Readers’ Questions – Day Five.
Hey, guys. This is going to be the last post of this week – I figured, it’s week ten, and I’m answering ten questions, a nice round number. For the rest of this week’s questions, clickety-click:
1) Day One: Day Job vs. Art; Pen&Paper vs. Keyboard
2) Day Two: Length of Idea Pregnancy; Boundaries of Realism
3) Day Three: Driving Through Story Roadblocks; Movie Adaptations of Stories
4) Day Four: Balanced Time Management; Project Planning
Okay, like the title says, it’s time for some real talk. Today’s questions are not about productivity tricks, storytelling, or how long I take to deal with ideas. We’re going to dig deeper, and talk about the fear involved in doing something new, rules to live by, and the point of this whole freelance gig.
Ready? Let’s go!
Question Nine: Words to Live By? (Warning: Strong Language.)
Many people are concerned with matters of internal harmony. This is especially true for creative people. Are there any people, books, or practices that help you develop new depths in yourself and find inner balance?
I’ll be honest with you – there’s a reason I waited till the end of the week to answer this question. Oftentimes, things that you hold close and live by become a part of you, to the extent that you need a moment to remember how to put them in words. But, having thought about it, I can say this.
Over the past years, I’ve collected several rules and principles I do my best to live by. Some of them come directly from people who inspire me. Some, I picked up from around the internet. Those quotes that are directly attributed to people belong to people I’ve had the privilege of knowing well enough to see that they, indeed, practice what they preach.
The common quality about all of the following statements and rules is their brevity. I will explain the meaning behind each one of them, but it’s the brief form that I keep in my head – concentrated, with each word being dense with context and heavy with meaning.
1. Keep running.
These words were the message behind Danger Days by My Chemical Romance, a record that has, without exaggeration, changed my life and sent it off along the current, art-oriented course.
Two words, each one of equal importance. You’re not running towards something; and you’re not running away from anything. Naturally, you can have goals you can reach, and things you’d rather leave behind – but this isn’t a sprint, and this isn’t even a marathon. Even marathons have a finish line. But to KEEP running means to never be finished, never be done, to always want more and do more. It means that when you die, people will say, ‘it’s such a tragedy, she had so many things going’ – even if you die aged one hundred and five.
2. Wear your armor.
A summary of an often-reblogged motivational post on Tumblr. The full version is:
Wear your armor.
Whether it’s makeup, a band t-shirt, your fandom pins, tattoos, jewelry, your favorite ripped pair of jeans, or something no one else can touch or see – like your favorite song repeating like a mantra in your head, the sound of your own heartbeat, or the knowledge that you were brave enough to get out of bed today when everything else inside you said “no”.
Wear your armor and kick ass.
I don’t think this needs any further explanation.
3. Be kind. Always.
Another summarized version of the full statement that goes:
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
This quote, in different forms, has been attributed to several authors, including Ian Maclaren and Plato. Recently, it gained a lot of momentum on the internet, especially pertaining to mental illness and emotional health. I find it a good reminder for myself, for moments when all that running and armor-wearing gets me to become judgmental.
4. Get over your fucking self.
In this specific form, this rule is courtesy of Good Fucking Design Advice, a place full of, indeed, good (fucking) advice, for design, creativity and life in general.
I take this statement on board with the meaning of, ‘Not everything is about you, sweetheart.’ This is something to remind myself when I feel that I’ve been neglected, cheated by the universe, or otherwise treated unfairly. Perceived injustice sucks. Real injustice sucks even more. But if you let yourself wallow in self-pity, you’ll accomplish very little. Get over your fucking self and get something done, instead.
5. No compromise. No surrender. No fucking shit.
“To me, that’s rock and roll. And I believe in rock and roll,” Gerard Way wrote in the letter that explained why My Chemical Romance was done, having been a project that served its purpose time and time over. The band stopped so as to keep things pure, to avoid diluting their essence and becoming a washed-out version of themselves. It hurt like hell when they disbanded. That is, it hurt ME like hell. I can never fathom how much it hurt THEM.
But my reason to keep these words close is to remember that this is how art must be. It has to be you, it has to be pure, it has to be honest – otherwise, it’s not art, it’s business. Sometimes, you have to make hard choices. More often than not, the hardest choice is the only right one.
To Gerard, that’s rock and roll. To me, that’s art, period. No compromise. No surrender. No fucking shit.
To sum up:
Question Nine: Words to Live By?
1) Keep running.
2) Wear your armor.
3) Be kind. Always.
4) Get over your fucking self.
5) No compromise. No surrender. No fucking shit.
And there you have it. Five rules I hold close, at this time. As I live, art, and grow, I’ll definitely accumulate more. I look forward to them.
Question Ten: Fear of the Unknown, of Failure, of Others
Gleb Chebotko of R0bot IT Outsourcing, IT specialist and small businessman, asks:
Starting out on the freelance path, one encounters plenty of enemies – like the lack of faith in your success on behalf of your friends and family, who may be still bogged down by stereotypes of the past; fear of the unknown; and the greatest enemy – your own fear of failure. How does one deal with these?
