Friday, September 27, 2013

The Difference of Giving Joy and Avoiding Reproach

Now I know that a good portion of people believe that writers shouldn’t want for anything. Of course they wouldn’t put it that way, but if the writer’s forums and my friends’ arguments are any indication, trying to write a good book is not what an author is supposed to be doing. According to some (angry) sources, a real writer doesn’t want to get published, be liked, have respect, or anything else that most people would want. He is supposed to maintain the purity of the art form by being different than the commonly motivated masses.

I’ll begin now by saying, “Bull crap.” With my belief that overcoming subjectivity requires goals, the thought that writing shouldn’t be logically tackled and that people either are or aren’t good authors (end-of-story) doesn’t work.

So yes the difference of making people like a book and making them unable to criticize the book doesn’t matter to some. For those who have sought out improvement however, it can mean the difference between sobbing on the couch and a good laugh.

I like to read one-star reviews on Goodreads. Many people snort when I say that. But I like them. I like them for the passion, their ability to go on and on about the subject, the full-blown analysis that is rarely available in a positive review, and getting a summary of a book in an opinionated way.

That being said, there’s a problem.

The readers there are our readers. While we can say that the masses on Goodreads aren’t necessarily well read (and aren’t necessarily poorly read) and that people on the internet tend to be stupid, it doesn’t change the fact that these are true opinions that people believe they believe. Yes, they are not necessarily indicative of the “real” quality of the book (whatever that means), and the issue of their contradictions and nitpickiness is an example of that, but it still begs the question if authors should be listening.

One person will say the book is “atrocious” due to its “purple prose.” The next will bitch that its simplified language dumbed it down far too much to be interesting. Of course the positive and negative reviews are going to disagree about the likability of the protagonist, but it’s when the rants can’t keep it straight that I get suspicious of their motivation.

The problem? Our minds work in hindsight. We judge something and then find evidence to support that judgment. Sure, we might change our minds, but once it has taken a negative slant, it’s going to snowball pretty quickly.

This means that the “haters” decided they hated it for whatever reason, and now are searching for things up to compensate for the unknown cause. This is problematic for any author because it means, rather than them pointing out ways for writers to improve, they’re just pointing out what they noticed—which is anything that deviates from the generic. And while that deviation might be distracting and jarring it also may be what makes it creative and interesting.

This is irrelevant to Goodreads, because the point is to review for other readers. It’s not the critics’ jobs to tell the author how to improve. But this is the same issue that comes up in any sort of feedback session. Peer critiques and even professional editing sessions can go this way. They decide they don’t like it (partially due to the author’s current reputation) and then try to find reasons behind it. Sometimes accurately and sometimes not.

I find myself victim to the “Why do you care?” form of confusion. This is when someone complains about a “choice” I made in which I can’t begin to understand why it bothers them so much. Most recently I have been privy to people’s annoyance  in not using the character’s name in the first sentence, saying things like, “The girl laid bleeding in the grass,” instead of “Lilt laid bleeding in the grass.”

This is my definition of a pet peeve. It has come up in several different contexts, often not even directed towards me. A reviewer will complain she couldn’t possibly figure out that Jimmy is the “hottest boy in school” Susie is dating from “When Jimmy gets caught cheating on her…” and I’m sitting there, completely unrelated to the project, thinking, “I didn’t even question it until you freaked out.”

It just bothers people. But really, it seems to only bother people looking for it. When I ask Huge Readers what they think, they say, “What are you talking about?”

It’s fairly common to get nitpicky criticism over any big criticism, whether it be one-on-one sessions or big reviews. No one wants to talk about the problem—that’s the rude part. So instead of saying, “It was boring,” we’ll say something like, “Maybe add another character,” and the writer will be like, “What?”

