I’ve been posting an image a day on social media and have noticed that certain images are very popular and others are not. Often I find that my least favorite images are more popular than my favorite ones.
Let me give an example. There are two of images in my “less favorite” group that are very popular, they are Diminishing Cliffs (above) and Road to Nowhere (top). Don’t misunderstand, I do like these images, but I consider them two of my less creative and more mundane images. However they generate a lit of “likes.”
Here’s my dilemma: each time I post one of those images and get a flurry of “likes,” I am tempted to post more images like those. I am tempted to create more of the images that people want to see.
Why? Because I love the praise and the attention…I’ll admit it, I like the “likes!”
So what do I do? How do I respond to this conflict of interests?
I stop and ask myself: why do I create?
When I first started creating images, when I was a 14 year old boy, I created for the pure joy of creating. I created to please myself.
But over time other motives crept in. I found myself creating for positive feedback.
Then I started trying to win contests.
Then I argued that I needed to build a resume in order to be taken seriously as a photographer.
Then I was creating to be famous and to be respected as a photographer.
Then I was creating to make money from my photography.
And now, after some fifty years, I have come full circle and am once again creating for the pure joy of creating. What a long journey I have taken to learn the lesson that my 14 year old self knew!
The truth is that “likes” (or fame or fortune) are not bad, but I could never be happy producing work just to please others, no matter what the reward. The buzz from a “like” only lasts a moment, while loving my images produces an internal satisfaction that lasts a lifetime.
Life is much more simple when I try to please just one person…myself.
A good friend sent me these articles about writing and I thought to myself: the author really isn’t talking writing, but about creating. What he says applies to writing, painting, photographing and every other type of creative endeavour.
BySTEVEN PRESSFIELD | Published: SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
I stumbled onto the website of a novelist I had never heard of. (He’s probably never heard of me either.) What I saw there got me thinking.
What if we worked our whole life and never sold a single painting?
The site was excellent. It displayed all fourteen of the novelist’s books in “cover flow” format. They looked great. A couple had been published by HarperCollins, several others by Random House. The author was the real deal, a thoroughgoing pro with a body of work produced over decades.
Somehow I found myself thinking, What if this excellent writer had never been published?
Would we still think of him as a success?
(In other words, I started pondering the definition of “success” for a writer.)
Suppose, I said to myself … suppose this writer had written all these novels, had had their covers designed impeccably, had their interiors laid out to the highest professional standards.
Suppose he could never find a publisher.
Suppose he self-published all fourteen of his novels.
Suppose his books had found a readership of several hundred, maybe a thousand or two. But never more.
Suppose he had died with that as the final tally.
Would we say he had “failed?”
Would we declare his writing life a waste?
[I’m assuming, for the sake of this exercise, that our writer had been able somehow to support himself and his family throughout his life or that, if he had been supported by someone else (as van Gogh was looked after by his brother Theo), that that was okay with him and with the person supporting him.]
Then I asked myself, What if that was me?
How would I feel about those fourteen books? Would I consider them an exercise in folly? Vanity? Demented self-indulgence?
Would I say to myself, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you continue this exercise in futility? Wake up! Get a job!”
Could I justify all that effort and somehow convince myself that it was worthy, that it had been an honorable use of my time on Earth?
It won’t surprise you, if you’re at all familiar with my thinking in this area, to hear that I would immediately answer yes.
Yes, I would consider that hypothetical writer a success.
I might even declare him a spectacular success.
No, his writing life was not wasted.
No, he had not squandered his time on the planet.
And yes, I would say the same if that writer were me.
My own real-life career is not that far off from this hypothetical. I wrote for seventeen years before I got my first dollar (a check for $3500 for an option on a screenplay that never came near getting made.) I wrote for twenty-eight years before my first novel was published.
What, then, constitutes success for a writer? Is it money? Sales? Recognition? Is it “expressing herself?” Is it “getting her ideas out there?”
Or is it something else?
I’m going to take the next few weeks’ posts and do a little self-examination on this subject, which I think is especially critical in this era of the web and Amazon and print-on-demand and instant and easy self-publishing, these days when literally a million new books appear each year. How do we, how do you and I navigate these waters, not just financially or professionally but psychologically, emotionally, spiritually?
[Thanks to our friend David Y.B. Kaufmann for suggesting this topic.]
BySTEVEN PRESSFIELD | Published: SEPTEMBER 28, 2016
If you’re a writer struggling to get published (or published again) or wrestling with the utility or non-utility of self-publishing, you may log onto this blog and think, Oh, Pressfield’s got it made; he’s had real-world success; he’s a brand.
J.K. Rowling has earned her spot on the Elite List
Trust me, it ain’t necessarily so.
I don’t expect to be reviewed by the New York Times. Ever. The last time was 1998 for Gates of Fire. That’s eighteen years ago. The War of Art was never reviewed, The Lion’s Gate never. My other seven novels? Never.
