Monday, May 25, 2015

Dealing with Discouraging People

One of the hardest things about being a writer (or a musician) is the terrible vulnerability. Great art requires you to expose a deep part of your soul, to take emotional risks. Every story is your story, a slice of your mind, a bit of the darkness that lives there. There are many kinds of negative people who love to latch on to this vulnerability. I can't pretend to understand all their motivations, but I imagine that many of them are jealous or resentful of other people's talent or dedication. Some of them may just enjoy squashing other people or controlling them in some way. Whatever their reasons, writers, musicians, and artists of all kinds need to watch out for them, and learn how to protect themselves from their negativity.

When dealing with discouraging people, the first question many artists wrestle with is, "do they have a point?" This is because many discouraging people hide their cruelty behind a veil of concern. "I'm just trying to help!" they exclaim as they tell you how much you'll suffer and struggle because everyone knows artists/musicians/etc. don't make any money. They fail to notice, of course, that Everyone struggles in a bad economy. Sure, there are struggling artists and writers who work in coffee shops. But there are plenty people with "sensible" majors working there too. I majored in music performance, and I've always had a job in music, whether it was teaching lessons, or playing in a local orchestra, or playing string quartets for weddings. Yet, I once met a man with a Master's degree in engineering who ended up bagging groceries after he got laid off. Remember when the Nasdaq crashed in 2002? One of my friends who'd studied computers lost his job and ended up joining the army to make ends meet. My point is, yes, you may have to struggle to be an artist. You may work in coffee shops while you finish your novel. But even a STEM degree doesn't guarantee a good job anymore--just ask a physics major.

It is true that all artists need feedback to improve their art. That's why we have writer's groups and classes and books on art/music/writing. That's why we have open mics. Honest, valuable feedback doesn't just tear your work down--it also gives you suggestions to help you improve. Good teachers know it's not enough to criticize a student--you have to actually teach them a better way. But exceedingly wary of someone who offers criticism with no feedback. 

So when you find yourself dealing with someone discouraging, what should you do? It's often difficult to completely avoid those people--they be family members or colleagues or (sadly) teachers. If avoiding someone isn't an option, there are other options like confronting them directly, finding allies, or finding the strength to persevere in spite of them. Ideally, the person being discouraging is open to your feedback, so you can ask them to treat your work with more respect (not always the case, since many people who love dishing out harsh criticism hate anyone critiquing them). If they won't change, seek out other people who will give you encouragement, or at least honest feedback. For writers, you might check out writing forums or sites where you can post your work for other writers to read and critique.

It's hard to find the strength to pursue your passions and dreams. Discouraging people can leech away the confidence and emotional energy you need to devote to your craft. So protect yourself--ignore them, take a deep breath, and keep going.
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