Yet the little details do attribute to the larger judgment. A semicolon here, a big word there, all of the sudden the reader decides he’s being talked down to. Because it is so common for him to not recognize what he’s feeling or why he felt that way, he’ll take a random stab, and a reader can be off not only by what made him think a certain way, but what his thought was at all. He might think that he didn’t like a character, but what he really didn’t like was how other people reacted to her. He might believe it is due to her anger issues, but it’s really because she never had any ramifications for being such a bitch. He might think that it is her reactions to things in her world, but it is really that he doesn’t like the setting at all.

A criticism might be a terrible solution to a problem, or it might be a great solution to the wrong problem. Worse, it might be completely dead on. The author has no way of knowing. It could be addressing a real and important problem, or just confirming what they wanted to believe in the first place.

So the author will get a piece of advice, and then has decide if he wants to take the advice or not.

If the problem if obvious, then the decision is easy: “I can’t picture this.” This is pretty straightforward that most authors will agree they don’t want that. While they can argue if it’s just that reader or most readers is a different issue, but it’s not the question of, “Do I care?” which is something I deal with a lot.

Instead of saying, “I can’t picture this,” they say things like, “You usually furrow your brows, not your mouth.”

Now it could be that they can’t picture it, or it might be that they just noticed it for its unusualness. They might be distracted by the image, picturing a brow over someone’s mouth, or think that the author is trying to be clever and are put off by it. If, however, it’s just them looking for something to say, or worse, looking for some obvious evidence to prove their judgment, then it might not be something the author should change or should want to. After all, he took out everything unusual, the story would become generic.

People tell me to follow my gut. So, I say, “Gut? What do you think?” And it goes, “This is so beneath my radar, I can’t even begin to have an opinion on it.”

Then my advisors think that the solution is easy. “If you don’t care, then why don’t you just change it?”

Because effort is still effort, and changing something, no matter how small, is still work, and it adds up. Because if I don’t understand the problem, I won’t be solving it. Because if I fix everything that people noticed, it would suck all the color from it. Because just accepting nitpicky advice would mean watering it down to the common denominator, remove any uniqueness and creativity from it, and can very often come off as mechanical. Because if I try to avoid reproach, taking something out that people complained just because they complained, they will find something else to whine about; anyone can criticize anything.

It was after years of dealing with unsatisfactory criticism sessions, years of eternalizing seemingly inane but possibly useful advice, and an eternity of trying to not do what others are criticized for before I came to terms with the most relieving epiphany: It’s about people liking the book, not being unable to criticize it.

I had long made the connection between nitpicking and setting a book down—which is still true. When thinking about what you want to read next, you’re unlikely to commit to something with a typo in the beginning. When trying to find the next best thing, it’s probably not going to be one of the thousands of books that starts with the character waking up. When I want to prove to myself I am a great writer, better than all the other hacks out there, I can be reassured by their use of an adverb. Nitpickiness, and irrational nitpickiness, is alive and strong, and will screw over even the best of authors. But nothing can be done about that.

The goal is to get people to enjoy the story. When receiving a criticism we disagree with, or worse, don’t know if we agree with, looking at it for the big picture will help give us an answer. It’s about influencing the judgment, not the argument. In my life, I would constantly link the two, but they are independent of each other. But by recognizing the judgment (which, I will admit is not all that easy), then we can determine if the argument would benefit us.

So when someone says don’t use a semicolon or an adverb, by considering what their perception of the work is, we can determine whether or not the argument is valid. If there is a possibility that story feels condescending to them, I might consider it. If, however, there doesn’t seem to be an underlying theme to their criticism (they don’t like adverbs and semicolons and passive-sentences and the use of the word said), I can in all likeliness, ignore them. This is even easier said than it looks. We have our own idea of what our book looks like, and it is usually pretty accurate. We’re often in denial about it, sure, but the idea is still there. So, by taking what we think their judgment of us and the book is and what our judgment of what the book is in its current form, we can then see if the advice fixes that.

What does using an adverb do? Create a distracting pattern in sentence structure, indicate an insecure tone in the writing, remove atmosphere for the sake of clarity. Do I think my work has any of these problems? Leaning towards no? Then no. Leaning towards yes? Then change it. Leaning towards sometimes? Then ask a friend for their opinion on it. Ignore what they say and focus on what you wanted them to say. (Yes, I really believe that.) Wait until you come across a section that you don’t like and tackle this problem first.

