3 surprising connections between two seemingly unrelated vocations.
These days I have a lot of conversations with people about writing. I’m teaching a writing class this semester at my school, I edit and write for The Good Men Project, and I love helping others grasp the idea that they can write, too.
But I’ve noticed something interesting the last few months. A lot of people are interested in the writing opportunities I mention (like setting up a blog, writing a book, or writing for other websites). Many of them even talk about the plans they have to take their writing and creative work to the next level. But I’d say that out of every ten people I talk to about writing, only two or three follow up and do anything about it. And that’s probably a high estimate.
In other words, a lot of people like the idea of writing, but only small portion of those will actually do it.
This was pretty discouraging to me until I realized something that should have been obvious all along: artists are like farmers. Let me explain.
Farming has three basic steps: planting, cultivating, and harvesting. All three are separate steps, but all three must be done if you want a tangible result from your labor. Each of these steps takes time and involves a lot of work.
As an artist, you hope to impact others with your work. It might be writing, music, graphic design, dance, drawing, or something else. But the end goal of what you do as an artist is to influence others in some way.
Sometimes we forget that this process takes time. You can write a book and never know the ways your work might impact someone. You can perform a dance routine on stage and may never know how you brought tears to someone’s eyes. You can create a painting and hang it in a gallery but may never know how it touched someone’s life.
On the other hand, you have people who let you know how your art impacted their lives. You get notes, comments, and emails thanking you for creating something they enjoyed.
As an artist, sometimes you’re planting a seed. Through your creative work and through conversations, you’re introducing concepts and ideas that are new. These ideas take time to settle in. Change comes slowly.
Sometimes you’re cultivating seeds that you or others have planted. You’re helping people work through problems and difficulties. You’re talking them out of quitting. You’re sharing stories of how you overcame discouragement. You’re teaching lessons you’ve learned along the way.
Sometimes you’re harvesting a crop. People are signing up for your email list, they are buying your product or service, they’re taking an interest in your work, or you’re receiving some other kind of benefit.
There are some important lessons here:
1. You have to plant before you can harvest. You must do the hard work of making art before you can enjoy the benefits and results that come from it.
2. Don’t get discouraged when people don’t seem responsive right away (or even at all). This is part of the planting—cultivating—harvesting process. Our job as artists is to plant and cultivate as many seeds as possible. This means we need to be generous without always expecting something in return. You never know what seeds you plant might produce fruit.
3. Out of all three components of farming, harvesting is the one most out of our control. We need to focus on planting and cultivating. (Sometimes we get this backward.) The more we plant and cultivate, the bigger harvest we will probably have.
So don’t get discouraged when it seems like people aren’t as responsive as you would like. Just continue to do your work and make adjustments as needed. Plant and cultivate, knowing that the process can take a while. The harvest will be ready in time.
Photo: Flickr/Nana B Agyei
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