Sunday, August 21, 2011

10 Ways to be Taken More Seriously

Everyone is a writer. Furthermore, everyone knows that everyone is a writer. Therefore, when you tell someone that that’s what you do, the expression is always the same: polite, apathetic, and to a certain extent, a little judgmental.

The problem exists that even though most people consider themselves a creative sort, very few people actually do it, and even fewer do it well. So when someone says he writes, people lob him along with every other wannabe in the world.

Getting the career choice to be taken seriously is hard. People see the artist as a lazy person with an ego and a get-rich-quick scheme. Whether you are a painter, a musician, a writer, or an actor, unless you have a resume that drops down to the floor and spirals across the room, they don’t take you seriously. The problem with this is, of course, you’re not actually considered for projects, the work you do create is judged more harshly, your proposals to other people in your field are immediately thrown out, and, last, "you don’t know what you’re talking about," no matter how good or experienced you actually are.

Here are ten important ways for amateurs to start being considered “a serious artist.”

1) All Projects are Important

We’ve been taught by the educational system to weigh the amount of work with the amount of reward. An assignment based on participation points will have less effort than one graded for actual quality. A good number of students put in the minimal exertion for the highest reward. A great way to prioritize, but not in your field.

Artists build their own reputations. Every piece of work that someone creates for another, whether paid or not, “important “ or not, should be up to his own standards. He should be proud of it. It doesn’t matter if he’s writing a script for Stephen Spielberg, a community theatre, or his friend Tiffany’s Youtube video, he should always try to make it good. And, even more importantly, he has to finish what he started.

Many people are victim to this mentality.

Tiffany wants Roger to write a web show for her. He agrees. He procrastinates—it’s not that important, there’s no deadline, and she’s probably not going to even go through with it. Tiffany will probably never be a great director, so Roger has nothing to worry about. Except—

Tiffany bitches to everyone how unreliable he is, the students are convinced, and the teachers hear about it and become convinced too. If he’s done this more than once, even two times, it becomes solidified.

Every time he applies to put on a production in the school, he gets denied. They know he won’t follow through with it.

One day someone calls the college for a reference. The teachers admit that he’s flaky.

He doesn’t get into the graduate school.

A ridiculous story? Well, it’s a true one. I know hundreds of stories like these all about people in different fields, ruining many different things.

An artist has the right to say no to any project for any reason. If he believes it’s going to be bad, or not good for his reputation, that’s perfectly acceptable for him to say no. The issue is that once he says yes, his reputation is now on the line. When he starts picking and choosing what is important, people read into that as another artist who only cares about becoming rich and famous. He can’t do what is “beneath” him. He doesn’t take pride in his work, which means he doesn’t like his work, which means he’s only in it for superficial reasons.

Even if an author thinks he knows just how much pull a project has, he can never be certain. People talk, reputation grows. Habits start to form. Every time someone screws over a work because it doesn’t matter, he makes it okay to do it the next time. Each time he half asses his project, the more his reputation grows, and he risks screwing himself over in the long run.. You never know who is going to have influence over whom.

If you want to be considered a writer over the pack of people who also consider themselves as such, you have to develop a better reputation than them. No one starts with the good jobs, we all have to shovel through slop to get there. It’s the people who have constant quality pieces that are have a reputation for getting it done that get the good jobs.

2) Get a professional email address

A professional email can do wonders for someone. When sending out scripts, short stories, or novels, handing out business cards, or asking for a reference, a “serious” email indicates someone who has been doing this for a long time. Cutielover26 just doesn’t seem to have quite the ring to it as johnsmith. Unique, personalized emails indicate youth. They are generally something that you got when you were 13 and never changed, which means you’re probably still in your twenties. There are arguments over this, but I believe strongly in the factors of ageism, and most people won’t take you seriously if they think you're immature.

For this reason, your college email, if you have one, isn’t the best option either. It may cause for belief that you are a professor, but they’ll probably realize you are a student, and either way, you want to be viewed as a professional writer.

Have your name in it. This is a great way to start ingraining it into people’s memories. The more you use your name, the more they’re likely to remember it. Even if you’re never going to see these people again, it’s always best to start the subliminal advertising.

Gmail is one of the better ones to have, just for the reason that their emails don’t get eaten as spam as often. They’re more reliable. Things like nouns and numbers in the title also start the risk of your address being labeled as spam, so keep it as simple as possible.

3) Get a website

This is hard, but important. One of the best ways for people to see you as a writer or artist is for you to have an official website. When they see your short story and they type in your name online and a site pops up, it means “you’re professional,” and “you’ve been doing this for a while.” A website is a great way to advertise, put up some of your work, get attention, and have people “take you seriously.” It means that this isn’t just a passing phase or an idea that you consider from time to time.

