When I went to college (oh-so-long-ago), I majored in photography at a prestigious university. Back then, I think many of us in that program hoped that we would somehow create the most amazing work, that we would be able to sell our images easily, that galleries would clamber to represent us.
Of course, that was ridiculous.
That said, one thing about that time was that we were all so optimistic (and terrified) at the same time. It was a time before I realized that I’d better hunker down in a specialty so that I’d be able to find a job when my formal education was complete.
I did not hunker down.
Back then, there was a sort of magical guru working at the school, a cranky old fellow, a man who seemed to know all the secrets of the universe. The artsy among us would flock to his classes, mostly just to hear him speak. We almost never had photographic assignments from him, and yet we would hang on his every word. I remember one day he asked us, if we could do anything in the world of photography, what would it be? I answered that I would start a fine art photography magazine.
“Why don’t you do it, then?” he said, exasperated. “I’m sick of hearing things like this from my students. No one ever DOES anything.”
It was right then that I decided that I would be the one to prove him wrong.
So I took that fearlessness that I carried around with me, and I got to work.
Why wasn’t I afraid?
I’m not entirely sure. But now, many years later, I find that fear does sometimes creep in. I’ve done many things in my life fearlessly, started that magazine, started businesses, worked in highly critical and competitive industries.
But I’m a writer now, and sometimes staring at that blank page on my computer screen is a very, very difficult thing.
What if they hate it? What if it’s not enough? What if I’m a phony and this is the book that will expose my phony-ness?
Daring to be bad
I think it’s not a unique phrase, “Dare to be bad,” but it’s one that I have on a post-it stuck to my computer screen.
How can one move forward (in writing and in life) fearlessly? There’s just so much to be afraid of. The roller coaster security belt might fly off when we’re upside down, and then what?
Sometimes I get good reviews, sometimes I get bad ones. Interestingly, both types of reviews can spur anxiety about the next piece of writing I produce. If I get a good review, it’s, “How will I ever write a good-enough book to follow this one?” If it’s a bad review, it’s, “Wow. I hope I can get it together and make this next book a good one. Otherwise, those reviewers will surely tell the world how much I suck.”
It’s a risk. Every time, it’s a risk.
The image shown at the top of this post is the 9th and final magazine I produced. I represented four artists in this issue, and I was very excited.
At the beginning, we used to have an Epson printer hooked up to big bottles of ink. We would print out each page and then bind them together with (terribly toxic) glue in my dining room.
But this last one we sent out to a printer in Iceland (of all places), and a few weeks (and a few thousand dollars) later, I had myself two thousand copies of what I consider to be my favorite issue of the nine.
I’m proud of it. I’m proud of all of them.
Last year for Christmas my husband framed each of the nine issues for me so that we could display them on the office wall. Pictured here.
I don’t know if it was his intention, but seeing those magazines up there every day helps to remind me that I’ve done some cool, and difficult, things in my life. That I still am doing those things.
I don’t know if what I’m making right now will be “good enough” for my readers, for you. But I’m doing it anyway. And while it can be difficult to be proud of something that is yet untested in the market, I make an effort to produce something I can be proud of every day. Otherwise, how would I ever get anything done? Self-doubt is a tricky thing to push away. But, as I once painted on my office wall, “The only way around is through.” And it’s true.
So what happened once I put out that 9th magazine? I got a call from that teacher, a message that I picked up when I got home from work one day.
He was proud. I’d done good.
I hope this finds you today and gives you a little kick in the pants. Get out there. Get moving. Don’t be afraid. Some people will hate what you do, and some will love it. Either way, you’ll learn about yourself with whatever it is you put out into the world.
Happy reading, everyone!
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