The Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom is a must-watch for every struggling writer. I promise you will be inspired.
The first time I watched it, I nodded my head, said a few amens, and felt understood as an artist who doesn’t always feel like a success. Watching these background singers walk such a similar journey as mine gave me hope. I am not alone in this artistic/fame/success/money struggle, and neither are you.
Then I watched the documentary a second time. And I feverishly wrote down quotes. Because these quotes are GOLD folks. Not only for every writer out there discouraged that your art is being ignored or marginalized, but for every Creative out there in a similar battle.
Thirteen Quotes that Changed the Way I Viewed My Writing Career:
One. “God gave me this talent, and I intend to use it.” Darlene Love
This is exactly how I feel. And when I become disillusioned or discouraged by the publishing industry, I have to go back to this truth. God has equipped me. He has given me this gift. To use it to the utmost is to honor Him.
Two. “I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star.” Merry Clayton
I have felt this way on this over-twenty-year journey. It’s fickle, this industry. Even if you give it your all, there are no guarantees of success. I think all artists have to go through this frustration. And there will be people who work less, or get a lucky break, or make more money or experience more fame than you. The comparison game will KILL you every time.
Three. “The kind of feeling that you get from people screaming in the audience…if you’re always looking for that in life, you’re going to crash.” Background singer
Yep. Been there. Done that. Fame like that is fleeting. And it’s not real. And it really has nothing to do with your talent or guts or tenacity. If you’re in the writing industry to fill a hole in your heart, you will walk away wounded.
Four. “It never is a level playing field. It’s not about fairness. It’s really not about talent. It’s circumstance. It’s luck. It’s destiny. But the best people deal with that.” Sting
I’ve had to settle that in my mind. Sometimes people work very hard and don’t “make it.” Sometimes people don’t try at all and have things handed to them. It’s terribly arbitrary and fickle. The best way I’ve weathered this is to learn contentment and practice gratitude.
Five. “There’s this idea that you can go on American Idol and suddenly become a star, but you may bypass the spiritual work you have to do to get there. And if you bypass that, then your success will be wafer thin.” Sting
I have seen many flash in the pans fizzle and die for this very reason. They didn’t have that long period of 10,000 hours of work. They didn’t have to struggle in their craft. They had fame thrust on them without the discipline of hard work underneath it.
Six. “We need to know our worth.” Dr. Mable Brown
Oh yeah. We do. I do. This is my single most worrisome problem. My worth is not tied to my words, my productivity, my doing “everything right” for a publisher, my success, my financial statements. My worth is tied to who I worship….Jesus. He loves me well. That should be enough.
Seven. “Seemingly any time I would be getting ready to be doing something really really big, or something really wonderful, something would just happen that would just knock me to my knees. God, what is this? Am I not supposed to be doing this? If I’m not supposed to be doing this, then show me I’m not supposed to be doing this, and I won’t do it. I never was shown. And I just stay cool, stay humble and stay beautiful to do the work.” Merry Clayton
I have so been there. I’ve wailed (yep, gut-wrenching sobs…how embarrassing) after dark rejections. I’ve asked God why in the world would He call me to such a journey where I’m constantly rejected? Or why would I get “so close” and a break would nearly come, only to fall by the wayside? Or others seem to have success easily, and I have to grit and gut my way to make a living. I hope I’m like Merry, staying cool, staying humble, and staying beautiful. I keep doing the work, so there’s that.
Eight. “It’s more than just leaning on your talent. You gotta be disciplined. You gotta get up in the morning. You gotta do it.” Tata Vega
BOC. Butt on chair. Word count goals. Consistent blogging. Disciplined social media. Writing a book in a month. Exercising your writing muscle consistently. I view my career as a platform to constantly improve. I want each subsequent book to be better than the one before. I want to grow, to work hard, to continue to practice discipline in the craft.
Nine. “But you know at the end of the day, it’s up to you to perfect the gift you’ve been given. Put your spirit into that song.” Stevie Wonder
This deals in voicing. There is only one me. There is only one you. I will be violating my voice if I try to imitate yours. You bring YOU to the page. Be gloriously, unabashedly YOU.
Ten. “It’s been a regret that I just didn’t hang in there.” Claudia
This is from a background singer who ended up becoming a Spanish teacher. And honestly, this haunts me. The pressure to make a living, the desire to be recognized financially for all the hard work I’ve done, is huge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered dropping out of this pursuit to get a “real job.”
Eleven. “As a young person you thought everyone could sing. Then you got older and you realized everyone is not a singer. These are gifts. And you have to share and go out into the world.” Background Singer
I didn’t always “own” my talent. I figured every one could write, that words came easily. I’ve since learned that this ability to string thoughts together is a gift. I’m grateful for the gift, and I feel it’s part of my worship to sink into that gift, and wear it proudly.
Twelve. “There’s a spiritual component to what (real musicians) do. It’s got nothing to do with worldly success. The music is more more an inner journey. Any other success is just cream on the cake.” Sting
The main satisfaction from creating something cannot be success. It must be something else–the joy that comes from a beautiful turn of phrase, the email from someone who was touched by your words, the satisfaction that arises from simply doing what you were created to do.
Thirteen. “You gotta step out there and do your thing.” Stevie Wonder
This is my thing, writing. I’ve stepped out. I’ve been naked on the page, so many times. I’ve been vulnerable, taking riskier risks. And the result is this KNOWING that I’m doing what I’m called to do. And I’ve had the privilege to hear about lives being changed as a result.
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So, what has helped you persevere in your career?