Make your dreams tangible. I know in creative circles the word “goals” feels dirty like something corporate or industrial; however, when it comes to the business of art it is important to allow your muse to ramble but keep your feet firmly on the ground. After all, what is a book but a project, a play but a presentation, and a product but an idea?
Artists dream of worlds beyond our own. We operate on feel and love the rush of following a note, a color, or an image. Art becomes our drug and the rush we get from listening to our daemon is astounding. Yet, this can also bite us in the ass. Like Hunter S. Thompson we will let a deadline fly past because the moment wasn’t right or some other excuse.
Inspiration can turn into fantasy, and fantasy is fun. Rather than working on our craft we can daydream about success. The idea of what our life will be like when we write that play, that song, or that novel is more titillating in the moment than actually writing. We can picture all the fun we will have, how the world will be different, easier, more vibrant once we claim our prize. But, what about the dragon?
In fitness circles there is the saying that every plan is successful in getting you to where you are.
Instead of getting high on the dopamine hit of fantasizing about success you have to make your goals tangible. Becoming a movie star is not a goal, it's a mirage. A New York Times bestselling author is not a goal, it’s a marketing pitch.
Sadly, we are so accustomed to this kind of thinking. It’s what advertisements would have us believe a real life is. Instead of working commercials show people experiencing success. Wealth looks like margaritas on a beach and not years of dedication. The hero’s journey has been co-opted by corporations because they learned what people really want is a valuable life and therefore their products need to be what delivers that meaning--not, of course, actually living a meaningful life. In this world, creativity becomes a class, a clickhole that leads from one video to the next, or a marketing package that eliminates the friction between you and your ideas, because it is so much easier to listen to a lecture and buy something than to slay your dragon.
Writing a chapter a day is a goal. Memorizing a monologue, graphing a Shakespearean sonnet, or submitting an audition is a goal. Systems produce results, not dreaming. Seinfield wrote a joke a day. On top of everything else, while he was a nobody and no one gave a rats ass about his habits he made sure to write a joke a day. Being in a movie doesn’t make you a comedian, it is the reward for the work. A stand up special is not given to you because you have a vision board, it is earned through working on your material, writing, and doing the work.
Even Apollo knew that he could not control the outcome. The god of Archery, son of Zeus, could only control the approach. Once the he let go of the arrow the result was out of his hands.
Today, we believe the outcome is guaranteed. I went to college, therefore I will be successful. I studied hard, got good grades, and even read a book--well, watched a summary of the book on YouTube--about productivity. It should be easy. It should come naturally. It should.
What sours most people on artistic careers is not the art, or lack thereof, it is the life. When we are young or working a 9 to 5 we imagine what it would be like to pursue our dreams. Like a Billy Joel song we know that we could be a movie star if we could only get out of this place, and that seed becomes the work of the Sandman. We dream of the riches to come and we wait for our real life to begin.
When we get the courage to pursue our dream we find that the life is not what we thought it was. There is a whole of a hell lot more work than we imagined. It looks nothing like Vogue or Instagram and looks a lot more like work with a lot less structure. It feels like the target is always moving, the industry changing, and God forbid something like a virus or a quarantine gets dropped into the mix, a regular atomic bomb for the workforce.
The more we can see our work, be it a drawing or an outline, the more we can work on it. The more we live in our heads the less we have to face our failures. Everyone believes they can sing until they hear the missed note come out. Everyone believes they can act until the lines come out flat. Everyone believes they can write a novel until they stare at the blank page.
The secret to becoming good at something, to stick with the archery metaphor, is to shoot. How did Michael Jordan become so good? Or Gretzky? Or Apollo? They took more shots.
Most people want to get it right before they shoot. They hide in the shadow, dream of what it will be like when the world sees how brilliant they are, and they aim, and they aim, and they aim, until their arm gets tired and they put the bow down. Be like Detective Riggs, shoot first, ask questions later. Get ready, shoot, and recalibrate. Then, repeat infinitely.
It is not the big wins that make us, it’s the little victories everyday. The small goals we set for ourselves, the little benchmarks we hit, are the things that lead to big wins.
What are tangible goals you can set for yourself? How can you get 1% better at your art everyday?
This is not a passive thing either. Look, I love reading. I read a lot, and I listen to twice as many books as I read. But consuming is not the same thing as producing. Watching a movie is not the same thing as being in a movie. I’ve listened to a ton of Daft Punk, but I have no idea how to create those sounds.
If you want to be an actor, you need to act. This can take the form of a class, or simply recording yourself on camera and watching the playback. Want to be a writer? Then you have to write.
Right now I am struggling with becoming a better dramatist. Putting one word after the other has become a habit. I started journaling and blogging years ago, so at this point it flows more easily; however, I want to combine my love of drama and my writing, and while I have a few plays under my belt I am by no means a master at combing all the elements of story: five act structure, antithesis, catharsis, theme, all that jazz. And so, I am working on outlining more stories, and thinking in terms of structure (while also continuing to let it rip with things like this).
Many of us think the big wins come from dramatic gestures like moving to New York or L.A. Yet we fail to realize the real change comes from the tiny decisions we make every day. Then, when the big moment arrives we do not doubt our ability, because we’re standing on thousands of hours of making the right decisions.
All we are entitled to is the work. Despite what magazines and blogs sell you, there is no guarantee that your book will work or that your script will get produced. There is no guarantee that you will be the next Avenger or even book a role at a regional theatre. There is nothing wrong with setting lofty goals and striving for them, but in order to get to the big goal you must build the lattice work. Otherwise, all you are doing is putting your money on black.
Take your shot.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.