Every year about this time I have this absurd tradition of sitting down and coming up with a small list of New Year’s resolutions for myself. Fortunately this is a fairly easy exercise because I find myself making the same exact resolutions each and every year. Not only that, but I somehow still manage to surprise myself when all of these good intentions begin to fall apart a few weeks later.
Each year I convince myself that this will be the year that I finally stop using the treadmill for an over-priced clothes rack and actually start running on it again. This will be the year that I’ll practice my guitar often enough that my calluses won’t disappear and my fingers won’t bleed for a week every time I get “inspired”. And this will be the year that I’ll finally get myself organized so I won’t have to spend so many nights lying awake wondering what the hell I did all day.
If history is any guide, this will also be the year that none of these things actually happen.
Let’s face it, it’s possible to really want to do something but still not be willing to do what it takes to make it happen. After all, if I wasn’t willing to do make any of these things happen a month ago, what makes me think that January is going to be any different? For whatever reason, I seem to be unwilling to do what it takes in order to make these changes in my life.
Sometimes I hear people talking about how “lucky” a particular actor, writer, or musician is and how that could have easily been them if they could get that one lucky break. . . this of course is complete load of crap.
Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that luck doesn’t play any role at all in their success. However as the writer E.B.White once said, the most successful people are “prepared to be lucky”. Yes, unexpected things do happen and sometimes all of the pieces suddenly appear to fall into place, but realistically this doesn’t happen unless you have put in the work ahead of time. . .
I was reminded of this fact a few weeks ago when I was reading that scholarly journal of the arts “Entertainment Weekly“. In this particular issue they had a series where they talked about several different actors and actresses and how they had prepared for their upcoming roles. One of the articles was about how Gwyneth Paltrow learned to play the guitar and sing for her movie “Country Strong“. Apparently she had never even picked up a guitar before when she had agreed to do this role.
So what did she do?
Well she hired a guitar teacher and she began practicing. . . a lot. And it wasn’t exactly easy. In fact in her own words she said,
“I played all the time, and my hands were bleeding and cramping. It sucked. I cried, like, five times at various points over four months. It’s really f—ing hard. It’s much harder than it looks.”
All this preparation paid off and as ‘luck’ would have it, she not only made the movie, but she was also invited later to perform live at the Country Music Awards and guest star on a little show called “Glee“. Now of course Gwyneth Paltrow was already a famous actress before any of this happened, but no one including herself, had any idea that she could sing and play guitar as well as she did.
In other words, all of this preparation created some very unexpected opportunities for her (i.e. luck) that has taken her career to a whole new level. I’m sure that they could have hired a guitar playing stand-in for this particular movie, but Gwyneth decided to do the real work, even though she could have never predicted where it would lead.
Mark Wahlberg is an actor who may be best remembered to those of us who grew up in the 80’s as the abs behind Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. What most people don’t realize, however, is that Mark is also a serious actor who began training over four years ago to portray real-life boxer Micky Ward in his latest movie “The Fighter”. Keep in mind that because he still possessed his legendary abs, Mark could have easily trained for this role as a boxer in a couple months and been done with it, but in his own words he said, “I wanted to look like a world-class boxer, not just like some actor who can box pretty good.”
So what did he do?
Mark built a boxing ring in his home. While he was working on other projects he would take his boxing trainers along with him. According to Mark,
“We’d train 8-10 hours a day. Micky and Dicky [the real life brothers on which the movie is based] lived at my house, and we would start the day at six in the morning, running eight miles to church and back. We’d have breakfast and then start training.”
Mark Wahlberg could have taken the easy way out and played the part of a boxer, instead he became one.
What you have to understand is that none of this is really that unusual. I could probably give you at least a dozen more examples of actors, writers, musicians, and yes–even visual artists who went far above and beyond what was expected of them often for no other reason than it was what they felt they needed to do in order to achieve their goals.
One of the reasons I started writing articles for this site was that I really wanted to become a better writer. I knew that in order to do that, I had to start writing a lot, which unfortunately is something that’s easy to avoid when no one else is watching. As this site continued to grow, I began to feel some positive peer pressure to keep writing and publishing new posts regularly. Not that you can probably tell by actually reading this stuff, but writing these articles week after week has helped me become a better writer. Although I’m still nowhere near where I hope to be someday as a writer, I at least feel like I’m heading in the right direction.
Are you willing to do what it takes to become a full-time-making-money kind of artist/writer/musician? In order for that to happen, you’re going to have to find the motivation and the self-discipline to put in the work when nobody else is looking. Not only that, but you’re going to have to keep doing it day after day even though you’re probably not going to see any immediate results.
This might mean that you’ll have get up early or go to bed late. This might mean that you’ll have to be a parent, work a day job, or do the laundry during the day and then create your art or write your novel at 2:00 in the morning. This might mean that you’ll have to turn off the television, put down the book, or log off Twitter or Facebook once in awhile in order to get done what you need to do.
People are doing extraordinary things everyday to create their art.
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.