My philosophy about making it big in writing, inspired by a comedian.
Back when I was still in high school, I was a bass clarinetist in the Minnesota All-State Band. One year, we had a conductor from Texas who told a story about his college days in California.
You see, this conductor was heavily immersed in the school’s arts programs, and he told us about a classmate named Steve.
Steve was an actor. Well, Steve was a wannabe actor, and he was known for “stealing the scene” in every production.
Supposedly, it was a bit of a joke on campus that this dude was so over the top that he drew attention to himself even when he had non-speaking roles.
Our conductor animated his story with flailing arms and overeager expressions to illustrate how Steve could always be seen in the background of any performance.
I sat there on stage listening to this story over twenty years ago, so who knows what details or nuance I’m forgetting. But I believe the conductor’s point was to stress the power of perseverance, and the punchline of the whole thing was that this kid who couldn’t quit drawing attention to himself was none other than Steve Martin.
As a teen, two of my favorite comedy films were The Three Amigos and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Steve Martin starred in both movies, so I’ve been familiar with him for most of my life. Honestly? I hope that story the band conductor told us was true because it illustrates an important belief I have about writing: I may not be there yet, but maybe I can get there if I try. Or…
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” -Steve Martin
I’ve been familiar with this quote for most of my life, and on a surface level, I think it sounds like the whole point is to be your best (or even the best) all of the time.
But as I’ve gotten older and begun my own writing career, I see the quote much differently. To me, the most important point of Martin’s statement is that you don’t let the world ignore you.
If people aren’t paying attention? Give them something worth noticing. Maybe even something they won’t soon forget.
Success is scary. I am driven to succeed in the writing world and create a real career for myself. Driven to write and make a living doing what I love even when other people tell me it’s impossible.
One thing that keeps replaying in my mind every time I face a critic?
Be so good they can’t ignore you.
What on earth, right? Like, what does that even mean?
I already know that I’m not as good as I could be and frankly I’ve still got a whole lot to learn. I often look over at other writers and think they’re a helluva lot better than me. They’re going places. But me?
My path is my own.
And even though I know I’m not the best, that doesn’t mean that I can’t get better. I’m on a mission to keep writing and continue to pop up into folks’ consciousness.
I’m not going to let people forget about me. Not if I have anything to say about it anyway.
In the creative world, what is good entertainment? I’m not asking to be facetious or excuse shoddy craftsmanship.
Most of my friends and I have wildly different ideas of what constitutes a good movie, song, or book. Even professional critics don’t always agree, or their views differ greatly from the actual target audience.
Good is subjective. Much of the world can agree that Steve Martin is good at what he does. He makes us laugh. He makes us think. He makes us smile.
Even so, it’s not as if everybody loves Steve and his work. Some of his biggest fans may not like all of his movies, music, or books.
Yup, he’s also a writer.
It’s so damn easy to think about successful people without considering their flops. Even Steve Martin has been called a hack… and a lot more than once.
The fact that he keeps going and continues to pursue his creative endeavors are what actually make him successful. So what if people trash half the films in his career?
I bet he had a helluva lot of fun performing in most of them and in the moments where it wasn’t so fun? I suspect he learned a lot.
When it comes to writing, I’ve got some very big dreams. Writing books, having a column. Being, well, in demand.
Conventional wisdom asks who I am to even think I can garner that kind of attention. It says, “That’s nice, Shannon. Settle down.”
I know it takes an enormous amount of audacity to think you’re up to snuff. Er, that you could be, anyway.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t start my own writing career until I was nearly 36 years old. I wasn’t brave. And I didn’t think I amounted to much.
It’s funny though, how much your perspective can shift when you become desperate for a better life. Plenty of people look at sheer desperation as a negative thing.
But do you know what?
It can help give you laser-sharp focus.
It’s no wonder that dreaming is good for the soul, but dreaming and doing?
That’s the stuff that people won’t be able to ignore.
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