Artistic Struggles: Today, Tomorrow, Always

oak tree with sunlight

It is a struggle. Each and every day, each word put to the page, each post to social media, each Tweet poised to entice a reader into giving me just the smallest of chances, it is all a struggle.

There are some days, like today, when I have so much self-doubt and self-loathing with my writing career it is all I can do to not throw in the towel. Each time I check my dismal Amazon ranking and see the lack of responses to my FB status, see I have lost a few more Twitter followers, makes me question why I even bother to continue on this road. It gets harder and harder with each passing day, with each book written, with each new idea, to want to stay with this journey. Being a writer, an author, is not easy, and it does not grow easier with time. In fact, it does not become easier with more success, but it certainly becomes more depressing with the lack of success.

I’ve had more than my fair share of doubting moments in the past year, much less my lifetime. I’ve had days when I was tired and weary and just plain sick of trying to drudge out my own niche in the writing world. I was tired of pouring years of my life into a project I truly believed in, only to see it shoved to the side by so many. Writing was quickly becoming something I no longer enjoyed, but instead had become a daily reminder of just how unsuccessful I really am, not only in my writing career, but also in my working Evil Day Job, and my life in general. I could handle not being successful in one or two of those avenues, but not all three, not all at once, and certainly not for so long a period of time. It was becoming suffocating, to the point where I couldn’t stand to look at my computer when I came in from work, could no longer force myself to write, or do any type of graphic art work or even post to my social media accounts. I languished in this suspended state, unsure of myself, my talents, petrified by my lack of tangible success.

Today, it all came crashing down around me again. As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I was bombarded with more fan artwork from one of favorite bands. One of the reasons I follow Chris is because I love seeing him retweet messages from the fans and their awesome artwork. In all honesty, I would have to say Black Veil Brides has some of the most talented fans in the world. Today, as I sat admiring some of this work, the artistic side of my life suddenly gave way, the delicate glass house I had built around myself in an effort to protect my fragile ego exploding with enough force to send those glass shards slicing and dicing their way straight into my heart.

I have never claimed to be a good writer. In fact, I will be the first person to tell you I suck, that I butcher the English language. I don’t write because I think I’m good, I write because it’s more like a force of nature, an irresistible power which drives me to keep writing even when the odds are stacked against me. As much as I hate it, writing is the closest thing to a natural God-given talent that I possess. Today, while scrolling through Chris’ Twitter feed, the realization hit me hard, even that one talent, the one thing I had been so very proud of, I wasn’t even really good at. I like to play around with photography and do graphic art work and create book covers for both myself and for others, but I’m not any better at doing that than I am singing or playing a musical instrument. I may “like” to do these things, but I’m certainly not good at it.

So where does that leave me? What does this mean? Who am I if I’m not an artist? I’m naturally a very creative person, I like to always be creating things, whether it be beading bracelets or working on book teasers or attempting to get more work done on yet another book, I feel compelled to create something, anything, and when I’m not creating I have to immerse myself in something creative like music or a good book or a museum. It’s what fuels the other part of my soul, the part forced to be put to the side for twelve hours a day as I sit in a small, windowless cubicle putting together sales reports and fixing other peoples’ fuck ups at work. It’s what I consider the “real” me, the part I have to keep hidden from the world at large while I go about the everyday necessities of working my Evil Day Job and taking care of the house and doing all the mundane things which must be completed each and every day.

But if I’m not good at doing any of these things, if it’s no longer satisfying and I feel I’m not getting anywhere professionally with my writing career or anything else in my life, exactly where does that leave me? Does this mean I’m as big of a failure as I think I am? Has my entire life been a lie??? If I’m not Nicola, the writer and artist, then that just leaves plain, old Brandey, someone I have not liked for a very, very long time.

Then, out of the blue, like a sign from above, just like it always does, the message came to me when I least expected it, but when I needed it the most.

I was scrolling through my morning email stream at work and came across a post in one of the many publishing groups I am a member of on LinkedIn. I don’t remember who wrote it or even what the point of the post was supposed to be about. What I DO remember is the message was meant for me, a message I really needed this morning.

Writers, truly any artist, must be strong, and we must be steadfast in our pursuits of success. It is no easy journey, it does not happen overnight, and we must be ready, willing, and able to take on all the setbacks which will inevitably be thrust upon us. We are like the mighty oak tree standing tall against all odds, weathering the storm regardless of how hard the rain pelts us or how shrilly the wind howls. Our ideas are like the acorns dotting our branches, each one with the potential to grow into another mighty oak tree if given the right encouragement.

For you see, much like it takes time and nurturing for the tiny little acorn to sprout, mature, and grow into the tall oak tree, it takes time to create and nurture those ideas into a completed work. Each word put to paper, each rewrite, each round of edits brings us one step closer to completing our project until finally, one day, all our hard work comes to fruition and we hold in our hand the realization of all those long hours of agony as we toiled away, struggling to grow our ideas into something we could be proud of.

Success in any part of life is not a sprint, but a marathon we spend half our lives preparing for and the other half just trying to get our foot in the door. Being an artist of any kind is no different. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Those artists who seem to come out of nowhere and are on the top of the world spent years as nobodies honing their respective crafts, begging people to just give them a chance, countless hours spent laboring over every small detail until they finally had a finished product they could be proud of, and then they did it all over again, time after time, year after year, one foot in front of the other, until the day came someone not only took notice of them, but helped spread the word, and soon that “nobody” became a household name. It didn’t happen overnight, but then again, the industry rarely tells anything about all those years spent slaving away just trying to get our names out there.

Success isn’t something measurable by how much money you make or how many people know your name or even by how many projects you have completed. Success is something only you, the artist, can accurately measure within yourself. We spend so much time waiting for “the day” when we can finally say “I made it! This is what I’ve been working towards!” we forget to enjoy the small successes we accomplish each and every day. We so often forget to slow down and just enjoy the ride. We stress and worry no one will like our final product or we aren’t “good enough” yet to even try to put ourselves and our work out there. We forget to enjoy the learning process.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your life cycle, whether you are the tiny little acorn sprout struggling to break free of your shell or the mighty oak tree trying to nurture all your budding little acorns into other mighty oak trees. The point is we ALL have the potential to be so much more tomorrow than we are today. THAT is the real measure of success, to enjoy the ride, never take it for granted, and always, always strive to make today count, to look forward to tomorrow, to never stop believing in ourselves or in our ability to one day grow into an even mightier oak tree than we are today. Because even when we are gone, our legacy will remain, and even if that legacy is nothing but a tiny little acorn hidden away beneath the fertile soil, it has the potential to become the mightiest oak tree of them all, spreading our legacy far and wide to nurture those who will never forget we existed, that we were once where they are at, and we kept going, we prevailed against all odds, and we helped inspire another little acorn to reach for the stars.