Of course, the better looking the website, the better its affect.

You can make your own, have someone else design it for you, or even just have one off of a free site. Most college students have an idea on how to do it, so if you don't want to fork over the money for a professional, you could give the kid on your block a couple of bucks. It may not be that good, but it's cheaper. I would suggest making your own. This takes some effort, you need to learn html and have some visual talent, but it is cheap and can be easily changed from time to time.

Having some sort of online material that establishes who you are. There is something to be said when they can type in your name and have an official website pop up.

4) Lie as little as possible

I’d say don’t lie at all, but sometimes that’s not even the best policy. Most of the time, however, it is.

Nothing breeds hostility like a liar. When someone has on their resume that they can speak French, and they obviously can’t, it’s insulting. When an actor comes in late and says it was “a family emergency,” you are madder than if they had just told you the truth. When a writer tells you, “it’s supposed to mean whatever you want it mean,” you want to slap them.

Lying is indicative of insecurity as well as disrespect. An actor doesn’t say the real reason she was late because she doesn’t think the director would understand. Or she felt guilty because she was sitting there playing W.O.W. ten minutes longer than she should have been. It is a declaration that either she knew she did something wrong, or she thinks the director isn’t empathetic. When it comes to your career, getting caught in a lie is one of the worst things you can do for yourself. Why? Because it means that you're not "taking them seriously."

Most people are not as good of liars as they think they are. And even those who are fantastic at stretching the truth can’t keep it up for long. The fact of the matter is most Americans are more likely to assume that someone is lying when they’re not then that they’re telling the truth when they’re not. Essentially, if a person being lied to is on the fence of believing you, they probably won’t.

People don’t say anything when they believe you’re lying because, number one, they can’t prove it, and, number two, they don’t want to get into a fight. But, over the course of time, liars grow more and more evident and those around them grow more resentful. You might not have to face immediate consequences.

Plus, if you are putting yourself into situations where you need to lie, or situations you feel you need to lie, you're doing something wrong.

5) Hold yourself to higher standards

I had a teacher once say, “Do just as much work as your director is.”

He was the professor of a directing class, telling a bunch of actors to not worry that they’re director was probably going to fail his project.

He doesn’t believe this.

The man was simply trying to spite the student who wasn’t taking his work seriously.

The thing is, your director isn’t going to remember the crappy job he did, he’s going to remember the crappy job you did. When reference time comes up, he’s not going to say, “Well, John never learned his lines, but that’s only because I kept canceling my rehearsals.” He’s going to say, “He was a lazy ass.”

The amount of work put in is not about the amount of work others put in. If your script is the only thing that shines in a plague of actors who don’t know what “cheat out” means and a set that’s falling down, that’s fine. Yes, you may get a bad review and it won’t be your fault, but the other way would only be that you got a bad review and it would be your fault.

Edit past what your editor expects. Write better books than what’s being published now. In any situation, you want to do better than the average. It doesn't matter that no one else is sending their submissions in without typos, that might be the one thing that puts you ahead of the curve. The best way to be considered a writer is by writing well, no matter what horrible projects you find yourself in.

6) Don’t trash your work

It’s like someone taking a bite of a candy bar and going, “Oh gross,” then, “Try it.”

No. Thank you.

The reason why we artists have a tendency to preempt our work with an acknowledgment that it’s not our best is because it puts us off the hook. If it’s terrible, it’s okay. Because we know it’s terrible, right?

Unfortunately, not only does is not do any benefit, and it hurts your evaluation.

People will believe you. Unless it’s the best damn candy bar in the entire world, they’re probably going to agree. We’re very easily swayed by our biases, especially ones placed before we’re actually exposed. Especially by the one who created the candy bar in the first place.

Trashing your work is indicative of insecurity which always suggests inexperience. If you think it’s really bad, just don’t say anything. Let them decide. When they tell you how awful it is, just shrug and say, “The character of Julie came out with a totally different attitude then intended,” or whatever specific critique of yourself that you have. Or, again, don't say anything. If they're telling you right to your face it's terrible, they're probably being jerks anyway.

7) Don’t look willing to compromise

Imperative word being “look.”

This is contradictory to what one might believe. Nothing’s more annoying than an artistic diva demanding that no, the word, “can” should not be changed to “will.”

The best way I can explain it is this; people respect those who know what they’re doing. When someone comes up and makes an offer with a self damaging contingency, they make it look like there's something wrong with the offer.

If a man selling you his car and immediately says, “You only have to pay me half,” it looks sketchy. Either he’s desperate, or he’s ripping you off. It’s the same thing in the art world.

