What It Takes To Be A Great Artist

An artist is an interesting breed of person.

An artist needs to be confident. As in, it’s a requirement for the job.

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be convinced that you have something important to add to the world. Whether that be some sort of message, some sort of insight, some sort of style. Maybe it’s something that existed before, but the world hasn’t seen it done by you yet. You need to be convinced that that matters. That somewhere out there, someone is going to be affected by what you do.

And you need to be convinced of this, because how can you be an artist if you aren’t? How can you stand by your work and assert that it needs to be seen if you don’t think anyone needs to see it?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be so confident that you can withstand being told that you’re awful. You need to accept that you will be publicly ripped to pieces, that anyone, at any moment, can look at the thing that means the most to you in the entire world, and they might say that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to receive criticism, and so much criticism that it almost sounds like they’re telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, even if the words never legitimately leave their lips. And you need to be prepared to hear all of this, and still keep doing what you’re doing. You need to hear all of this, and you need to remain firm in your belief that you still have something important to say, that this is still something that you need to do.

And I mean it when I say that: need to do. Not want. Want isn’t strong enough, if you’re going to be an artist. Nobody endures this for a simple want.

Because, if you’re going to be an artist, then you can’t just be confident. You need to be humble as well.

Because you can withstand all the criticism that you need. You can laugh it off, let it roll off your back like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. But that won’t help you improve. And you can only go so far without improving.

The greatest artists listen to the criticism that they receive, and they think about it. They accept that there might be some truth in it. Because the greatest artists accept that, while they have something important to say, they are not perfect. And they never will be perfect. The greatest artists are human, and they know that they will always have room to grow and improve and create.

And maybe they don’t take every criticism to heart. They just think about it. Consider it. Decide if they agree with it, and if they do, then they apply it to their work. And this, ideally, will make their work better.

An artist’s growth comes from their ability to apply criticism. An artist’s longevity comes from their ability to insist on their importance. And, overall, an artist’s very existence is dependant on a balance between these two.

But the problem with being dependant on these two opposing forces is that they will battle one another, and sometimes in the most inconvenient ways.

Sometimes, your confidence might overpower, and you will refuse to listen to anyone’s advice. Anyone who tries to tell you what to do will immediately be dismissed as stupid, or wrong. And that’s okay – just as long as you remember, at the end of the day, that other people might have valid points as well.

Sometimes, your humbleness might overpower to the point that it becomes self-consciousness, and you internalize all of the criticisms that you have heard. You find yourself thinking them as your own thoughts – you wonder if you actually do have anything worthwhile to say. You wonder if there’s any point to trying. You wonder if you should stop.

Trust me, this has happened to me many, many times over. And when it does, I always return to that idea of need. This is what I need to do, I can’t give up. If I did, who would I be?

This is the thought that keeps pushing me through the moments of self-consciousness, just long enough for me to become convinced again that I have something important to say.

These things come in waves, you see? Sometimes one thought. Sometimes the other. Sometimes, perfect balance. And different artists will experience these thoughts in different ways, in different amounts. And that’s okay. So long as you insist on maintaining both. Because it’s in that place of balance that a great artist can be borne.

Three Lessons I’ve Learned By Maintaing An Online Blog

So today is a somewhat exciting day for me.

Today is the first year anniversary of maintaining my blog online.

(Woot woot!)

It’s sort of a strange thing to think. Maintaining this blog has been such a huge part of my daily life that it feels a little bit like it’s always been there, while simultaneously feeling like something incredibly new, something that I’m still getting the hang of and still has a long way to grow from here.

But end of day, this blog has been an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I’m very happy that I took up and will continue doing for a long time to come. And although I’ve only been at it for a year (which, while I’m celebrating the impressiveness of that, I’m perfectly aware isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things), there are quite a few things that I’ve learned in the course of this year. Lessons that have become ingrained in who I am as a person, and how I view the world. Lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, because I needed to learn them, and for me, this was the best way to learn them.

So, without further ado, here they are: the top three lessons that I have learned by maintaining an online blog.

1) Whatever you’re going through, no matter what it is, you are not alone

Before starting my blog, I had been dealing with a lot of mental health issues, primarily involving depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I talked about these issues a little bit – mostly with my mom – but I never really branched out and spoke to anyone else about it (besides one drunken announcement that I made to a friend that we shall not speak about). Mostly, this was because I was incredibly embarrassed. I didn’t necessarily feel like dealing with mental health problems made me any lesser of a person, but I didn’t depend on anyone else to feel this way. I thought that talking about how I felt would make me look weak, or like I was a burden on others. I thought that being honest about how I felt would chase people away from me, because they wouldn’t want to deal with the truth of who I was.

