There’s No One True Path For Artists

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In place of today’s Make Art Not War 2017 check-in, I wanted to talk about something I’ve seen pop up recently among new writers. It’s about the idea that if you don’t get a prestigious opportunity you’ll never make it.

When you’re just starting out, you are full of enthusiasm and passion. Maybe you’re a writer or an artist or a musician. You’re doing your thing, grooving along, but making art isn’t enough for you. You want to do more, so you do some research and talk to your friends. Maybe you find a mentor, or maybe you model your next steps after someone who’s already made it. You go to school, audition, apply, set up shop, enter a contest.

Failure isn’t an option, because you’ve internalized that the path you’ve chosen is the only way to get what you want. It’s the most prestigious contest, school, publication, venue, or internship but, while you know you’re up against stiff competition, you are shocked to learn you’ve been rejected. Now, you’re crushed. You will never be a professional artist. You’ve failed. That was the one path, the only option, and now you’re totally screwed.

I cannot tell you how incredibly damaging this mentality is to you and your inner artist. There is no one true path, because there are literally thousands of ways to be an artist, sell your work, and connect with an audience. Besides that, there are hundreds of things outside of your control. Sometimes, for example, you could take all the “right” steps and wind up with a crappy editor or a book launch that happens to coincide with a natural disaster or glaring headline. Other times, your venue could have awful acoustics and your mic could go out (1) and yet the show must go on.

Hanging your entire career as an artist on one path or one opportunity is all but guaranteed to crush you. Maybe not the first time, but what about the second? Or the third? Making art is what lays the foundation for being a professional artist, but having a career isn’t that cut and dry. You will have success, you will have failure, and you will have varying degrees of both. No doubt, you’ll learn this as you continue to build your career and have a life, because the unexpected can turn you sideways. You crash your car, watch a friend die, get pregnant, are laid off from your day job.

The bad things that happen to you are normal. They can happen to anyone, and they are not a sign of your failure. There are so many things that make up the story of a life, and there’s no possible way to predict everything that can and will happen to you. This, dear reader, is why I feel learning how to be resilient is more important than pinning all your hopes and dreams on one action. People who aren’t, who have internalized the lie that success is granted via a linear, uphill climb, tend to look down on other artists who haven’t made “it” in their minds.

To be an artist is to walk your unique path. It may not be exactly the same as anyone else’s, but it is yours. Sometimes, you’ll get stuck at a crossroads or you’ll trip and fall. Sometimes, you’ll go really, really fast and the wind will be at your back. Enjoy it. This is your journey.

(1) Mic problems? This has happened to me more times than I can count.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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