Do you follow your passion? I hope so. I think passion is so important in our lives – it’s giving voice to our soul – that I decided to republish this blog post. I wrote it four years ago yet I think it’s timeless.
I’m writing this after having seen Miles Ahead, written and directed by Don Cheadle, who also starred in it.
The film focused on a set of years when Miles Davis wasn’t recording during the late 1970s. Using flashbacks to earlier times, Cheadle gives us snippets of Miles’ career and how it once flourished. But what we mostly see is the breakdown and its insanity and his path back to resurrection.
Being on top never seemed comfortable for Miles. Yes, there were the record deals and financial deals, but there were also the distractions of drugs, racism, and women. Yeah, being on top as a black man didn’t make him immune to the vagaries of racism.
How does all of this apply to you? I think as indie authors it’s easy to fantasize about what life as a famous author might feel like. We all want to experience it. Don’t you?
I mean, how does it feel once an author receives money, acclaim, and maybe even an award or two – or at least movie rights? How does it feel once speaker fees roll in, the big house. Maybe even a big car, if you are so inclined.
Follow Your Passion – Always
Does it get easier?
One thing that doesn’t get easier – at least I don’t think it does – is the desire to create something truly great. To create something of beauty. To satisfy yourself and your readers. Because like Miles Davis, there’s the ever-present pressure from others to keep producing. To continue meeting the expectations of others and that can be too much pressure for an artist of music or words.
Whether we’re talking about yesteryear’s Raymond Carver or Ernest Hemingway or today’s indie rock stars, such as Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson, the push is there. Will always be there. To keep producing. Keep entertaining. Keep your fans and readers happy.
It’s thrilling, and it’s a pressure cooker, all in one.
Hemingway, even as a Nobel Laureate, seemed tortured. He drank too much and eventually committed suicide.
Carver was a master short story writer but had a difficult relationship with his editor, became an alcoholic (eventually went to rehab), and smoked until he died of lung cancer at the age of 50.
Take Joanna and Mark as examples. They work hard. Whether successful authors have publishers or don’t want publishers, the fact that they’ve enjoyed success doesn’t mean that their past success will beget future success, now does it?
Following Your Passion Isn’t Easy, But You Have to Do It
They have to earn it, over and over and over again. And for some artists, that push – whether or not it comes from your inner drive or an agent’s – can feel like pressure. But if we want to write at our best, it’s the pressure that we have to ignore, let go of. Don’t you agree?
If we aren’t secure enough, and don’t let ourselves fall prey to alcohol and cigarettes, like Hemingway and Carver, or cocaine, like Miles did, well, then we have a chance.
To stay on top, to continue to attract our readers while attracting new ones, we have to continue to perfect our writing, our craft, our marketing. We have to perform, perhaps not as Miles Davis did in front of live audiences, but we still perform through our words.
In today’s world of indie publishing, writing one book isn’t enough. In fact, talk to any successful indie author and he or she will suggest that you produce at least two to three books back-to-back in a year. At least. More is preferable.
This is the era of short attention spans. If you publish a book and wait a year before you release a second, who’s to say anyone will still remember you? Even if they do, you’ve lost your momentum.
So you have to begin anew and launch your second book as though it were the first because if you take too long of a break between books, readers move on.
So it makes me wonder how Miles Davis must have felt. I can understand why he needed that break.
Miles was brilliant. Let’s not forget that. He studied the masters of classical music and understood them perhaps in a way that few others did. Then he created his music. While following his passion and his muse, he created new forms of music and success found him.
From Miles Davis to Dorothy Allison
Like Miles Davis, author Dorothy Allison took a break as well. Sickness made her stop everything and nearly did her in. But fortunately for all of us, she survived and is about to finish another novel.
I had the gift of hearing her speak at a writer’s conference recently and, oh my goodness, what an artist. There’s something different about Dorothy, something special.
If you’re unfamiliar with her work, Dorothy received mainstream recognition with her novel Bastard Out of Carolina, a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award. She also wrote Cavedweller, published a collection of short stories called Trash, and published two other books.
Dorothy speaks lyrically. Speaks with depth, and like Carver, writes only about those things that matter in the world. To hear her speak is to listen to someone speak poetry in prose. Despite her recognition, do you know why she writes? To have someone come up to her and say, “Thank you for telling my story.” That’s all she wants.
Like Miles and like any successful author, Dorothy follows her truth, her heart, her passion. And by following her heart, she found her readers.
There’s a beautiful line in Miles Ahead in which Miles Davis says,
You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.
Can’t you feel the veracity of that truth in your gut? You have to write a long time to write like yourself. To write the stories that match your passion.
And if you’re lucky — because there’s some modicum of luck in all of this — you’ll find your readers, just like Joanna, Mark, and Dorthy did. Because you will with time write like yourself.
Master your craft. Communicate your message. Find that some day a reader will approach you and whisper in your ear, “Thank you for telling my story.”
Regardless of whether fame or money find you, I believe that you’ll find satisfaction in having done it your way. At having created the only path you could.
A social media expert for authors (something I never dreamed of becoming), I build author platforms to enhance book sales. I also use my industry connections to promote authors and their books. What else can I do for you? I’m a writer so I provide content writing and email marketing services. Let’s chat! And don’t forget to download my free Twitter ebook.