though I have enjoyed most of my music touring years, I tend to prefer peace and quiet, the writing/recording process and just hanging with my wife at home. Over the years I have thought a lot about this ongoing need to keep creating these new sounds/songs while maintaining some sort of stable life sanity. The list below lays that push and pull out better than I ever could. From Hugh MacLeod’s new book Ignore Everybody. Enjoy… KP
1. Ignore everybody.
2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.
3. Put the hours in. If somebody in your industry is more successful than you, it’s probably because he works harder at it than you do.
4. Good ideas have lonely childhoods.
5. If your business plan depends on suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.
6. You are responsible for your own experience.
7. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.
8. Keep your day job. The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty. The young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines… who dreams of one day not having her life divided so harshly. Well, over time the “harshly” bit might go away, but not the “divided.” This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended. And nobody is immune. Not the struggling waiter, nor the movie star. As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster.
9. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.
10. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb. You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.
11. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would seriously surprise me. A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind. Which is why there are so many second-rate art directors with state-of-the-art Macintosh computers. Successful people, artists and nonartists alike, are very good at spotting pillars. They’re very good at doing without them. Even more important, once they’ve spotted a pillar, they’re very good at quickly getting rid of it. Good pillar management is one of the most valuable talents you can have on the planet. Keep asking the question, “Is this a pillar?” about every aspect of our business, our craft, our reason for being alive, and go from there. The more we ask, the better we get at spotting pillars, the more quickly the pillars vanish.
12. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
13. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you. You’re better off doing something on the assumption that you will not be rewarded for it, that it will not receive the recognition it deserves, that it will not be worth the time and effort invested in it. The obvious advantage to this angle is, of course, if anything good comes of it, then it’s an added bonus. The second, more subtle and profound advantage is that by scuppering all hope of worldly and social betterment from the creative act, you are finally left with only one question to answer: Do you make this damn thing exist or not?
14. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Never sell something you love. Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.
15. Dying young is overrated. Every kid underestimates his competition, and overestimates his chances. Every kid is a sucker for the idea that there’s a way to make it without having to do the actual hard work. The bars of West Hollywood, London, and New York are awash with people throwing their lives away in the desperate hope of finding a shortcut, any shortcut. Meanwhile the competition is at home, working their asses off.
16. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not. It is this red line that demarcates your sovereignty; that defines your own private creative domain. What crap you are willing to take, and what crap you’re not. What you are willing to relinquish control over, and what you aren’t. What price you are willing to pay, and what price you aren’t. Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly. When I see somebody “suffering for their art,” it’s usually a case of their not knowing where that red line is.
17. The world is changing. If you want to be able to afford groceries in five years, I’d recommend listening closely to the (people who push change) and avoiding the (people who resist change). In order to navigate the New Realities you have to be creative – not just within your particular profession, but in everything. Your way of looking at the world will need to become ever more fertile and original. The old ways are dead. And you need people around you who concur. That means hanging out more with the creative people, the freaks, the real visionaries. They’re easy enough to find if you make the effort, if you’ve got something worthwhile to offer in return. Avoid the folk who play it safe. They can’t help you anymore. Their stability model no longer offers that much stability. They are extinct; they are extinction.
18. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t. The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does. Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that it’s primal. We think we’re “Providing a superior integrated logistic system” or “Helping America to really taste Freshness.” In fact we’re just pissed off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly mammoth.
19. Avoid the Watercooler Gang.
20. Sing in your own voice. The really good artists, the really successful entrepreneurs, figure out how to circumvent their limitations, figure out how to turn their strengths into weaknesses. Had Bob Dylan been more of a technical virtuoso, he might not have felt the need to give his song lyrics such power and resonance.
21. The choice of media is irrelevant. My cartooning MO was and still is to just have a normal life, be a regular schmoe, with a terrific hobby on the side. It’s not exactly rocket science. This attitude seemed fairly alien to the Art Majors I met. Their chosen art form seemed more like a religion to them. It was serious. It was important. It was a big part of their identity, and it almost seemed to them that humanity’s very existence totally depended on their being able to pursue their dream as a handsomely rewarded profession.
22. Selling out is harder than it looks. Diluting your product to make it more “commercial” will just make people like it less.
23. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.
24. Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time. It’s not about whether Tom Clancy sells truckloads of books or a Nobel Prize winner sells diddly-squat. Those are just ciphers, external distractions. To me, it’s about what you are going to do with the short time you have left on this earth. Different criteria altogether. Frankly, how a person nurtures and develops his or her own “creative sovereignty,” with or without the help of the world at large, is in my opinion a much more interesting subject.
25. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually. Find a way of working that makes it dead easy to take full advantage of your inspired moments. They never hit at a convenient time, nor do they last long. Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something. Why? If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough.
26. You have to find your own shtick. Jackson Pollock discovering splatter paint. Or Robert Ryman discovering all-white canvases. Andy Warhol discovering silk-screen. Hunter S. Thompson discovering gonzo journalism. Duchamp discovering the found object. Jasper Johns discovering the American flag. Hemingway discovering brevity. James Joyce discovering stream-of-consciousness prose. Somehow while playing around with something new, suddenly they found they were able to put their entire selves into it.
27. Write from the heart.
28. The best way to get approval is not to need it.
29. Power is never given. Power is taken. The minute you become ready is the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about “becoming.” Suddenly it’s about “doing.” You didn’t go in there, asking the editor to give you power. You went in there and politely informed the editor that you already have the power. That’s what being “ready” means. That’s what “taking power” means. Not needing anything from another person in order to be the best in the world.
30. Whatever choice you make, the Devil gets his due eventually.
31. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.
32. Remain frugal. Part of being creative is learning how to protect your freedom. That includes freedom from avarice.
33. Allow your work to age with you. You become older faster than you think. Be ready for it when it happens.
34. Being Poor Sucks. The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there.
35. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs. James Gold-Smith once quipped, “When a man marries his mistress, he immediately creates a vacancy.” What’s true in philanderers is also true in life. “Before, this man had a job and a hobby. Now suddenly, he’s just got the job, but no hobby anymore. But a man needs both, you see. And now what does this man, who’s always had a hobby, do with his time?” My friend held up his glass. “Answer: Drink.”
“She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.” – Bob Dylan