I’ve seen a lot and heard a lot about artists getting discouraged over the last couple of weeks.
It reminded me of something I took away from the film Searching for Sugarman.
<Possible spoilers to follow>
This documentary on the surface tells of one South African man’s search for the truth about South African pop icon, Sixto Rodriguez, a late sixties American musician who released two albums that nobody listened to in the States. In South Africa, though, somehow those albums arrived in country during apartheid, and Rodriguez became the “voice of a generation.” Bigger than Elvis. Part of the allure was the urban legend, that Sixto, so depressed over his lack of success, committed suicide on stage at his last concert. (In this day and age, the legend would be de-bunked before it was told to the second person.) Of course, the narrator discovers the error of this legend, and locates Rodriguez living very humbly in his hometown, Detroit. A South African tour is planned and Rodriguez performs to sell-out crowds of 30,000 +.
It is fascinating and unbelievable and the kind of story you would call Disney out on… and it’s evidently (mostly) true. And Sixto Rodriguez is a musical genius. I still remember the first time I played Cold Fact for my brother, Dennis. He nearly fell off his chair, he was so blown away. It was one of the few times where our musical tastes aligned.
Dennis’ favorite Rodriquez tune:
As fascinating and uplifting as the film is. One thing is left unsaid. For something like thirty years, there was no new Rodriguez music. Actually longer, because even though his obscurity has faded away, we are still left with only those two masterpieces. It may be that Rodriguez continued writing music and playing… though it’s pretty much portrayed in the film that none of his neighborhood friends knew he was a musician. The point is one is left with the conclusion that so discouraged by his lack of “success” Rodriguez stopped creating. And that is a tragedy…not just for Sixto Rodriguez, but for any artist.
I don’t think that was an intended take away from the film, but it’s a bittersweet theme I acknowledge more with each viewing.
Discouragement comes at us from all corners. In the news of late, we see a lot of bullying of YA authors by so-called Social Justice Warriors with the intent of convincing the authors to pull their work off the publishing schedule. My friend, Carrie-Anne Brownian, recently blogged on this, and it’s worth a read.
There’s always a plethora of posts (and stories told to me) by authors depressed by critical feedback they’ve received (which by the way is essentially what the bully mentioned above is…overly critical feedback based on Advanced Reader Copies). Some of these posts are so discouraging, because it’s obvious the creators are doubting themselves to the point of nearly quitting…or at the very least giving up the current work in progress. Good Lord, do not do this! (and that is the only thing in this post that should be considered advice)
Then there’s low sales or rejection letters. All I can say on that is the sure-fire way to fail is to keep the work in a drawer. Yes low sales can be discouraging. The flip side is true, too. When you see a bump in sales, it’s like free-basing on dopamine. And you know what? For the most part, I can’t figure out what causes spikes and valleys. I do know not writing…not creating…not putting it out there, will kill sales. But I also think you have to be okay with the lack of visibility, the fact that no one cares (like you), and the lean times, because in the end, writing is fun and tracking sales is not so much.
So what do I do? For one, (I wrote on this in the Resistance post) I recognize that ultimately what keeps me from my work is internal. Not external. So, I tell myself that those who attempt to tear me down, generally, do so to try to bring me down to their level. And I avoid these people and exercises. If some external force keeps me from my writing that’s on me, not them. I recognize that sales are mostly out of my control, so I don’t set goals around sales. My goals are things that are completely under my control. And I write the best I can and put the work out to find my audience, and realize that I will get better through writing (practice). If I keep doing that, hopefully, no one will look back and say what happened to the last 10/20/30 years…how come there is no work?
That he not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’ — Bob Dylan