Creativity is vital to the artist. But creativity is the starting point. In order to achieve your artistic goals, you are going to need skill.
To be skillful is to do something well. No one is born with skills; they are acquired through practice. So, the good news is that you can become more skillful at anything. The bad news is it’s going to take work. There are no shortcuts. But there are strategies:
Focus on one skill at a time. Add another only after you’ve made progress on the first and know that you can maintain your pace.
Lofty goals are good, but realize they will take time, as in years, even decades. Set realistic intermediate goals, and raise the bar as you go. You may want to be the best xylophone player in the world, but maybe start out by learning how to play smooth scales.
If you can, take a class or private lessons. Go to workshops and conferences. If that’s not possible, you might be able to find some good lessons on YouTube for whatever skill you’re trying to learn.
Find other people who can already do what you want to do, and cultivate them as friends. (Caveat: famous people probably will not want to be your friend, so do not stalk them.) Hang out where people who do what you want to do hang out. If you want to be an author, google writers groups in your zip code. If you want to be a comedian, look for open mike nights. Go and watch a few times, and see if you can talk to some of the participants. Ask them for advice, like how they come up with their material or handle stage fright.
Practice is paramount. Every day is optimal. Even if you think you don’t have time except on weekends, try to get in some practice every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. Maybe there is one tricky passage in your dance routine. Do some stretches and try just that pattern ten times after dinner. Do that Monday through Friday, and when Saturday comes and you can really devote some time to it, it will be that much easier.
Practice smart. If you want to draw people but the hands always look wonky, then just draw hands for a week or two. I once embroidered an angel, and her hair was supposed to be made of French knots. At the time, French knots were my least favorite stitch, and I always messed them up. But by the time I finished the angel’s hair, I’d made several hundred of them, and I could do them blindfolded.
It’s never too late to try something new and develop new skills. Don’t sell yourself short—practice.
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What does it take to become a successful author or artist or musician or actor? Must you have talent?
The top two definitions of talent on Dictionary.com are “a special natural ability or aptitude” and “a capacity for achievement and success.” People think of talent as an affinity you’re born with. You’re either artistic or you’re not. You have a knack for learning foreign languages, or you don’t. You’re a natural athlete, or you’ll always be chosen last for stickball. The first thing you write will immediately be snapped up by a publisher, or nothing penned by you will ever see light of day.
Fortunately, the reality is a lot more positive.
Success in any field of endeavor can be achieved by a number of approaches in combination. In general, SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE DO THE FOLLOWING THINGS:
They find something they’re passionate about. For a writer, this might be the 47 story ideas fluttering around in his head, or, speaking of fluttering, maybe it’s the many species of butterflies she’s been categorizing and the desire to share the joys of lepidopterology with an online audience.
They acknowledge that the road is long and difficult, but they commit to the journey anyway. Elite soccer coach John O’Sullivan says, “Sorry to burst many bubbles, but if athletes are not willing to suffer, chances are slim that they will make it. The will to suffer and endure not only separates average athletes from elite ones, but it separates talented elite athletes from their peers as well.” This holds true for dancers, artists, musicians, and writers as well. When I taught elementary music, my chorus would often perform two assemblies the day before winter break, and the singers would miss their classes’ holiday parties. I used the moment to teach them, “We all suffer for our art.” There are always tradeoffs. To shine, you have to give up something else.
They learn the necessary skills. They take classes, earn degrees, attend workshops, go the conferences, ask questions, join professional organizations.
They practice daily. Writers write. Painters paint. Musicians play. Basketball players dribble and shoot baskets. Remember the 10,000 hour rule. Kevin Mercadante says, “A lot of people have skills, in fact probably most of us do. But few of us are actually any good at what we do. That’s not because we lack innate ability, but because we lack the discipline to build those skills into something more.”
They use their time well. They consider their immediate, short-term, and long-term obligations and goals and plan their days accordingly. Lolly Daskal says, “Time is indeed a precious and finite commodity, and those who respect it know how to use it wisely to achieve the greatest results. Time can be wasted, invested, or respected. It doesn’t matter what your title is, your position, your role, what company you work for, where you went to school, or what continent you live on–you have 24 hours in a day–1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds–the same as everyone. How are you spending yours? If you want to do more, make more, gross more, serve more, influence more, or significantly change the level of your impact in any area, you simply must respect time.”
They take care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. They eat well, stay hydrated, work out regularly, get enough sleep. They call their moms, go out with friends, pet their kitty cats, do fun stuff on a regular basis. They read their Bibles, meditate, pray, spend time contemplating nature.
They mentor others.Workopolis says, “Help other people to succeed. Your biggest career assets are those people who think well of you and your work, who would relish the chance to work with you again or would recommend you to others. That’s your network. The more people you can help out at work or in your other activities or personal life, the bigger your network will be. But that’s not why you should help other people. You should help them because you can. Because it’s nice.” Help other people because they are your colleagues, not your competitors. Someone else’s success does not diminish yours. I believe what goes around comes around. Be generous to others, and help will appear when you need it.
They pursue opportunities. They enter contests. They send out audition tapes. They attend open mike nights. They submit to agents, publications, and editors. They keep their eyes and ears open for the gatekeepers who could be receptive to their work.
They don’t take rejection personally. I have a file folder in my file cabinet of rejection slips that were snail-mailed to me back in the day. My critique group often joked about how we would one day wallpaper a room with them. Nowadays, when I get a rejection, it’s emailed, and I don’t bother to print it out; but I have a notebook where I record it. Looking at my submission history reminds me that persistence and perseverance are rewarded.
They don’t give up. “A bias towards finishing what you begin, rather than leaving it half-finished, is actually characteristic of some of the most successful people in the world,” says professor of psychology Angela Duckworth.
Does talent play any role in success? Of course. But there are many talented adults who still live in their parents’ basements. Talent doesn’t guarantee excellence.
Anna Chui says, “To call someone ‘talented’ can also be an act of rudeness. It implies that the person did not have to rely on their own hard work to achieve success, which belittles their efforts and shows an ignorance of how personal growth and development really happens behind the scenes. Calling someone talented also lets yourself off the hook and gives you permission to be lazy – after all, if someone else is talented and you are not, why even bother trying to achieve a similar level of success?”
So don’t worry whether you have talent. Follow your dream, but be willing to work strategically and hard.
Now it’s your turn. Is there a strategy to success you would recommend that I haven’t listed above? Share in the comments below.
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It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.
What does each really mean?
This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.
This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?