It’s Not All Gold

As a professional – one important lesson to start internalizing is the need to balance being passionate about what you do and maintaining an emotional distance from it at the same time.

Hostile Terrain

Most of you have never heard of my first self published book, an unabashed DIY effort called Hostile Terrain.  It featured poetry, some plays, essays and other works.  Truth be told, about 30% still holds up as writing that I’d be willing to show to other people.

Hostile Terrain came out of a process of years of journaling.  I wrote everything down as an outlet.   I was depressed and desperate and it took a long time to realize that journaling just fed right into that.

I didn’t realize at the time that writing wasn’t getting bad things out of my system, but instead, it was just making me sicker.  I was breathing in the same stagnant air and thinking that I found something invigorating and relavatory because I was equating output with discovery.

In the next stage of this process, I was living with a person in a completely isolated situation and had hit emotional rock bottom because I had to confront things that intellect alone couldn’t solve and that I simply didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with.

In the middle of this terrible living situation, a freak accident happened where the room I was living in flooded.  I lost 10 years of writing and journals.

I was devastated.  It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).

So being emotionally crushed, I went back to what I knew.  I went back to writing and eventually I wrote some more and then put out Hostile Terrain. I sent it out to friends and to a few publishing houses I was into, and while I got a few “attaboys” I got no interest from anyone for anything resembling publishing.

Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children

In the meantime, I decided to move away from poetry and into short stories.  I was really influenced by Tomas Bernhardt’s The Voice Imitator and decided to write a series of short stories that focused on dark stories for adults told in a children’s storybook style.  This was about 1996 or so. The Tim Burton book, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, came out mid project and even though I was jealous he beat me to the punch – my stories were much darker and I thought I might be able to get some publishing interest for a character I developed while on a grim tour of Germany (Kommandant Kumar) and for the overall book concept, Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children.

I had all the stories online so I could get feedback from my friends.  I didn’t have a computer at the time so I was working on my friend’s work computer.  I did this off and on for about a year.

Then something happened.

Within a 24-hour period the web server went out of business AND the hard drive that I had all of the files on seized.

I lost 30 short stories. Gone. Casper.

I hit my frustration limit and I stopped writing.  I abandoned the screenplay I wrote. I stopped all of the other writing I was doing and I worked on other things.

Eventually, I started seeing things differently, and I came to a realization.

It’s Not All Gold

  • There is no scarcity of ideas.

  • Not every idea has value

  • Important ideas will return

  • Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

There is no scarcity of ideas.

This was the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in my own thinking and it’s one I still wrestle with.

There’s a fine line between being attached to an idea and being chained to it.

The difference is whether the idea you’re working with serves your larger goals, or if it’s only serving its own completion.

You don’t have to hold onto every idea like it’s a precious nugget.  There are more of them out there.

Not every idea has value equal to the amount of work needed to put it into action.

Again, it’s easy to get emotionally attached to the work put into an idea and equate work with value but that’s not always a direct relationship.  If you ever watch an episode of Shark Tank, you’ll likely see businesses where people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product that has generated no revenue after several years in place.  This is what I’m talking about.

Cultivating the mindset to distance yourself emotionally from what you’re doing is a difficult process to develop and maintain but it’s an extremely valuable one.

Important ideas will return

I like documenting things because sometime I find things worth exploring but, in retrospect, every really good idea I couldn’t remember came back to me or presented itself in a different form.

Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

For me, this is the most important lesson in this piece.

Earlier, in regards to losing all of my writing, I said that:

“It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).”

That work wasn’t down the drain at all.  The work I put into that sharpened my writing and really honed my ability to focus.

That emphasis made huge differences in my practicing and ultimately affected other areas of my life in a much more positive way than the actual writing ever did.

When I work on projects now, I assess the value of the outcome and the value of the experience and if either one makes sense for me to do, then I’ll take it on.

Don’t get hung up on old ideas at the expense of new ones.  Implement, assess and then continue or abandon as need be.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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All Opinions Are Not Equal

Hey Everyone,

This is the last phoned in post for a while!  Look for all new content next week.  In the meantime, here’s a chestnut from the GuitArchitecture.org page.

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A while back, I was reading a forum post and I was outright flabbergasted at the number of people who had VERY STRONG opinions about musicians and they money they make, even though they themselves weren’t musicians and had no experience trying to make money from one’s art.  It served as a good reminder that,

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For the record, all opinions are not equal.

