The Secret to Success in a Creative Career (psst… It’s conviction)

Whats in this story

It was the first day that it was warm enough to leave the apartment with my legs and shoulders bare.

And my, I do love to have my legs and shoulders bare…

So I took advantage.

I walked between avenues with my headphones in, blocking out the honking taxi cabs and the ugly catcalls; replacing Manhattan’s most famous tune with something I could sing along to. The city’s song is something like New Orleans jazz: too unpredictable to follow. But dammit, that Lindsey Buckingham knows how to write a hook that sticks with you.

The heat was bringing new life to the smell of piss and putrid garbage that eternally clings to the gum speckled sidewalks. Ah, New York’s signature cologne. Once you become a New Yorker though, you hardly notice it. I guess it grows on you. Just like ringworm.

I made my way across the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District, my sandals catching here and there, always the vision of grace. I climbed the concrete steps to the Highline and began flowing slowly through the crowd. It fascinated me. The same people who, yesterday, stared into the distance with lifelessness, were laughing and kissing their lovers and flashing their sparkliest smiles and batting their twinkly eyes. Just like that, summer had hit. Wonderful what a bit of sweat on your sweetheart’s neck and a few budding plants can do for a person’s soul, isn’t it?

I sat down on a bench and pulled out a notepad and set it across my thighs. I stared at the blank page a while, my pen clamped between my teeth. People often tell me I look distraught when I set down to begin writing. Like I’m in pain. But really it’s just concentration.  Deciphering which of the 171,476 words in the English language will act as the passcode to my heart’s floodgate. It’s a science and an art, finding that one word. Or maybe just a big, stupid guessing game.

A girl about my age walked up to me then.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said shyly. A look of relief washed over her features when a warm smile replaced my harsh, focused scowl.

“No worries, what’s up?”

She began babbling nervously about a school project for which she had to ask strangers to draw an image depicting the person their childhood selves wished that they would be now.

I laughed at the weight this could hold. “How existential are we talking?”

“Just, like, what you wanted to be when you were little.You know, like, your dream job,” she said blushing.

“Ah, okay. You got it,” I said with a smirk, reaching for the whiteboard. I was the only one of us amused by my little joke. She laughed a nervous laugh anyway.

I drew myself, then, as a stick figure with long, crazy hair and a long, witchy skirt and a microphone clasped tightly in my hand. Music notes soared above my head and my big, cartoony eyes were alive.

She watched me draw with charming fascination and whispered, “A rockstar…”

“That’s right.”

“Do you play music now?”

“Just for me,” I said. It was true at the time.

“Sing something.”

“Oh.. no,” Now I was the embarrassed one.

“Come on,” she pressed.

We were tucked away in a nook, surrounded by bushes and far away from any prying ears and her girlishness had warmed my heart. And so I sang. Just a few notes.

“Wow… so what do you do instead?”

“I’m in school. I’m going to be a writer.”

“You should be singing. Why did you give it up.” She said it matter of factly. As if, instead of asking a question, she was accusing grown up me of letting down the littler me. The one who so yearned for eyes as alive as the ones in my doodle.

I sort of had an answer I could have given her about why I never pursued singing, had I wanted to argue the point. But I had never been asked that so frankly before. So I just stayed perfectly quiet and smiled at her again.

She snapped a photo of me with the drawing. “Well thanks!” she said waving, and pulling the whiteboard to her chest before running off.

I watched as she skipped back to a small group of girls. As she briefed them, they all looked in my direction. I waved. So did they, before turning to leave.

And just like that, I found the password. I uncapped my pen and began to write.

When people ask me now, which they sometimes do, if I would want to play music for a living if I could, my answer is always, “well, yeah…”

“Well, yeah…” just like that. With the wishy washy ‘well’ and the non committal ellipsis.

“Is it because you don’t think it’s practical? That you’re not good enough?”

“Well yeah…”

Those things are both true on varying levels. Is a music career practical? Nope. Am I good enough? No, probably not.

But practicality and skill can’t have all that much to do with it. Not when my chosen career path as a blogger/author is so wildly insensible. Most of us writer types have a brief moment of nominal success (if we’re very lucky) before the starving artist life loses it’s charm and we move  on to something more in line with the status quo. Something that offers more sTaBiLiTy (blegh… that gave me goosebumps.)

So if practicality is not a concern, why not sing? Why then, have I chosen to write?

I love to sing. I love being in my room with a friend and his guitar. I love how music can connect to the innermost parts of your soul. How, in minimal language, lyricists can get right to the point of a feeling. But every time I get on stage, I’m fucking terrified. And not the kind of terrified that ignites something badass in me. I’m talking, arms don’t move, don’t make eye contact, kind of terrified. (lol)

And I love to write. I love it because I have always had stories in my head and poetry in my heart and my mouth could never find the words to bring them to life but my hand always could. I love that if you can choose just the right words that create just the right rhythm, paint just the right picture, you can connect to a stranger without making a sound. Without looking in their eyes. With just a piece of paper and a pen. That has to be magic, doesn’t it?

I love it because the world can be a chaotic and sad and scary place, but it all seems much more manageable when it’s contained on a page. And I love it because it’s a release. It’s always been my best shot at staying sane, quite honestly. 

And just like singing on stage, putting your writing out there is terrifying too. Because the way I see it, letting people read your work should always feel like letting them read a page of your diary. Letting them into some secret part of your soul. One that isn’t so strong and polished and put together. It’s like showing them the bluebird in your heart, and letting the world do with it whatever they will.

But the difference, I suppose, between writing and singing is not that one is more terrifying than the other. They are both about being vulnerable and opening oneself up to criticism.

So I guess the difference really comes down to when someone asks, “You want to be a writer?” I don’t say “Well, yeah…”

I say, “I am one.”