Deals like, “If you publish my book, I will give you exclusivity,” or “Here’s my novel, Dragons R Us—but you can change the title if you like,” or “If we do your set design we’d want to buy white paint and a clock, but if we do my set design, we’d want pink,” give the man in power the idea that you are, again, insecure and, again, inexperienced.

Furthermore, not only will their opinion of your expertise in the area be diminished, they are more likely to say no. It’s a strange psychological action: people tend to take the path of least resistance, which means if you’re sounding like you’re expecting them to say no, it makes them feel like not only is it okay to say no, but that they should.

Once upon a time two students were trying to do their senior theses in the theatre department. One wrote a script about a musical with vampires. The other wanted to do Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who did they say no to?

The woman who made her script, a short fluffy one-act whose music included stolen songs from the eighties was accepted.

The man who wanted to do the famous four person cast was rejected. He was also rejected nine more times for nine other plays.

Why?

The woman was a firecracker who was going to flip a bitch when they said no. The man was an appeaser who wouldn’t get involved in a conflict if someone tried to light his car on fire.

Don’t sell yourself too short. When bargains are needed for you to prove yourself, let them bring it up. If they say the problem is that they can’t pay you as much then offer for less, if that’s fine with you. Wait until there’s reason to make compromises before you jump in offering them left and right.

8) Respect others

You want to be taken seriously, take others seriously. Just by entering into the art world you’ve agreed to be a competitor among thousands of people. You’re constantly surrounded by hostility and the hopes that you fall flat on your face.

Most of this aggression, however, is a defensive mechanism: “I’ll hate you before you hate me.”

Just by choosing to assume that someone who says they are a writer is, in fact a writer, can open up a pathway of respect that will fall back to you. If they feel that you are taking them seriously, they’re less likely to wait for you to make a mistake. Starting up a pattern of expectations can aid situations by leading them in a direction you want to go.

Even if this new writer hasn’t ever even picked up a pen, by taking the stance that you really believe he can do it, he’ll see you in a better light.

Thus we fall back into the insecurity void. Disrespect comes from tension brought by uncertainty. Hoping this stranger is terrible at what he does makes you feel better. It makes you different. He’s not going to seriously try to follow this path, which is what’s going to get you ahead in life. "This is not how others see you."

Exuding confidence in your fellow man leads people to believe that you are just confident. When they believe you are confident, they admire you more.

9) Be open to every opportunity.

I said before that it is perfectly acceptable to not take on certain projects. This doesn’t mean that this should be your default stance. If you want people to believe that you are committed to writing, then you should agree to write things. You should write a lot. You should write for fun as well as for whatever silly project your friends are doing. "Selling out" is not an act of creating something you wouldn't have if someone didn't pay you. "Selling out" is where you create something against your morals.

In the book, The Secret, a self-help that tells people how to find happiness, it says that if you think about what you want every day, it will come to you.

My mother’s friend believed this. She decided she wanted a truck. She thought about it all the time, like the book said. She printed out a picture of it. She looked up online the kind she wanted. She knew what color, she knew what style, she knew everything about it.

One day, she was driving down the street, and there was a truck for sale.

A man’s wife was having a baby and he needed money.

It was the same truck, it was the same color, it was cheaper than it should have been. She bought it immediately. It has confirmed her belief in The Secret tenfold.

I don’t believe The Secret is magic. I believe that we have millions of opportunities pass us by every day, and all that The Secret does is help you to recognize them.

If she hadn’t decided what she wanted, if she hadn’t believed that she would get it, if she hadn’t looked up exactly and found exactly her needs, she would have driven right by the truck and never thought about it.

And even if she had gotten out of the car and looked at it, she’d probably think, “Oh, I don’t have the money right now,” or “I don’t need this.” She would have made some excuse because she didn’t really know if she wanted it.

Don’t let opportunities pass you by. When you see a contest that you think you should enter, do it. Don’t allow yourself to procrastinate or scare yourself out of it. You never know what's going to push you through the door. The ability to recognize opportunities is one of the foremost leaders to success.

10) Work hard

The best way to be taken seriously is to do it. Nothing says serious artist like a huge ass resume.

The only way to get a resume is by doing the work. Doing good work can get you more work. Trying can help you in ways that you couldn’t imagine.

If you really want it, you have to show it. So many other people in the world are fighting for that same thing you want. The main aspect that they falter on is putting in the effort.

When people see you working hard, when they hear about the journals your short stories are in, when your friends laughed at that youtube video that you wrote, despite the terrible acting and a camera that blurs randomly, they start to respect you as someone more than a person with a foolish dream. If you do more work than them, if you put in the effort, it will show.