I’ve got a new one, The Knowledge, coming in a month or two. It will be reviewed, I’m certain, by no one.
If I want to retain my sanity, I have to banish such expectations from my thinking. I cannot permit my professional or artistic self-conception to be dependent on external validation, at least not of the “mainstream recognition” variety. It’s not gonna happen. I’m never gonna get it.
If you’re not reviewed by the New York Times (or seen on Oprah) your book is gonna have tough, tough sledding to gain awareness in the marketplace. No book I publish under Black Irish is going to achieve wide awareness. BI’s reach is too tiny. Our penetration of the market is too miniscule. And even being published by one of the Big Five, as The Lion’s Gate was by Penguin in 2014, is only marginally more effective.
There are maybe a hundred writers of fiction whose new books will be reviewed with any broad reach in the mainstream press. Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, etc. I’m not on that list. My stuff will never receive that kind of attention.
Does that bother me? I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want to be recognized or at least have my existence and my work acknowledged.
On the other hand, it’s curiously empowering to grasp this and to accept it.
It forces you to ask, Why am I writing?
What is important to me?
What am I in this for?
Here is novelist Neal Stephenson from his short essay, Why I Am a Bad Correspondent:
Another factor in this choice [to focus entirely on writing to the exclusion of other “opportunities” and distractions] is that writing fiction every day seems to be an essential component in my sustaining good mental health. If I get blocked from writing fiction, I rapidly become depressed, and extremely unpleasant to be around. As long as I keep writing it, though, I am fit to be around other people. So all of the incentives point in the direction of devoting all available hours to fiction writing.
I asked hypothetically in last week’s post, What if a writer worked her entire life, produced a worthy and original body of work, yet had never been published by a mainstream press and had never achieved conventional recognition? Would her literary efforts have been in vain? Would she be considered a “failure?”
Part of my own answer arises from Neal Stephenson’s observation above.
I wrote for twenty-eight years before I got a novel published. I can’t tell you how many times friends and family members, lovers, spouses implored me for my own sake to wake up and face reality.
Because my reality was not the New York Times or the bestseller list or even simply getting an agent and having a meeting with somebody. My reality was, If I stop writing I will have to kill myself.
I have no choice.
I don’t know why I was born like this, I don’t know what it means; I can’t tell you if it’s crazy or deluded or even evil.
I have to keep trying.
That pile of unpublished manuscripts in my closet may seem to you (and to me too) to be a monument to folly and self-delusion. But I’m gonna keep adding to it, whether HarperCollins gives a shit, or The New Yorker, or even my cat who’s perched beside me right now on my desktop.
From the New Camera News (http://newcameranews.com/2015/04/01/shocking-nikon-canon-to-end-camera-development/)
In a rare joint statement, industry giants Canon and Nikon have announced that both companies will cease all camera development, effective immediately. At a hastily arranged press conference both Nikon and Canon stressed that they are not getting out of the camera business per se, but rather will continue with their existing product lines for the foreseeable future “and quite possibly forever.”
When asked why the two companies were making such a radical decision, Canon said, “Hey listen, our current camera lineup is good enough. As a matter of fact, internal research has shown that our cameras are better and more capable than 99% of the people that own them. With data like this, the only logical thing to do is to stop improving our cameras until our owners become better photographers.”
“That’s so true!” Nikon interjected. “For years we have peddled this notion that the only thing keeping you from becoming a ‘professional’ photographer was access to the latest and greatest gear. ‘Buy this new camera!’, ‘Buy this new lens!’ we’d say in our advertising, ‘and you’ll take better photos immediately!’ Great food photos. Great puppy photos. Great photos of a perky young Japanese lady near a cherry blossom or by a water fountain or something quintessentially Japanese. But deep down inside we knew that you were just going to be the same crappy photographer you’ve always been but with more megapickles.” After reflecting for a moment, Nikon added, “It feels so good to say this. To finally get this off our prism.”
“Right!” added Canon. “I’m so glad that we are taking this moment to say, ‘Hey owners of Canon and Nikon cameras, you’re most likely a crappy photographer so we are just going to wait for you to stop talking about that damn rule of thirds, take a real photography class, and get a clue before we make better stuff. Otherwise we’re just wasting our time.’”
“You feel good?” Nikon asked Canon.
“Wow. Better than I’ve felt in decades.” Canon replied.
Why? Because my opinion, no matter how well intentioned or experienced, is bound to miss the mark.
Why? Because my advice comes from my point of view, my Vision and my definition of success.
If I really want to help someone, I’ll offer encouragement instead of advice. If I do comment I’ll say only positive things and qualify my comments with a “what I like about this image is…”
I’ll never tell another person what they should have done or what I would have done with the image. This is not useful, no matter how well intentioned I am.
If the person presses me for an opinion, then I’ll simply say: What I think is unimportant. What do you think of the image? How well does it express your vision?
Generally I find that a person asking for an opinion does so because they have not yet found their Vision. This now opens the door to talking to them about the importance of Vision as the driving force behind an image and not relying on the opinions of others.
