Dad the Writer 3: Soul

Father, husband, writer...
Father, husband, writer…

August 10, 2015

This is the final installment (for now) of “Dad the Writer.” We’ve gone over how to keep mind and body sane and healthy while you juggle being a parent and an artist. Obviously, as cliché as it sounds, we end with keeping the soul sane.

Whether or not you believe in the soul is immaterial. If you’re an artist, if you want to create something, make an idea tangible, then you have a soul. Maybe you didn’t have one before you started. If you’re reading this and want to be a better artist, congratulations. You have a brand new soul.

It’s not enough to simply be good at something, though. It’s also not enough to keep your mind sharp. Anyone can sit at a computer and just type at normal speed, maybe even half speed, and write a novel within a week or two. Anyone can buy a camera and take pictures of animals, landscapes, and people. Anyone can shoot videos or write poems. Doing any of these well, though, is another matter. That takes practice and dedication.

And a healthy artist’s soul.

the artist by samuel123 on DeviantArt

A healthy artist’s soul means being willing to fail. Again. And again. And again. If you’re doing whatever you’re doing for the chance to get rich, you’re doing business, not art. You’re looking at trends and what’s hot and jumping on the bandwagon. You’re not creating. You’re selling. Creating something that rings true to people, something that can last generations and change people’s minds, something that has, for lack of a better term, a piece of your soul, is difficult.

This takes time.

No piece of writing is ever good on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. Maybe, a handful of times in your career, you’ll stumble onto the perfect line, the perfect shot, and that’s fantastic. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it requires patience and determination. And failing is the last thing artists want. I know it’s something that gives me nightmares to this day. I’m afraid of creating something, pouring my history and my troubles into it for others to see and learn from, and then finding out it’s complete garbage.

creativity ? by wesso85 on DeviantArt

Do not be afraid to fail. You will. Just remember that your work is not final until you put it out for the world to see. You can make changes, go back and redo your work, or do anything that needs to happen in order for your art to be better. Embrace failure, but reach for perfection. And don’t be disillusioned when your work isn’t perfect. It never will be. Every writer, for example, can look at old stories and find mistakes. I look at my work from even six years ago and find not just errors in grammar but also plot holes and clutter that I would strike out in the first editing session today.

Just think what you’ll learn in another six years.

Your work does not have to be perfect, just as perfect as you can make it at the time. At some point, you need to stop and say, “It’s done. I can do nothing else.” Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life checking work that needs to go out and be seen.

Which brings me to one of the Ultimate Truths About Art™ that you need to understand to keep your soul healthy.

You will always improve, as will your work, if you have dedication and support.

Surround yourself with people who can encourage you, be honest, and promote your growth. Find those who will give you honest feedback, and maybe a little ego-boost, when things get dark. You need someone who will tell that your work is the greatest thing in the world even if you don’t believe it. Balance this with actual criticism because constant failure can wear you down.

Creativity by BFXWalker on DeviantArt

It’s not easy to have that kind of dedication and will. That, like anything worthwhile, takes practice. So go ahead and fail. Cry. Drink that six pack and pass out. Cry again. Curse the day you thought you could do this.

And try again. And again. And lean on those around you. The loner artist is a myth, a romanticized idea that rarely works. You need that support to keep you grounded or your ego will kill you one way or another. If you gain an audience, it will make you think  things are easy and you’ll flounder. If you don’t do well, it’ll tell you it was never meant to be.

Use your support network. Use your loved ones. Bring them along for the ride.

And now, to help you pass the time between reading and working on your own work, here’s the trailer for a feel-good family movie about parents and their children.

Okay, maybe not so much.

Professional vs Skilled

Saying you're a good photographer because you have a great camera is like saying you're a great writer because you' have a really cool pen.

September 7, 2011

I looked through You Are NOT a Photographer. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s amazing. It’s a collection of “professional” photographs that could have been done with a webcam and a buggy version of Microsoft Paint. The fact that people hand over good money for this kind of work is a crime.

And I’m NOT a photographer. It doesn’t take genius to see these images are crappy, but reading through the intent of the site, something struck me.

The writers contend that being a photographer is not about having a camera and taking pictures. You have to know what you’re doing, know the technicalities of photography, and put out professional work.

It’s funny, but similar arguments abound in any art form. You’re not a writer unless you’re published. You’re not a painter until you make a living at it. You’re not an artist until you’re recognized.

Let’s have a little vocabulary lesson, shall, we? Because, really, what’s more exciting on a Wednesday?

The Professional by ~qwailotim on deviantART


The dictionary definition is someone who makes a living at something. In fact, every definition of the noun is only concerned at whether or not the person you are describing works at something. If I started working as a chef tomorrow and got a paycheck, that would make me a professional chef…

Except there’s a difference between being a professional and being professional.

I can cook well enough for myself and my family. I think I make a fairly good boeuf bourguignon and can cook a mean omelet, but I would get creamed against any chef who’s been doing this for more than three weeks.

Professional behavior and skills are a separate matter. They are what we assume someone has if he or she makes a living at something. I am a professional writer. So is whoever writes Sarah Palin’s speeches. Both of us make money by writing, but I can guarantee that in a test of skill, I have more. I’ve ghostwritten, written speeches, worked in education and journalism, and studied a wide spectrum of genres.

But making a living with this knowledge makes me a professional. So is Dan Brown, as much as it pains me to say that.

Serious Amateur by ~IRGadget on deviantART


This one’s a little more complex. There are four noun definitions:

1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

2. an athlete who has never competed for payment or for a monetary prize.

3. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.

Interesting… An amateur is someone who does something for pleasure and not for money, yet there is no mention of actual skill except in definition #3, and even then the definition states “or.” Some people have natural talent when it comes to certain things. You might never have written a poem in your life, and the first time you try, you find you have a knack for rhyme and meter. You are inexperienced, but not unskilled.

Moonlight by ~DarkestShadowZ on deviantART

Putting It Together

Now, let’s look at what You Are NOT a Photographer is actually doing. It’s not that the shots they put out are bad. Well, they are, but that’s not the point. The people who put them up, if they have a business and make money despite this level of shoddy work, are still professionals! They are unskilled, however, and that’s the key term.

Language is a funny thing. Most of us would say that a “professional” knows what he or she is doing. That’s an assumption based on the fact that if you’re going to make a living at something, you should be good at it.

But there are plenty of people out there that are TERRIBLE at their jobs!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what You Are NOT a Photographer is doing. I do. The problem is that if you define a professional as someone who is good at his or her work AND makes a living at it, you’re missing the point.

A professional does not have to be good, and an amateur doesn’t have to be bad. Like Man on Fire said, “No such thing as tough. You’re either trained, or you’re untrained. Now which are you?”

I am a professional writer. I may not be as successful as others, but I am skilled and enjoy my work. And sometimes, that knowledge is enough.

Actually finishing Charcoal Streets and selling a million copies would be nice, too, though…

Writer’s Block by ~Ponti55 on deviantART