With so many unspoken assumptions, alterative motives and agendas, dumb people and hidden geniuses, powerful details mixed in with inane ones, and a thin line between being creative and trying to be creative, understanding feedback is a hard road. For any author who is trying to balance out being different with being successful, figuring out how to deal with advice is a necessary step. As soon as he starts to recognize that he will be criticized no matter what, he can understand what he wants to be criticized for better.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why I Don’t Want All Writers to Write the Same

Let’s pretend that books were all done the way they “should be.” What would that look like? What approach would that take? What would come out of that? Who gets to decide? And, more importantly, who would lose out?

In the last week, I’ve read more “should” articles than I’ve ever seen in my life, which is pretty impressive considering they weren’t that rare in the first place. Each of them entailed some sort of rant, (ironically enough, often about another article giving a list of “shoulds”), ending with (actual, though maybe out of context) lines like, “all authors should write like this,” or even, “This is the wrong way to do it.”

I am a picky person. I have very specific tastes and very specific demands, and I don’t settle for anything less. This makes my life hell. These tastes, whether they be in literature, food, or men, are usually “acquired” which I wrongly use to mean they are uncommon. I like certain things, I like them all together, and I rarely like anything that doesn’t have everything I want.

If someone, somewhere, made all books written the way they “should be,” I severely doubt it would create the things I want to read. Many people don’t like what I do. Many people love to read things that I rather gouge my eye out than take seriously. And more to the point, if everyone wrote in a way that would meet with my personal “shoulds,” there would be a hell of a lot of readers who would lose out on a primary form of entertainment. There are people who like potty humor, intellectual gibberish, contemporary settings, or even, strangely enough, drama. If we made it so authors would only write in the way and about the things I do, a lot of people wouldn’t be interested.

For funsies, I went to a workshop on writing sex scenes. It degenerated into a long rant about how terrible Fifty Shades of Gray was. One person said, “If this is the sort of thing people like, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

So what? People aren’t allowed to write that way because people like to read that way? That’s really the logic? Let’s handicap the prodigy so the rest of the kids get a chance?

While I don’t believe that Fifty Shades of Gray could be defined as a prodigy of the book world, I still don’t get it. If we’re going to sit there and define what it’s okay for a book to be, would it be the story the masses love or the literary genius we look good to love? Was she saying that it should be suppressed because people don’t know what they should like? Because that doesn’t sound right.

Either people want things like Fifty Shades or they don’t. If it is true that everyone in the world is looking for it and expects nothing less (forcing our authors to write like that or be unmarketable), then, since we’re discussing what writers “should” be doing, wouldn’t it be what the masses like anyway? Or, if it isn’t true, most people don’t want it and it just is a fad or abnormal fluke, it’s directed towards nonreaders, or whatever the logic is, then the other authors have nothing to fear. If that’s not what readers want to read, they won’t read it. If they want something different, they’ll read something different.

I understand bristling at being told what to do, especially when it comes from a condescending misconception on what the speaker thinks I’m doing. I feel like slapping the next person whose first piece of writing advice is to “read a lot.” I could go on and on about the idiots who say not to use the word said. In a writing group, a man mentioned to a fellow writer that “driveways can’t disappoint.” I had to ask him what the hell he was talking about, and couldn’t get it off my mind despite the criticism wasn’t even directed towards me. (It was a grammar issue, by the way.)

No one has to write in any specific way, mostly because readers aren’t all looking for the same things. Not only are they looking for different books than each other, at times, they’ll seeking different books for themselves. I do not want to walk into a bookstore and pick up the same story but “in different colors.” I’d get a movie if that was the case. I want different books. I want to choose the book I want to read. And sometimes that book is a trashy, formulaic romance novel, or sometimes it’s an intellectual marathon. More often, it’s something in the middle. But I get to decide.

