|New York City at Sunset, May, 2019|
Isn’t that a beautiful image of New York at sunset? This city is the one that artists, actors, writers and musicians write about, sing about, and dream about. From New York New York by Sinatra to On Broadway by The Drifters, this city represents a pinnacle to be reached by many. I was there this past week and attended an event where actor Molly Shannon discussed dream killers and gave advice, and I found myself nodding along with her.
For those who don’t know her body of work, Shannon appeared on Saturday Night Live for six years and originated many of that show’s memorable characters (Mary Katherine Gallagher, Sally O’Malley), won an Independent Spirit award as best supporting actress in Other People, appeared in countless movies (loved her take as a friend to Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity), and recently wrapped roles in not one or two but three new movies.
Shannon discussed her early years when starting out in NYC as an unknown. She first ran through a series of jobs she held while waiting to break into show business. A litany of waitress, receptionist, and other positions that sounded as dull as they were necessary. And then at one particular poignant moment, she recalled the day that she went to get a new head shot photo taken. She’d saved money from her waitress job and finally booked a photographer and makeup artist. She arrived at the studio, dolled up and feeling beautiful. The photographer looked through the lens and said, “you’re ugly.”
It was at this point that the audience, including me, gasped. Ugly? What? This beautiful, funny and warm woman standing on the stage could never be ugly. She said that she was never sure if perhaps the photographer thought he was being funny, but she did note that he is no longer a photographer. She went on to say that no matter who tries to kill your dream, you must not take their words to heart. I agree with her wholeheartedly.
I find that few dream killers are mean, but instead are those people that couch their advice as if they’re doing you a favor. And dream killers don’t limit themselves to the creative world, no indeed. They try to hammer you down in a lot of different industries. From the placement office at law school (you don’t have what it takes to work at [insert large firm name]) to the other writers in a writing group (this needs so much work I don’t know where to begin) there are plenty of people who want to tear you down.
Don’t listen. What they say is only their opinion. Even if they are partially correct: odds are high and the work needs more, it doesn’t follow that you should quit. It only means that someone has an opinion. In fact, you should expect to meet these people numerous times in numerous situations over the upcoming years. When they’re mean you have two choices: call them out or snort and walk away. Be aware that snorting and walking away bothers them far more than being called out. The mean ones hate it when their darts don’t hit and they hate being laughed at.
But if they’re not mean, or at least appear to be well-meaning, tell them that you love what you do and can’t imagine a life without such creativity in it. Tell them that writing, or dancing, or drawing brings you joy on a daily basis. And say that if you have to work a day job while creating, well, if you weren’t creating you’d have to work that day job anyway, right? Might as well also work at something that brings you joy.
This month I went to a concert given by The 1975. This is a pop/rock band that began in England to middling reviews. At one point they couldn’t get a record deal and so just uploaded their music and reached out to anyone who liked it. I’ve seen them in concert several times over the years: twice at Lollapalooza, the big music fest here in Chicago, and this year headlining at the United Center. At the end of this latest show the mean words about their music from critics were projected across a massive screen at the back of the stage. Things like “Is this a joke?” “They’re making essentially robotic Huey Lewis tunes,” to, “This band thinks it has a charismatic singer…they are mistaken.” Meanwhile, in front of the words, the lead singer sang his heart out to thousands of fans in a packed arena. He delivered joy to those fans, and he most certainly did it in a charismatic fashion. The critics’ opinions appeared laughable in that setting.
Joy is wonderful, contagious and worth chasing.
I wish you joy.
All the best,
I love this story, Jamie. It hit home for so many reasons. I was very close to thinking I should quit writing due to one dream killer. So glad I didn't listen! Or, at least, didn't listen long enough to quit. It's such a soul crushing moment. I have a feeling there are a lot of writers who will be glad they read your post today!
Great piece, Jamie — I think most all of us have encountered "dream killers" at some point in our lives…who perhaps "meant well" but criticized instead of encouraged. I read in Publisher's Weekly that so many authors couldn't get an agent or editor to pay attention to their stories that, instead of giving up, they self-published their work…1.2 million (!!) writers did exactly that. A great motto is: "You never fail until you quit." So, as you say, don't let "dream killers" stop you from pursuing your own dream. Thanks for this post!!!…..Karna Bodman
Ah, yes, it can be soul crushing,can't it? So glad you didn't quit!
I always wonder why some criticize when it's so much more positive simply to encourage. One lights up the world and the other doesn't. And like that motto. Glad you enjoyed the post!
What a wonderful post, so full of wisdom and radiating experience. Thank you, Jamie! Life is rich and exciting and full of risk, and for all of us whether we call ourselves creative or believe we have no creativity at all (nonsense!), if we breathe we risk criticism. But we must breathe! And finding the joy and love wherever we can is the antidote, as you say. Brava!
"If we breathe we risk criticism…but we must breathe." Love this! Thank you!
Such a great post. As an editor I'm constantly doing critiques but I try always to tell the writer how to fix things or why this or that doesn't work. It's my job to see or figure out what they're trying to do and show them the way, not to ever take their dreams away by telling them 'this will never work'. Those editors who are dream killers make the world hard for the rest of us – but awareness is making things getter. Will be sharing this post, Jamie!
Dream Killers are often jealous people who were too scared to even try to make a creative dream come true. I feel sorry for them, don't you?! Laurie Hernandez
I love editors! Mine have always, like you, been careful with their critiques and immensely helpful. Thanks for helping writers make their art better, and glad you liked the post!
Yes, sometimes I do. I'm always a bit unsure about the motivation behind the push to stop the flow of creativity. I truly believe some mean well, but some others….
Thanks, Jamie. I often get discouraged, wondering why 13 books in print don't automatically qualify my new ones for consideration by agents, editors and publishers. And discouragement slows down my work on WIPs because I wonder why I bother. It's words like yours that remind me why the struggle and heartache are worth it–that and the new sign art LoML put up that says, "Never Give Up."
Just the boost I needed, Jamie. I think lately I've been my own Dream Killer. Now I'm going to push that devil aside and listen to the voice in my head that's convinced I've found what I'm destined to do and be.
Hi Michael–yes, it can get discouraging at times, can't it? But thirteen books in print is quite an accomplishment. Congratulations! And I love that new sign art!
Been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and she calls that internal voice "the Gremlins." They can be nasty little creatures, can't they? Glad you liked the post!
Love the story, Jamie. Especially this quote: "Joy is wonderful, contagious and worth chasing." Important words to live by. Thank you!
So glad you liked the post!