The internet will give you the impression that they are, but they aren’t.

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There are basically informed opinionswrongly informed opinions and uninformed opinions and while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they do not (and should not) equate in terms of validity.

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Informed vs Uninformed Opinions

Let’s say I’m hiking with my friends and we come across a snake.  On of my friends, who knows nothing at all about snakes and is more than a little immature, says to me that it would make a great gag to pick up the harmless small snake and throw it at someone.  Another one of my friends, who happens to be a zoologist, tells me that he recognizes the snake as a highly poisonous one and advises me to stay away from it.

Which opinion do you think I’m going to listen to about handling the snake?

Yes, both people are entitled to their opinions, but for me there is a more validity in the opinion of the person who knows what the Hell they’re talking about.

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Wrongly informed opinions

The internet is full of people who dispense data guised as wisdom.

People who have “informed” opinions because they read or heard something somewhere.

Forums are filled with these people.  Jokers who fill up pages of forum space talking about the merits and detriments of various products only to find that they don’t own any of them, but are just speculating based on ad copy and product specifications.

Wrongly informed opinions are even more detrimental to making an informed decision, because, like most conspiracy theories, they have at least a grain of truth that their logical architecture is based on.  That truth is what typically passes the smell test, “does it smell like bs to you?” and leads to the, “if a is to be and b is to c then a is to z” logic that often comes about from this.

Opinions aren’t facts and shouldn’t be treated the same way.

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The Lesson Story

I believe that I’ve related this story once before, but I relate it again as I didn’t find it right away and it’s relevant to this idea.

I once had a person respond in a really combative way to a teaching ad I put up on Craigslist.

(BTW – I know CL works like gang busters for some people, but it never worked out for me.  I think this is largely because while my lessons are a bargain in terms of what a student can learn, they’re not cheap.  And CL guitar lessons seem to be ALL about the cheap.)

Getting back to the story, he demanded to know how much of my time was spent teaching, and whether I was a real full-time musician.  I responded to his e-mail as tactfully as I could, addressing my credentials and trying to determine what I wanted to learn.  He responded with a lengthy e-mail that included demands for justifying my price because, “I only want to study with the best.”  and he needed to figure out if I am “the best”.

Now the “best” anything, in terms of artistic expression, is a term that makes me uncomfortable.  I do happen to be the best teacher in the Scott Collins teaching method and style.  In that style and method of teaching, you wont find anyone who teaches better than me. Now, am I the best teacher for you?  I don’t know.  I have been for some students, but I can’t line up 30 people and say, “I’m better than all those people” because I am only the best at what I do and conveying information to people in my manner.

Despite being really put off by his approach,  I pushed the topic a bit and asked about his current skill set and what he was trying to do.  He explained that he was not a guitarist, but that he was planning on buying a guitar soon. While he didn’t play any other instruments, he was going to play guitar because he had really long fingers and knew that he could play it very well in a short period of time. Hence his need for the best teacher, because he needed someone who would help him unleash the awesome untapped divine talent that had been bestowed to him in his teens.

In other words, I spent 45 minutes writing thoughtful carefully worded responses intended to clarify, but ultimately justifying my skill set to a completely ignorant person who knew nothing about guitar and didn’t even play, but had a LOT of strong opinions about what I did.

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Save yourself some time and energy.

As musicians, it’s common to get worked up over people’s opinions about what we do.

I’m not saying that all listeners are uninformed.  I’ve had people who happened to have listened to a lot of music deeply offer really insightful observations to me about what they liked or didn’t like about various things.  They didn’t know jargon, but they knew what they were talking about in terms of conveying their aesthetic.

What I am saying is that if the opinion you’re listening to (or more likely reading) is uninformed, that engaging that opinion is generally a time-suck.  You can try to inform the  person expressing the opinion, which takes time (and the right person willing to listen to other opinions) or you can walk away.

It’s easy to get entangled into flamed threads or comment sections to contribute an opinion, but if you’re trying to explain to a non-musician why musicians should be compensated.  You’re wasting time that’s better spent making a good piece of art to sell to them instead.

Thanks for reading!

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p.s. I’ve mentioned it before, but that Indie Musician Wake Up Call Kindle book is a cheap $1.99 insight into some of the issues covered here ; )

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