Writers get to write for whatever reason they want, and that is good for the reader. You stick ten people in a room and tell them to write about the same thing but with different objectives, the stories will be a lot different than those who wrote about different things with the same objective.

I want diversity in my literature. I want to be able to have a selection on what I’m reading, and I don’t want that to be diminished by the demands of an insane class-system. Demanding for the purity of art just leashes it. It puts it in a box. Authors do this to themselves already; they don’t need external pressure. In fact, over the course of writing for ten years, there is only one thing I feel that a writer should do: different things.

It’s okay to outline. It’s okay not to outline. Want to use said? Go ahead and use said. Haven’t bothered using anything other than said? Branch out a little. Try something new. Look at story formulas. Blow off story formulas. Play around with character sheets and thematic writing, writing by inspiration, stream-of-consciousness, heavy preplanning. Read a lot. Read a little. Read great things. Read crap. Read your own work. Toss it in a drawer and don’t allow yourself to look at it again. Write for an audience, write for yourself, use adverbs, use was, use passive sentences, play by the rules, play the game, play it up, play it down.  Just play. That’s why it’s fun. That’s how you learn. That’s how you get good at writing. It’s not by sticking to what you should be doing, but coming up with what you want to have done.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How High School Bludgeons Its Creative Students

The belief that high school promotes the hive-like mentality, is geared towards the more sheepish of the population, and aggressively (if unintentionally) stands as an obstacle for the creative minds is continuously repeated. Whether it’s to pretend our dysfunction in academia is due to secretive genius, to prove our creativity and uniqueness comes from being dysfunctional, or simply establish that high school really was a waste of time, the thought that the educational system hurts us is well believed.

And though I would like to write about the numerous of teachers who tried to drown their brilliant students in the early years—including the tale about the architect student who got a D on a project that eventually was chosen as a national war memorial over his teacher’s, or how an art academy in Germany caused the holocaust, or how the film graduates of my college hadn’t made one film because they “weren’t ready yet”—I’m not here to discuss the things I always discuss that I like to discuss, but want to discuss a different discussion all together.

The way high school functions is entirely different than the art world, and it can screw us.

1. In high school…

When you don’t do your work, you’re only hurting yourself.

Education is about the learning process, so every action, project, and paperwork distributed is all, in a way, “pretend.” If you don’t do your homework, you’re the one not learning. You’re the one who won’t understand, who won’t get the grade, and your teacher is just ecstatic they don’t have another insincere essay to read. At worst, you’re working on a group project and your procrastination is screwing over your fellow projecteers’ grades as well, which sounds bad, but it’s not as bad as it could be because…

In the art world…

Everyone depends on everyone.

It is rare for any one artist to attribute his success to only himself. Whether it be producing a play, writing a novel, or even living off of painting, many people are needed to see that done. Even a one man show requires help, whether it be the light board operator, the set designer, the crew of the stage, or other miscellaneous hands. A novelist depends on an editor, an agent, a publisher, a cover designer. Self-publishers require organizations to help them promote their book such as schools and book stores. Painters sell through galleries, have publicists, assistants, and probably a lot more that I don’t know about. There are occasions when a person could do it all himself, but on the whole, the art world is a group effort.

High school teaches the art student that making a deadline is only important for his success. Each student receives a separate grade from each other, and when one backs out the others usually can use that as an excuse for their end product. But in the art world, no one cares why there is no music, they just know it sounds weird. They don’t care that the advertiser didn’t meet his deadlines, they just don’t know about the show. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the publisher’s fault the author doesn’t have a book yet, he still can’t produce it. He’s still losing money.

2. In high school…

People will accept late work.

Deadlines are arbitrary to the teacher. She makes them based around well-spaced scheduling, prioritizing what the student can and can’t do, and preferring for her disciples to do the job rather than just blow it off. They offer a half-grade in order to illustrate the importance of the deadline, but still convince people to still try. And—here’s the important part—because teachers live in this pretend world, resetting and relooping over and over, the student has plenty of time to get the late work in. No one’s waiting on him, no one’s going to move forward anyway. With the exception of the more strict educators, if he can get it to her before she submits his grade, he’s golden.

