Are you a Professional or an Amateur?

If you have read my previous blog posts you would have read me rave (at least once) about Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. This book helped me embrace the fact that I needed to be a composer. To that point I had been going after a “shadow career” (one of his very apt terms) as a music teacher but my soul knew that it wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to make a change. And I did! That was 2010.

I am still a work in progress; very imperfect and still very young in my career as a composer. I have been scoring full time since 2010 and in LA since late 2012. There is still A LOT for me to learn! I read a great article recently on how you reach certain plateaus in your creative life and I have been feeling it the last few weeks. I think the best way to put it is that, creatively, I have been feeling flat. Not enjoying the plateau, at all.

As you may know, I run a meetup for creatives on the 2nd Tuesday of every month in Los Angeles called the Film, Music and Media Happy Hour. Not only do I love creating an environment for people to connect and creative community, I also love providing the extra incentive of cool door prizes. Who doesn’t like a raffle? So I have been keeping my eye out for great gifts for creatives. On a whim I reached out to Steven Pressield for a signed copy of “The War of Art”, a book I fervently believe every creative should read. Not only did he respond to my email immediately, he also delivered with a box of books! The box included 3 copies of The War of Art, Turning Pro and The Authentic Swing.

Turning Pro literally yelled at me from the box: “READ ME”. Just the words in the title confimed what had been sneaking around my conciousness: we need to turn a corner. We need to make a change.

I am not going to do a full on book report because, like War of Art, this is a quick and easy book to read. You just need to get it and spend a few hours with it. Believe me, it is worth it. My husband read it today. He wants to re-read it tomorrow but ultimately that will depend on whether I am re-reading it……

What I do want to do is tell you about the changes I want to make to fully embrace the Professional existance. They aren’t earth shattering but I think, for me, they will make a huge difference.

For some reason, I hate making good habits. There is a rebel in me that just wants to fight that for some illogical reason. I often will stay up late just because I love it and I remember when I wasn’t allowed to. Now I can! So take that Tomorrow Catherine who needs to wake up early tomorrow: FAIL. Why would I not be nice to my tomorrow self and get some rest?!

Well, that Rebel Catherine has had her time. Now it is the era of Professional Catherine having her shot. I am going to create good habits. One of these habits will be that when I am composing, I won’t be checking FB, email, twitter etc. I will take the necessary steps to create a focused working environment. free of distractions, so I can Engage, have a chance to enter a Flow state and do some great work. Or not great work. Doesn’t matter: I will be setting myself up for success.

I feel a little more comfortable blogging this to you because today I worked as a professional and engaged in distraction-free composing. I composed for 6 hours with a short lunch break and time zoomed by. Now I am thoroughly enjoying a glass of wine and episodes of Season 10 of Project Runway because I feel Good. I created great music in a focused productive environment today and as a result I am relaxing free of shame and guilt. It is Amazing People. You should try it!

I am working on a few other professional habits: consistent practice on the two instruments I love (piano and violin). Consistent studying. Consistent  exercising. (Remember the Pricess Bride? “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”) I am sick of feeling guilty about not doing these things and I am tired of worrying that I won’t fulfil my true potential. If this is all there is, then one must give it everything.

I hope these words are helpful. It is humbling to tell you just how lame my previous creative habits have been. I always justified them to myself (“But I get a lot of work from clients from FB!” True, but even so: Focus & Engage. DO IT NOW!) However, if I want to get off this plateau and make the next climb, something needs to change, and I am confident this is it.

Happy creating, my friends. I really hope you read Pressfield’s books. I am confident you will be inspired and find a way to become a Professional, the way your soul so longs to be.

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Find Your People

You want to be an Artist. A Creative. You have a calling……and it isn’t just whispering, it is yelling at you! It’s time. DO IT!

Now what? My suggestion: don’t go it alone.

The one thing I seem to come across way too much in the creative world is isolated artists. People who are battling away by themselves trying to realize their creative vision. That’s what I tried to do when I first emigrated to the US. I wanted to be a Jazz singer but didn’t know how to find like-minded people.  I took some singing lessons (not even in the Jazz genre!) briefly visited a few Jazz clubs and gradually became more and more frustrated until I stopped altogether and gave up for a while. I didn’t know where to look and I was overcome with discouragement. As you know that wasn’t the end of my creative journey (just the beginning really!) but for some it can be. Isolation can be devestating.

While creating art generally does require being by yourself for long periods of time, allotting some time to be with like-minded people can really help you stay the course. Finding a group of people you trust and who are not only doing similar work, but can give feedback on your work, can help reduce the crazy we all experience as we are trying to honour the muse. Remember 1920s Paris, all those authors, artists and musicians hanging out together? Don’t you think the community they created helped them achieve those works of literature, art and music that we now treasure?

When I decided to become a film composer I was living in Seattle, WA. The first thing I did was discover and join the Seattle Composers’ Aliance. I didn’t just go as a voyeur. I jumped in, joined the board and actively participated in what they had going on. Secondly, I found the networking event where all the local indie filmmakers got together every month and I attended religiously. But I didn’t just attend: I talked to everyone. When I heard about someone who was really doing well I emailed them and asked them out for coffee. I also joined Women In Film, joined the board and volunteered at events. I wanted to connect because I knew it was a major step in moving forward with this new and beloved vocation.

Is talking to strangers at a networking event awkward and nerve wracking? YES! Even for an extrovert like me. Some days I just didn’t want to deal with it. But because I stuck with it I got my first gigs in the business and made industry relationships that are still alive and well today. In the process I also found some dear friends. Quick Networking tip: don’t go and talk about yourself. Go and listen! Ask questions!! Be interested in what projects the other person has going on. This is the best way to network.

Once upon a time it was a lot harder to find like-minded people to hang with. But now it is easier, especially thanks to Meetup.com. This is a great place to start finding like-minded people. Also reaching out to organizations such as the the Academy of Scoring Arts, the Alliance for Women Film ComposersSCOREcastWomen in Film,  or the Society of Composers and Lyricists or something similar in your area and your field of interest. Become a member and show up at events. Here’s the thing: if at all possible, don’t just reach out virtually. Go there in person. Build relationships in person. Spend time every month in the same room as fellow creatives. I am positive it will buoy you, especially when you are going through a dry spell.

One more story before I wrap this up: I have a dear friend, Ron Jones, who has dedicated a lot of time over the last few years to build a community for composers. When I first decided to move to LA, I would travel down from LA to network and I tried to make sure it was when Ron’s Ravel Group was happening. He brings a bunch of composers together, they study music, a guest gives a presentation and then everyone has pizza and “spaghettios” (as Ron refers to it) and talks to one other. I have experienced first hand how wonderful this gathering is. As a result, when I finally moved to LA two years later, I knew I had a whole family of composers to hang with. I knew I wasn’t alone and, believe me, when you move to LA you don’t want to move here alone. This city will chew you up and spit you out if you’re alone. But If you have your people, it is a whole lot more bearable. I host my own meetup for folks in film, music and media – I hope you will check it out if you are in town.

If you don’t live in LA and can’t come to the cool stuff I mentioned, and if Meetup.com doesn’t have any gatherings in your area, I have a really crazy suggestion: why don’t you start your own group? Why don’t you be the Ron Jones for the artists or actors or musicians or poets in your area. Having a community can be a saving grace for lonely creatives. Make it happen!

Catherine Grealish is a composer for film, media and games. She is currently scoring the feature-length documentary The Art of Walking Barefoot, the short film Dating Stories and the video game Ancient Aliens. Catherine would love to hear from you so please be in touch!