This Shit Isn’t Easy
Not even a little bit. Making art well and getting people to care about it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. There is a possibility you’re just not good enough or ever going to be good enough, but you’ll never know until you’ve gotten your shit together. And until you’ve gotten your shit together, it will be impossible. And getting good, or even getting better is not just about how hard you work, but how you work and how you go about your work.
It’s also going to take a lot of time. But it’s already been a long time, you say. I’m due. But even if you went to art school or you’ve been making art for years, think of the day you get your shit together as day one. Then start worrying about how long it’s taking.
Take Your Shit Seriously
You may think you’re taking your shit seriously, but if you need to get your shit together, you don’t. This is not a judgment, but a fact. You’re the one who thinks you don’t have your shit together, remember? So based upon this premise, we will assume that at this point, you lack focus. You start a lot of projects, but don’t finish them. You give up too easily.
Give a shit, not only about your career, but your fellow humans. Otherwise, what’s the point?
And if you don’t take your work seriously, no one else is going to have any reason to either. But there’s a difference between taking yourself seriously, and taking your work seriously. Taking yourself too seriously before you’ve gotten serious about your work not only makes you that much more full of shit, but it’s one of the biggest impediments to getting your shit together because it’s the biggest and most bullshit excuse.
You might think: I am a serious artist. But if you don’t have your shit together, these are only words. So ask yourself again: How much do I really want it? Because you have to want it enough that, outside of feeding and sheltering yourself and paying your bills and taking care of your human relationships, it’s your main priority.
Figure Out Your Shit
What do you actually want to do? You may think you know what you want to do, and you may think you know how it’s done. You may even tell yourself: I’m doing all the right things. But if you don’t have your shit figured out and you’re honest with yourself, you’re not doing all the right things. People who have their shit figured out not only work harder than you, but they follow through. They make the decisions and sacrifices they need to make it happen. One of the reasons people don’t accomplish their goals is because they keep shifting them around. They get distracted. So are you really, truly focused?
When I’m writing a story, one of the key questions I ask myself is: How does this contribute to the plot and theme? So stick to your story. Stick to your goal. Cut out anything you can reasonably eliminate that’s interfering with that goal.
Get Your Shit in Order
Establish a routine. I can’t emphasize this enough: Routine is absolutely key. What’s great about routine is that you don’t have to think so hard about what you’re going to do next. You just do it. It takes a lot of decisionmaking out of the process. It makes it easier to answer the question: What am I going to do today and how am I going to get it done? Instead of figuring that out fresh every morning, you just fill in the blanks. At a certain time every day I paint for X number of hours, or for a certain time every day I write X amount of words. You don’t have to always stick to the plan, but keep it as your default.
The reason you don’t finish things is because you’re inconsistent in your routine. It’s that simple. If this is your painting time, you have to paint. You don’t have any other choice. Even when you don’t feel like it. If something is getting in your way, like you’re working on a piece that you’re sick to death of and you just want to move on to the next thing, it might be fair to set aside. But if you find you do this a lot, you just need to slog through and get it done. That’s what discipline is.
And once you’ve established your routine, establish a plan. All the little goals that lead to the big goal. What did you do today that’s going to get you to that goal? Even on your shittiest days, as long as you did something, anything, that pushes you forward—writing a sentence or drawing a sketch—that’s still following your goal. And there will be days when you just can’t get your shit together. But if you have your shit in order, there will be fewer of them.
Give a Shit
At the same time, don’t take the people in your life for granted. You can’t get your shit together if you don’t have people in your life you can rely on, and who can rely on you. So be reliable in your work and in your life. You may be able to keep your shit together for a while, maybe even for the majority of your career, but if you don’t give half a shit about the people in your life, you’re destined to be a lonely piece of human wreckage in your old age. So give a shit, not only about your career, but your fellow humans. Otherwise, what’s the point?