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Page1of 1 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. Richmond
Wendy Richmond ( is a visual artist, writer and educator whose work explores public privacy, personal technology and creativity. Richmond has taught at Harvard University, the International Center of Photography and the Rhode Island School of Design, and she serves on the BRIC Artists Advisory Council and the MacDowell Fellows Executive Committee. Her latest book is Art Without Compromise*. Richmond’s column began in 1984.