How should I put this delicately… I’m going to go with: You Don’t.
That is, if by ‘dealing with these issues’, you mean:
– getting the non-believers to see that you were right;
– not fearing the unknown anymore;
– never doubting yourself.
1. The non-believers are likely to stay such.
The harsh reality is that people aren’t easily swayed. Those who have faith at you when you set out on a perilous journey will likely continue to have it. Those who think you’re a fool to throw it all away for the sake of some nebulous idea, dream, or venture – will probably forever think you an idiot. Unless you make it big. I mean, really big. I mean, Zuckerberg-Gates-Jobs big. And earn similar amounts of money, too. Because people who don’t understand why you’re going freelance while you could be making more money / have more stability elsewhere will only be persuaded by categories they understand – that is, money and stability.
Be prepared that any failure, however small, will be their excuse to tell you, ‘I told you it was a bad idea’, whereas any success will be scoffed at, ignored… or they’ll ask, ‘So how much are you getting paid for that?’.
To summarize what going freelance is like, in terms of other people’s attitude, I want to call up a quote from Jingo by Terry Pratchett, where Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson led his men into battle with the following battle cry:
‘And I promise you this,’ he shouted, ‘if we succeed, no one will remember. And if we fail, no one will forget!’
(The book proceeds to note that this was ‘probably one of the worst rallying cries, since General Pidley’s famous ‘Lees all get our throats cut, boys!’).
Does this mean you have to give in and stop trying?
Does this mean you’re going to ‘show them all’?
If you like. But if your main goal is to prove something to someone, you may end up disappointed when you find out that they (a) don’t care about your affairs nearly as much as you care about their opinion; (b) can’t even remember who you are; (c) remain unimpressed regardless.
A much healthier approach is that of Hannah Hart, youtuber and creator of My Drunk Kitchen:
2. The unknown will always remain terrifying.
So here’s the deal. John Green of Vlogbrothers, in a video ‘How to Become an Adult’, tells people who are about to graduate from college, that the first few years of ‘the grown-up world’ are characterized by two things.
1) Crushing monotony (of going to the same job every day).
2) Paralyzing terror (of screwing up).
Well, as someone who has now spent as many years freelancing as she has 9-to-5-ing, I can say that while the Crushing Monotony component is minimized in the freelance and art world, the Paralyzing Terror is there, and stronger than ever. There are no rulebooks. There are no people to tell you what to do. Yes, there are books with advice and people who might guide you, but there’s no safety net. When something goes wrong, there’s no manual you can wave saying, ‘Hey, it wasn’t my fault, I did everything by the book!’. There IS no book.
But the flipside of this is – no one can tell you what to do. You figure stuff out for yourself. You write your own book. (Maybe one day, you write an actual, physical book about what you learned. Or a blog.) You’re free to make your own choices.
In the end, this is what it boils down to. Freedom. Once you stand up on your own, the wind is strong, but the air up here tastes so damn good you’ll never want to give it up. And it’s worth every bit of fear it took you to get there.
3. You will always doubt yourself.
In fact, I hope like hell that you will always doubt yourself – to a degree. Someone who never doubts or questions themselves is well set up to become a pretentious, self-absorbed, narcissistic asshole.
Doubt yourself. Question yourself. Challenge yourself.
In everything you do, ask yourself – can I do this better? And once you’ve done it better, have the courage to stop yourself asking the same question again. Vow to be EVEN better the next time, but this time, stop short of perfect, release your work into the world, and move on to the next project. It’s better to have five projects of gradually improving quality than one perfect one. Perfectionism is just another shade of fear.
Fear keeps you moving. Just don’t let it get to the point where it paralyzes you.
Self-doubt keeps you growing. Just don’t let it get to the point where you give up.
To sum up:
Question Ten: Fear of the Unknown, of Failure, of Others
Answer Ten: The fear isn’t going anywhere. That’s fine. As long as YOU are moving forward.
(Posters by Zen Pencils, a gold mine of motivational quotes in cartoon and comic form.)
One Last Thing
I want to thank you all for your great questions. I still have a few left, and I will address them in the nearest future.
This week has been a great experience. Through your questions, I got to look at the things I do from different angles, work out lots of stuff for myself, and ponder what I do. Before I wrap it up, there’s one more answer I need to give, though…
Question Eleven: Is It Worth It?
In the end, what do you get out of this freelance gig? The amount of time and effort you put in is grossly disproportionate with the payback. You started out all starry-eyed, expecting things to get easier after one a tough year, two years tops. Five years later, it’s still an uphill struggle both ways. You concluded that it’s never going to be easy. EASIER, yes, but never EASY. The fears, the doubts, the hard work, the inability to prove anything to anyone… It’s a steep price to pay for the ability to make your own choices.
Is freedom really worth it?