But in the art world…

Everything could always be done sooner.

Because everyone depends on everyone, often times, other people can’t start their job until the first has finished. A lighting designer can’t do anything until the costumer has finished and the set has been built. Advertisers can’t begin without knowing what the product is. An editor can’t edit until the book’s been written.

If you’re the big man in the department, the author of the novel, the painter of the masterpieces, then deadlines are breakable—but only to a certain extent. Like a diva in a film, producers can be lenient to the big stars, but even they have specific limitations. For one thing, the artist’s reputation is on the line. But, more importantly, there are often outside factors that can’t be controlled.

If a musician doesn’t come out with a new CD while she’s still popular, she will soon be forgotten. If the movie’s premiere keeps pushing back, the audience will grow annoyed. Some deadlines are based off of events, such as auctions, or fads. The artist needs to meet his deadlines for the people who are working with him, for his fans, and to keep himself in the lime light.

More so, even, artistic deadlines are worse than any other form because there is always more that we can do. The writer can always make another draft. The artist can always go back and fix that one little mistake. The producer can always advertise more. It’s not just about finishing, it’s about making it good. People in the arts always feel like there isn’t enough time, and it’s important not to be the one they’re blaming.

3. In high school…

It’s about making your teacher happy.

The teacher gives you the grade. Often times, no one else will ever see the work done. The job is about the doing of it and the grade from it, and it will probably never be used again. Students know who their audience is and they can gauge their decisions based on what they think the teacher would like more. Thus, decisions become easier to make.

Working in high school looks like this: Teacher decides on project, tells you how long student has to do it, student does it, turns in project, teacher decides if it was done correctly or not.

This is the easiest kind of work.

But in the art world…

It’s about making someone happy, but no one knows who.

Some say it is important to make yourself happy. Some say it is important to make whoever’s paying you happy. Some say it’s important to make your audience happy. The problem with that is, we don’t know who our audience is, we don’t know who’s paying us half the time, and we don’t always know anything about ourselves.

We’ve been trained to try and do what was important for the grade. We had one person in mind and that was that. There were plenty of choices to go against it—“I know my teacher loves this book, but I still think it’s stupid.”—but even still the options were obvious.

In the art world, there are too many factors to count. First I could write for myself, but then do I write the book that I would buy to seem smart, or the book that I would hide behind a cover of A Clockwork Orange? Do I write what I enjoy writing or do I write what I enjoy reading? I could write it for whose paying me, but do I target it towards my agent, my editor, or my publisher? I could write for an audience but then I’d have to choose which audience, and even when I’ve done that, there’s still a lot more to keep in consideration. And if it’s a mixture of all of the above, that’s even worse.

Working in the art world looks like this: Author decides on a project. He decides how long he has to do it. Author does it (allegedly). He turns in project. Someone rejects it and doesn’t say why. So does another and another. Finally, someone takes it. He makes his changes. Readers get book and hates changes/original. Book bombs, can’t sell another.

Writers have to depend on their own opinion and don’t get the luxury of having a boss to decide how good they are.

4. In high school…

 It’s better to do something challenging and be mediocre than do something easy and be good.

I asked my acting students what is a good actor and they say, “Someone who can play a lot of characters.”

I said, “Okay. Why?”

“Because it’s challenging!”

“Why does the audience care about the actor being challenged?”

High school advisors always advise to take harder classes. It is better to get a B in an honors class than an A in a regular class. Colleges are looking for the people with ambition, not the ones seeking the easy route.

Academia is impressed by risk takers, go getters, people who challenge themselves. We are taught from a young age that it is important not to take the easy route. It is good to do something hard and terrible to avoid something easy. It is about the journey, not the destination.

But in the art world…

It’s about the end results.

