In Response to "Just Do It."
by Wendy Richmond
Lately I find myself walking around with a voice in my head that keeps repeating the Nike slogan: “Just Do It.” My book was recently published, and there’s a long list of marketing tasks in front of me, but I have a hard time facing many of the items, and “Just Do It” is not the motivator that works for me.
Perhaps you can relate. Most people in creative fields must self-promote, whether you are looking for a job, applying for a grant or hoping to sell your technical skills, your design services or your artwork. There are a near-infinite number of avenues, as well as how-to books that supply the to-do list for you, but self-promotion is tough. The pressing question is not what you should do, but how to motivate yourself to do it.
This was on my mind when I went to the spring open studios at Pratt Institute. I met an artist who is completing her MFA, and I asked her if she has plans after graduation. She answered with confidence, “Oh, yes. I have already applied to a number of residencies.” When I asked how she motivates herself to do all the tasks required for those applications, she said, “Well, the deadlines are really helpful for me. I need to work with an external structure.” This young woman is clearly self-motivated, but she also knows herself well enough to see what she needs in order to be productive.
I asked her where she was applying, and when she mentioned the Whitney Independent Study Program, she became more pensive, and said, “That one took me a lot longer. In addition to the work samples and résumé, I had to do a two-page statement. Plus I had to get two letters of recommendation.”
And here is where she went a little deeper. She said that what really motivates her is receiving a commitment for a letter of recommendation. “As soon as I asked for these letters, my attitude changed,” she said. “These people are putting in their energy to write letters for me, so I don’t want to waste their time, and therefore I’m motivated to make the application even better.”
After our conversation, I thought hard about what motivates me. I rely on dialogue with people I trust. I have a few friends with whom I meet to review our respective current projects. We give each other our undivided attention, especially in our areas of expertise, often to help each other get over a sticking point. Having a date on the calendar with one of these people inspires me to prepare, so that I can be clear and articulate. The meeting is unpressured and informal, but like the Pratt student, I feel obligated to not waste their time.
I thought, “How should I apply this to the tasks that are defying me now?” For example, I have to take on marketing on the Internet—Facebook, Twitter, blogging, YouTube, etc.—but every time I face the enormity of it all, I feel exhausted. So I called my friend who is a master on such matters. He started to describe all the cheap, effective and immediate things I could do. My eyes glazed over. Then he said, “Look, in one afternoon I can do a few small things that will make a big difference, and it will get you going.” This was exactly what I needed: a knowledgeable friend, a specific date, a manageable goal and the understanding that our reliance on each other’s expertise is mutual.
I have another friend who has no trouble at all with tackling a to-do list. If something is on her list, it will get done. She’s a freelance writer, and her goal is to have a steady stream of assignments. She is absolutely diligent about following up on leads, pitching topics, keeping her Web site current, and she sends out e-mail blasts and tweets as soon as new articles come out. I asked her what her motivator is. She said, “Fear.” It is not fear of not being a good enough writer or not having money, it is fear of the dreadful feeling she gets when she does not have an assignment. She says her list-tackling is actually preventive.
You can accumulate a mountain of data on the most effective ways to market a product, look for a job and so on. But I believe it is essential to identify, pay attention to and honor what works best for you in moving forward. For me, it’s the only way I can “Just Do It.” CA
© 2010 W. Richmond
Editor’s note: Wendy’s new book Art Without Compromise* is published by Allworth Press.