You've all heard about the suffering artist. The media and our culture in general loves to glorify the idea, whether it's Vincent Van Gogh or the current celebrity in rehab.
My favorite example of the suffering artist is the late film director Sam Peckinpah (pictured). In interviews, he portrayed himself as the victim of a system that hated creativity - and the media ate it up. How could an artist survive this? Of course he needed to drink to put up with it! In truth, Peckinpah's suffering was mostly self-inflicted. According to his many biographers, every film he made was a war. It was the artist versus the suits. And on many of those projects, he sabotaged relationships and created enemies out of people who were in the position to be his allies. And it was much the same in his personal life. Now it's true that he was a self-destructive alcoholic, but it's commonly believed that the chaos he created was part of his creative process - as if he had a need to repeatedly wreck his professional and person life in order rise again. I have to admit that this is dramatic, but I have to wonder if it only diminished his work. It certainly made him into a walking disaster who died too soon.
As a young man, I swallowed the suffering artist idea whole. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense - at least in my case. My art began as a form of therapy to deal with a very unhappy adolescence. It was my only outlet, so it was easy for me to draw a line between suffering and art. In addition, I idolized people like Sam Peckinpah (the way he was portrayed in the media helped). For a while, I believed that I needed to continue suffering in order to produce. But this began to change when I was in art school. During that time I met plenty of artists, but I began to see that many of them were more interested in cultivating the artist's persona rather than producing art. And what is that persona? You suffer and you're misunderstood, bla, bla, bla. As I said above, it's dramatic. But it began to seem like an adolescent fantasy to me. And a little embarrassing.
Eventually, I came to the realization that there is only one thing that makes you an artist: creating art. Everything else is bullshit. And suffering is optional. This was a freeing realization to make. I was able to acknowledge that although my personal issues had played a big part in my becoming an artist, I didn't have to stay there. I only needed to produce. Today, I still see art as a form of therapy. It's a way of dealing with my demons, but it also makes me a more content and satisfied person. Yes, I often hang out in dark places (as I did with my most recent script), but I don't have to make my life dark in order to do that. In fact, I'm happy.
One last thing about Sam Peckinpah. He is one of my favorite directors. His self-destructiveness may have really helped his work (we'll never know), but I can't help wonder what would have happened if he had gotten his act together. Would he have made better movies? I think so. Definitely more of them. He certainly would have lived longer. And maybe he would have been happy, too.
I love the idea of complete strangers reading my work -- always have. It's a great feeling, knowing that someone I've never met could be emotionally moved by something that came out of my imagination. But I'm curious about one thing: who are these strangers and how did they come across my work? And how do I find more of them? In other words, how do I find an audience? Of course, this assumes that it can be controlled in the first place. I know it can't. Having worked in a book store for many years, I've seen authors come out of nowhere to become household names. I've also seen books that were heavily marketed, but did not sell at all. So much seems to be about dumb luck. But is there a way of increasing the chances of having some dumb luck come my way?
I recently read a blog (right HERE) where the blogger claimed he could increase his bits by simply putting the words "Damien Puckler shirtless" on his blog. Who is Damien Puckler? He's an actor (you can read more about him HERE), and a great example of how popularity can come in an unplanned way. Damien was playing a supporting part on NBC's GRIMM, and no one seemed to notice - until he took off his shirt. Now he has a growing number of loyal fans - and they want more! And hopefully they'll be seeing a lot more of him soon. Because Damien's a genuinely nice guy and deserves it, and also because he's attached to a couple of my projects (let's hear it for self interest!). And this takes me back to my original question. Can I do something to increase my chances of having a happy accident that will get my work noticed? For now, I have no idea. But perhaps I'm off to a good start simply by putting the words "Damien Puckler shirtless" on this blog. :) Maybe one of Damien's fans will stop by and read something I've written (once they've grown tired of looking at his abs, I mean). And then, who knows? Until then, dumb luck, I await your arrival!
Every writer starts off wanting (and usually needing) an agent and/or manager. What's the most important thing to look for? Obviously, they should be the kind of person you can be in business with. In other words, trustworthy and on the up and up. If they ask you for money, run! Must they be well-connected in the business? It certainly helps, but you could be better off with someone who is hungry and scrappy. Does the agency/management company have to be big? No. My first agent was with a medium-sized agency. I had much more success with my second agent, who was a one person operation. I could go on and on. But after some experience, I believe the most important thing for a representative to have is also what a writer happens to need - perseverance.
I recently received an email from my manager that didn't have much good news, but what I really liked about it was that he is as gung ho as ever. And boy, does this make a difference! I once had a book agent who told me she would tirelessly push a novel of mine for as long as it took. Then she threw in the towel after four rejections. Four! I had a script agent who I really loved, except that she was quick to get discouraged. Yes, some scripts are duds. But there are so many wonderful movies that only exist because there was someone (or a team of people) who wouldn't give up no matter what. And that's the kind of representation we all need. Unfortunately, you don't really know what you're getting until you sign. But if that's the kind of agent/manager you end up with, then stick with them while they stick with you. Because, as Derek Jeter used to say, this not a sprint -- it's a marathon.