When I started my blog, however, I went in with one rule that I told myself I could not break: everything that I wrote needed to be honest. It didn’t matter if that honesty hurt other people. It didn’t matter if that honesty made me look bad. When it came to writing, there were so many writers that I admired because they didn’t care how they looked, they just wanted to reflect their honest experience, and I wanted to be that.

So, for the first time in my life, I was honest.

I wrote a piece on suicidal thoughts, and I had a grown man send me a private message about how he had considered killing himself after he got out of an abusive relationship.

I wrote a piece on depression, and I had another grown man thank me, because he had spent his whole life feeling a certain way and afraid to tell anyone about it, thinking that he had to go his whole life alone because of it.

And, to branch outside of issues of mental health for a moment, I wrote another piece on feeling confused about my sexual orientation, and I had a grown and married woman confess to me that she really saw herself in what I wrote, and that she was happy to see it put into words.

And you know what this made me realize? I’m not alone. None of us are alone. We are all messy, confused, broken human beings, and we think we need to shoulder this burden ourselves, but we don’t. We are all struggling, and once you speak out about that struggle, you really find that out.

And maybe it doesn’t take away the hurt. Maybe it doesn’t fix the problem, but I know for damn sure that it at least makes you feel a little less weak and a little less lonely because of it.

2) Everyone has a story to tell

This lesson sort of branches off of what I was talking about with lesson number one.

Because you know those people who I talked about, the ones who reached out to me and told me that I wasn’t alone? Some of those people were complete strangers to me beforehand. And I’m not even talking general acquaintances, I’m talking never-met-them-before, not-even-sure-we-live-in-the-same-country strangers. You know, the sort that you meet on the internet all the time.

And I suppose that, because they felt that they knew something about me, they felt more comfortable coming forward and telling me more about themselves than I’ve even learned after years of friendship with some people.

I heard a story about a man who attempted suicide, and although everyone knew he had tried, nobody spoke to him about it, forcing him to live years in secrecy and shame.

I heard a story about a man who was trying his best to keep going despite his recent divorce, but he was getting tired and beginning to accept that maybe the best thing he could do for himself now was admit that he wasn’t okay.

And hearing these stories, allowing people to open up to you so much, really makes you realize that we are all so much more complex than we give other people credit for. We are so quick to dismiss someone as ‘stupid’ if they do something that annoys us, ‘wrong’ if they say something that offends us, but every single person in this world has a story to tell and a life that they’ve lived.

“If you knew everyone’s story, you would love them” – Emma Stone

3) Sometimes, you’ve just got to do the thing that scares you, especially if it’s your dream

So, I’m not gonna lie, as much as I’ve spoken very highly about this whole maintaining-a-blog on the internet business, I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, when I first started, I was downright petrified to do it.

And why?

Well, because it’s scary, that’s why! Look – I’d been writing for a long time before this. I’d decided that I wanted a career as a writer when I was about ten years old, and even before that, I’d been writing. It’s just part of me. It’s what I do, as natural as the sun rising.

And putting my writing out there to be judged and critiqued by everybody is a goddamn worry, okay?

And I know what you’re thinking: but Ciara, you marvellous creature you, to have a career as a writer, don’t you have to let other people read your work? And the answer to that is, yes, of course, and even at the time I knew that. And truth be told, as much as this experience has been rewarding for many reasons, knowing that was what initially made me decide to start this blog: to get my writing read and my name out there a little bit.

So I did it. Like ripping off a band-aid, I just did it.

And… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

You might be expecting me to say that there was a period of time where it was hard for me, where I had to get used to having my writing read by actual people who weren’t just me and my mom, but there wasn’t really. Not everyone liked everything that I wrote, no, but I always found comfort in one of three thoughts, depending on what the post in question was: 1) that I stood up for what I believed in, and not everyone is going to agree with everything I believe in, 2) that I reflected my honest experience, and so long as that is so, I did my best, and 3) that, end of day, if this post really, really sucked and there was nothing redeemable about it, I can just write another one tomorrow and everything will be better.

Despite my fears, misgivings, and worries, this experience has honestly been nothing but rewarding for me.

So if there is something that you want to do, whatever that might be, something that you’ve really been dreaming of but too afraid to try – start an Etsy store, apply for that job, take that program – I say do it. The worst thing that you can do is fail, and then you try again tomorrow. And the hardest part of all that will, of course, be your persistence – it can be difficult to find resilience when people put you down, sure, and I get that. But just do what I do whenever I seriously fail at something: cry for a bit, stuff some junk food in your face (we’re all allowed our cheat meals from time to time), wipe away the tears and the smeared make-up, and then get right back up and do it again.

Because this is just the beginning.