Now is the time for you to sing at the top of your range. Go deep. Go long. Go silly and serious and dark and beautiful. Go crazy. Now is the time in your life when you can afford to lose everything over and over again in your art. Don't shy away from the deepest cut. Leap towards the abyss, the highs, the lows, the mountains you want to climb, and the deep ocean rifts you need to explore.
As you are developing into a young artist, you have the opportunity to learn how to soar. Go for it. There is brilliance in reckless abandon. Later in your life, risks will less inviting. As you settle into your adult life, there are plenty of pressures that will be driving you away from your passionate heart and back into the little box of making a living, of paying bills, of doing what you are supposed to do. While you can afford to be indulgent, do it with heart and fearlessness.
What do you have to fear? What's the loss of trying for the ultimate love song and missing by a few Lennons? There is no shame in a failed love song. And as you fail over and over again you may even get closer to tasting the beauty and passion you are trying to unlock. You may have the opportunity, at this early period in your life, to experience love at a sublime, sublingual level. You may be able to touch the heart of someone else with your honesty and openness. Don't despair if they run away when you share your love songs. Or don't share them, yet. It it your choice. You will have many opportunities to love deeply and fail, both at the relationship and the songs that result from the disaster.
I'm not being cynical here. You are on this planet to express your loves and losses. You are a gift. You're expression on true feelings helps others explore the depths of their own hearts and aches. The closer you get to capturing the raw power of this love, both in ascension and the arc back towards Earth. Give yourself fully to the feelings, and fully to the expression of those feelings from the artist's eye. Whatever your art, give the canvas a full range of emotion. Blood red strokes of love and passion and cutting to the quick may be your genius. It is too early for you to know.
It is too early for anyone to know if they are becoming a great artist. It is only necessary to try. To aspire to great expressions. And I can see that you have that gift. Even in learning and singing a favorite song by someone else, you have an ability to make it your own. You can give us the gift of the song and the singer anytime, and in the moment, at this time of your life and development, it doesn't matter to greatly if the song you sing is someone else's or your own. A singer always looks for the greatest song, the largest expression of emotion and range and depth.
Find your voice. In song, word, or visual art, find YOUR voice. Part of that discovery is learning how to let go of the editor, the objections, the resistance to going long and deep. Unleashing the artist has a lot to do with silencing the negative self-talk that recommends less honesty, less revelation, and more common, or safe, expression. But no great love song was born out of playing it safe. Love is not safe. Art is not safe either. It is necessary to get a little blood on the tracks in order to know what pain and suffering feel like. It is okay. You will heal. But your broken love song may be the key that unlocks the flip side, the happy expression of love. This is much rarer and harder to achieve. You must try both.
The Beatles' song, I Saw Her Standing There, is one of my favorite that high-on-love-and-youth-and-beauty love songs. There is magic in the simple expression of joy/awe/self-awareness, and then letting us (your listener) in on the magic. In the song we get the line, "Well she was just seventeen/ if you know what I mean" and we *all* know what he means. Such a simple moment. And the first two lines of the song. And like that, the entire landscape of the love song and our participation as observers in the act of the singer falling in love with a girl in a club.
Go find your seventeen. Go be silly. Write, create, dream, and do it with every ounce of your fiber. Then, if you can, let a tiny sliver of it out as an expression of your craft. Be pure and clear. The more honest you can be the more it will resonate with the rest of us. You may not have had your "seventeen" moment, but you will. And when you do, whenever you do, milk it for the seeds of emotion that are the universal truths of love, youth, beauty, a first kiss, and falling hard for someone you've just met. If you can write one I Saw Her Standing There in your lifetime, you will have accomplished a rare honor.
But don't give up when it gets hard. It will get hard. The girl will leave. The song will not come out right. The fame and fortune won't come in the way you'd hoped. This is all part of the process of tempering your sword/pen/brush. This is all part of either becoming an artist, or giving up the dream of becoming one. It is okay if you turn to finance or business as your life's work. And perhaps those old songs you wrote in your youth will still give you a grin. Maybe your kids will get a kick out of the videos of your young bands and how funny you looked.
And it's okay to leave the art behind. If that's your path, you will still be well served to have given expression to that deep expression of love, and youth, and artful struggle.
If you continue to create, however, these early attempts will provide the bedrock and the seeds of what you might be capable of in your lifetime. Art is about persistence. Longevity is the only key you can control. If you never give up, you will continue to BE an artist your entire life. And for me, that is the goal.
Sure, I longed for fame, fortune, and groupies when I was playing in my college bands. And even as I started a new family, with a son and another on the way, I was hopeful that my band would make the big time. Of course, you know, we didn't. Or I might be playing Red Rocks tonight rather than writing you this letter.
But I am still striving to write a perfect love poem. I am still hopeful that a Lennon/McCartney love song is just ahead. And the songs and attempts at profound beauty of my earlier years, are still rattling around in my mind as I go for the next lyric. Every attempt is a good attempt. Even writing a string of crappy love songs gives us, as artists, a gift. We learn what is easy. We learn what is more difficult. And we attempt what is forbidden or dark or previously unexpressed. You can go any direction you like with your art. You can head towards The Cure or The Clash. Both are valid and lasting expressions of genius.
And that's really what your goal is at this early stage of your life: try everything and listen for where your genius comes to life. You will know it when the energy hits. You will not be able to deny your gift when you begin to feel the powerful thoughts, hopes, and dreams that begin to flood your waking and sleeping moments. When you tap into your gift you will be unable to stop it. This is the gift and the goal of an artist's life. Find the gold in your expression, the gold you yourself appreciate, and you will never stop mining for more.
I wish you happiness, pain, and healing, and all the expressions of your art that are in between, beyond, and just ahead of you. And I wish for you to find your genius and know it. From this self-awareness you can continence to attempt the mountain top for the rest of your life. May you never stop seeking the top.
Introduction: Letters to a Young Artist
Letter One: Letters to a Young Artist in the Digital Age – Your Personal Creative Cloud
Letter Two: Vocation and Passion: Letters to a Young Creative Artist
Letter Three: Sing At the Top of Your Range
Letter Four: Focus Yourself: Cutting Away the Distractions
Letter Five: Creative Energy: Finding and Maintaining Your Daily Juice
Letter Six: Cutting Deep to Find Your Genius
Letter Seven: Perseverance and Habit: This Creative Morning
Letter Eight: Stop Talking: Do The Work, Don't Talk About Doing It
Letter Nine: Get Into Your Mess: Cleaning Can Be a Distraction
Letter Ten: Opening to the Poetic In Your Life: Poetic Listening
Letter Eleven: Paralyzed By Opportunity: The Firehose of Ideas
Letter Twelve: Survive & Thrive: First Find Your Congregation Within
Letter Thirteen: Solitude and the Artistic Temperament
Letter Fourteen: Pointing Your Arrow: The Artist's Way to Happiness
Letter Fifteen: The Creative Impulse: Easy to Contain, Easier to Kill
Letter Sixteen: Artistic Depression: There's Nothing Romantic About It
Letter Seventeen: The Portable Artist: Creativity On-the-go!
Letter Eighteen: What Will You Make Your Life About?
Coda: Love Money Ambition: Finding Your Sweet Spot and Career
Appendix: Writing a Plan for Your Future – A Career Path Template (Downloadable)
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision-and Beyond – Atchity
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition – Goldberg
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
- The Artist's Way – Cameron
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace – MacKenzie
- Sonic Highways (show) – Dave Grohl and HBO explore music
- The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting – Jimmy Webb
images: beatles screen shot, creative commons usage