Many abstract artists have to explain their work for others to be impressed. It is not apparent to the viewer how hard it is to draw a line. They need to go into detail about the workload, otherwise people will be thinking, “My five-year-old can do that.”

So in lieu of saying how hard it is to draw some of these things we see in galleries, I’m just going to censor myself with a “That’s what she said.”

In this way, the art world is like math. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you come up with the right answers.

If an artist challenges himself for the fun of it, that’s fine. If he likes the harder way better, then that’s how he should do it. But the inspiration he gives his fans will not change just because he went the hard route. Good artists make whatever they’re doing look easy. Sure, some audience members will be impressed by impossible looking things, but usually if they’re noticing how hard it must be the creator isn’t doing it well.

It doesn’t matter why the artist failed, it matters that he failed. The student challenges himself, the artist does what works.

5. In high school…

The people are there to make you do your work.

Because of that whole “mandatory education” thing, high schools aren’t very selective. It is not competitive so it is better if everyone does well. We expect children not wanting to do their work, and we also realize that many people don’t really see the reward in doing hypothetical activities. So most of academia is set up to force everyone to be productive.

But in the art world…

People want you to do less than them.

Even when not in the same field, people are trying to outdo everyone else. The more “talented” the world considers you, the more sway you have. Therefore, the light designer is competing with the actor, the actor is competing with the director, and every time someone is an overachiever it makes the rest of us have to work harder. Therefore, no one is going to push you to go above and beyond unless they have direct reward from it. Or think you’re far enough beneath them that it doesn’t matter.

Furthermore, it’s a job, so the producer/publisher/agent will access if an author’s worth the work every time they have to nag him. It is more likely that a person will get fired before he is pushed.

But that’s when he’s already successful. Many times there won’t be a job until after the work is done, after the painting is done, the novel is finished, the music is written. That means that no one cares if you finish at all. It doesn’t bother anyone else if your novel never gets made. They don’t need you to be a writer, they have plenty.

Unlike in high school, there is no one to tell you how to do it, the deadlines, or lecture you when the work isn’t finished.

6. In high school…

The path is cut and dry.

We have a few options, such as electives and what subject matter our essay is on, but there was always advice and where to go and what to do, and in order to deviate from that a student was required to a lot of extra effort. And even still, by means of having a specific direction to go, it gives an option when choosing not to follow it. If you stand still, you’ll still be pushed forward. Someone else will make the decisions for you.

But in the art world…

The choices are unlimited.

There are a thousand different options and they all could work in one context and all could fail in a different context. Whereas you know exactly what needs to be done to get into college, when attempting to become a successful artist, it’s hard to separate what is useful work from busy work.

We know if we do our homework we will get a good grade and that will help getting into college. But we don’t know which idea for a novel is the best one, which will sell the best, which agent is the best to send the idea to, which agent will be most likely to open up most connections, or even if the book will come out the way we planned it. Is it better to make some short stories to help get published, or is it a better use of time to go straight to the big picture? Is writing this porn script going to count as a resume credit, or is it going to delegitimize my experience?

Art students often talk about the surprise when all of the sudden they had no direction before them. Right out of college, the path is no longer clear, and we don’t really know how to make one. And even when having some idea about the next step, it is never certain whether or not it is the right step or that it will get anywhere.

7. In high school…

If you do what’s expected of you, you can’t fail.

The student turns in his homework, he comes to class, he writes the essay, and he tells the teacher what she wants to hear. Even if he does all of those things badly, he will still pass the class. Some people are made to always go above and beyond the call of duty, but for the rest of us the knowledge that as long as we achieve the bare minimum we’ll be fine is a nice safety net.

But in the art world…

Your failure is often out of your hands.

A person could fail for any single reason, and often for very stupid, blameless, and inane ones. No one bought the book because no one heard about it, because the cover was ugly, because it had a word in the name that was in vogue at the time and therefore was ignored as one of the masses, it is compared to a terrible story, or there was a typo on the first page.

On that grounds, however, a person can also succeed for very stupid and inane reasons.

