There are two things you should know before you read this post. One is that when I was a kid I spent a LOT of time with crayons in my hands. The second is that there was a very large span of time when I avoided art or threw my brushes when I painted. These are both important for the following message.
Dear Teenager (pre-teen and/or adults where applicable),
I am writing to you today about something that is near and dear and dangerously misunderstood. Stop fidgeting, we haven't gotten to the uncomfortable part yet. Today's topic is Art. You know, that thing that you love but that you think you are horrible at doing? That thing that feels wild and toothy and incredibly free when you let it out. That thing that everyone else thinks is "just a hobby" or "just for fun". That thing that you love so much that you are afraid to show anyone because deep down in your gut you realize it is a piece of you and you are afraid that whoever sees it will think it looks funny. That thing that you are trying to find a way to do while you pursue your sensible career in a field that you are pretty sure you will hate. That thing that you are already looking at how to put down because someone else convinced you that it was a waste of time. Yeah.. you know what I'm talking about, don't you? Feel free to fidget for a moment.
Here's the deal: Yes, you will probably have to have a job that puts food on your table because people are strange and will waste their money on prints of strange landscapes done by people they have never heard of in cheap frames long before they will buy your one of a kind canvas. They will hunt down "new" music by bands that they will never go see instead of coming to your gig or spreading the CD you invested all of your savings into in order to have it done professionally. They will read books by authors that they don't have to worry about meeting personally instead of telling all their friends to read the book that it took you two years to write and another 4 to have published. Whatever you invented, someone will spend more money on a million other gadgets in order to get the same results that they could have had just by buying yours. That basket of beautiful baked goods you work on for Christmas presents? Oh, trust me. I know it will take a back seat to the frozen ice cream cake that came from a factory. This sounds harsh. It is. Reality can be that way. The thing is that none of it matters. It took me a LONG time to find that out and if you only ever listen to this one thing I pass along, I swear I'll be happy for the rest of my life. CREATE YOUR THING ANYWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Don't worry about how "good" it is. There is someone out there that is going to absolutely hate whatever it is you make. They are unimportant. You aren't creating for them. You are creating for yourself first and for that other person who lit up when they saw or heard or read your work. Sure, sales may be scarce but marketing is another beast altogether and must be dealt with separately. If you are creating solely for money, probably you are not giving your creativity the wings it really needs.
Don't try to create someone else's work. It took me 2 stinking decades to realize that I'm not ever going to be Michelangelo and to become happy about it. 20 years during which time I avoided painting simply because I have a different talent than the one I wanted. Do you have any idea what all I could have created in 20 years or how much better at my own style I would be now if I hadn't decided to fuss about what I'm not. When I think about it, I want to travel back in time and shake myself.
It is okay to not be perfect. Trust me. The world has not ended because I have smudges or typos. Better yet, guess what I do have. I have 5 published books that I wrote and illustrated. Had I waited for perfection none of them would exist. You can always go back and fix things that are there. People will forgive you your imperfections quicker than they will forgive you for your perfect moments.
Be kind to yourself. Creativity can hurt from time to time but only because it should make you grow. If it hurts all the time, you are doing it wrong. Do not EVER listen to someone who tells you that you need to suffer for your art. They are ridiculous and sad. Grow your roots strong enough to shake your head and smile your way past them.
Also, don't listen to anyone - including yourself - when they tell you that what you do is not necessary and vital. Even the cavemen took time out of their short, fear-filled lives to paint the cave walls, pass down stories, and most likely beat a rhythm that made them dance. Nothing - let me repeat that: NOTHING in our human world is here without someone creating it. Your favorite band, or that gorgeous calendar on your wall, or your chair, or that delicious pasta dish that your mom makes, all of them are art. So is the chair you are sitting on and the type you are reading right now and the computer that is displaying it for you... and even that job that you are going to have to have in order to keep the lights on.
Long and short: Embrace your personal creativity and splash it all over as much of the world as you can reach. Apply it to that job that you might not actually hate quite so much as you like to think and use your abilities to make the boring parts better. Be amazing. That is what you were created for.
Now, set aside your insecurities. Be brave for just those few minutes that it takes to get started... the rest will flow easier once you are under way. Breathe. Then create something. Anything. Trust me. It will be amazing!
Oh, and one more thing. When you notice that someone else needs this pep talk, give it to them - even when it's me.
Have a wonder filled week!
Being a homeschooling parent for 13 years and an independent author/illustrator makes a person learn quite a bit about a lot of things. Now it's time to pass it on!