And above all else I try to be kind and encouraging. I try to remember that each person is on the same path as I am. Today they may be behind me on that path, but tomorrow they could be ahead of me.
That’s a great reason to treat each person as I would like to be treated: as one who has tremendous creative potential and is seeking to find their Vision.
Dunes of Nude No. 119 (from my recent Death Valley trip)
Last week I asked the following question:
Someone is looking at your work and says: tell me about your Vision.
How do you respond?
Here’s my response:
When you look at my images, you are seeing my Vision.
Why use inadequate words to describe my Vision when the image says everything?
~ ~ ~
Only once in my life have I tried to put my Vision into words: a friend, blind from birth, asked me to describe my work and Vision to her. I asked how could I describe things which she had never seen? She said that she created mental images based on my descriptions. I’ve always wondered what my images looked like to her.
~ ~ ~
I enjoyed everyone’s comments and could see that semantics, different perspectives and honest differences of opinion were all in evidence. May I offer my viewpoint?
Vision can be elusive and hard to discover, yet I believe it to be an incredibly simple concept:
Vision is simply how I see things, based on my life experiences.
Because we’ve all had different life experiences, we all have different Visions. But everyone has a Vision!
Vision is much different than a look or a style. And once you start following your Vision, your work will not all start looking the same. Vision transcends a look, a style and techniques.
Vision is expressed through our images and unlike Harvey the Pooka, your Vision can be seen by everyone (you have to be over 50 or a movie buff to get the reference).
Vision is the most important ingredient in your image, it’s what makes it unique and “yours.” It is more important than your camera, lens, process or any piece of software that you use. And no amount of technical perfection, unusual technique or unique subject matter can compensate for a lack of Vision.
An image without a Vision is just a…well, just a picture.
I’ve just driven 7000 miles in 22 days and during that time traveled through 22 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. That’s a lot of time in the car and it afforded a lot of thinking.
And what I’ve been thinking about is Passion and how it relates to Vision.
I noticed that as I drove through the incredibly beautiful autumn scenery of New England, I was not inspired to create. But when I came across water of any kind, and particularly along the coast, I found myself excited and creating.
Now one might initially attribute this to me being a black and white photographer in the middle of a color wonderland. But I don’t think that’s what it was. Fall colors can make for some amazing black and white images and I know that there are great images in those hills.
And yet here were thousands of photographers flocking to the area to shoot the beauty of the mountains and trees…and I’m only taking the occasional iPhone snapshot to send back to my family! Why?
My conclusion is that I just don’t feel a Passion for mountains and trees, but I do for water.
But “why” do certain environs inspire me while others do not? I don’t know and the “why” is not very important to me: what’s important is that I recognize the source of my Passion and then do something about it.
In the past I’ve tried to force projects that I didn’t have a Passion for: the projects languished, I had to force myself to work on them and I was not happy with the results. Not one of those projects were ever successful.
Never. Not one. Ever.
And so I’ve decided that with my limited time I will only focus on the places and things that excite me most, and for now that’s water and the coast.
I’ve long understood the role of Vision in creating work that I love, but now I’m beginning to appreciate the role of Passion as being nearly as important.
With Vision I can create unique images. With Passion comes an excitement that drives me.
And while I might use each one individually to some success, I now realize that my best work is created at the intersection of Vision and Passion.
Are you a professional or an amateur? And what exactly do those titles imply?
For years I have heard people proudly call themselves a professional or apologetically confess that they were “only an amateur.”
In modern times “professional” has come to imply high quality and of course an “amateur” does amateurish work. No wonder everyone is embarrassed to be an amateur and wants to be a professional.
I’m afraid we’ve lost sight of what the word amateur really means: it originates from the French and Latin and means “lover of.” The word refers to someone who does something because they love to do it, they are not formally trained and they do not earn their living from it.
I have always referred to myself as an amateur because I am self taught, I chose not to earn a living from my art and because most importantly I create because I love to. And also there is a part of me that refuses to play the name game, trying to impress others with a title that does not fit.
This week I tried an experiment: I’ve been shooting in Nova Scotia where I have been asked many times if I were a professional (I really think it’s the tripod). I normally answer “no” to this question but had an idea after reading last weeks comments and thought I’d try something different. So this week I answered instead: “I’m a fine art photographer.”
It’s a technique that I’ve seen employed before: give an answer, but not to the question that’s been asked.
It was interesting how it worked, I could see in people’s faces that they weren’t quite sure if I had answered the question and they were certainly not sure what a fine art photographer was (I don’t blame them!). But it then led to a discussion about what I did.
I liked how this answer worked, only one person saw through my misdirection and asked again: “so are you a professional?”
Does it matter what we’re called? Unfortunately to some people it does.
It’s a shame that we are sometimes are judged by our titles, instead of by our work.
Because ultimately the image is the only thing that matters. We can hide behind a title, but our images cannot!