Artists often comment about how success is about luck, and to a certain measure, it’s true. Furthermore, unlike high school, because no one is telling you exactly what needs to be done, and it is on the artist to make himself do his work, we can’t depend on just doing what we’re told. We have to make decisions and commit to them. High school has never prepares people for that.

8. In high school…

People can determine the importance of an assignment and put in a respective level of energy.

Teachers are notorious for assigning busy work. By the nature of bureaucracy, the professors are often required to give a specific amount of essays out, a specific amount of homework out, and demand that the kids stay in class for the allotted time. So they give out work to legitimately keep the children busy.

Thus we learn that there is some work that we can blow off, half ass, or speed through and there is some work that we should try harder on.

But in the art world…

When you produce crap, you produce crap, no matter how big or small.

Not all projects are created equal. Some jobs are small (30 seconds of transition music for a community theatre) and some are big (a world tour), and the number of people watching changes. Therefore, it looks as though it is okay to not work as hard for the smaller events because the reward isn’t worth it.

But hiring is based on your reputation. Small jobs often get the bigger jobs, so when an artist produces a heap of half-assed work, or no work at all, it affects them. Grades “reset” every semester, and though the GPA is an accumulation, it is still number based which reputation isn’t. Which means that if I produce a project worth an A, a C, and then one F, I have a C average. But when someone watches me produce a terrible play then a great one, then a mediocre one, I will be considered a terrible playwright.

Most importantly, in high school, projects constantly come your way no matter how well or poorly you did on the last, where in the art world, do too terribly and the projects will stop coming all together.

9. In high school…

People are impressed by potential.

Seeing a 3rd grader write a novel is impressive, even if it is painful to read. A student’s drawing of their own face that looks like them will get compliments, even if with the crossed eyes and asymmetrical features. In high school, you’re talented if you’re better than just expected.

But in the art world…

People expect you to know everything or go home.

An agent has to pick a new book to represent. The resume of one man is seventeen unpublished novels. The resume of another is one published novel. She’ll pick the later because while it is impressive that someone could write that many, they might all be terrible. He only has the potential to be a good author, while the second has (allegedly) written well enough for someone else to like him.

For a high school student to be impressive, it only requires hard work. For an artist to be impressive, it requires success. High school teaches us that if we want to show off, we only need to put in effort. In “the real world,” however, opportunities exist for the results, not for the sake of opportunity. Things made for teens are only there so that the teens can have a change to do something, things made for adults are there to build a profit, reputation, or some other reward. It doesn’t matter if you have potential, they need to be certain.

10. In high school…

You’re only competing with people in your age group.

All contests, most classes, and the majority of tests are oriented around the student’s age. We take classes with fellow seniors, are separated during events and often social settings, and all competitions are attempted to be made fair by cutting out the competition.

But in the art world…

We need to be better than people three times older than us. Age is a funny thing because before you’re 30 you’re too young to do art, and after you’re thirty, you’re too old. However, with the few exceptions in situations like acting, an artist’s competition can be anywhere from 0-120. What’s more is that we can’t expect the aged ones to necessarily be better than the young ones.

High school forces a broad spectrum of experience onto its students, but after graduation day, that outside power stops. A person may not write for 40 years, and, here’s the important part, their abilities haven’t changed since they stopped. Or they may have been writing for 40 years and those who have been working for two are going to have to still try and be better.

Ageism is something that high school doesn’t prepare you for. We learn that the older someone is the more authority someone has. We don’t foresee how we will have to soon enter into the peer group and soon start to compete with not only people older than us, but people younger than us.

We will be up against people with a lot more experience than us, with bosses who want to be more experienced than us, and with a much wider variety of peers than we’ve ever had before.

High school tries to prepare us for the future, but in its attempts to make us reach our potential, force us to be the best we can be, show us the path, and encourage our abilities, it doesn’t discuss the world that attempts to stop our potential before it can become talent, that isn’t made to give us opportunity or success, and competes with us in every way imaginable.