Your Work Is the Only Thing That Matters
There is a story about an exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and a young comedian. The comedian approaches Seinfeld in a club one night and asks him for advice about marketing and getting exposure.
Exposure? Marketing? Seinfeld asks. Just work on your act.
Seinfeld, a pure stand-up, a comedian’s comedian, is appalled by the question. It’s offensive to his legendary heads-down work ethic. But to the kid, this was a surprise. Isn’t that the kind of question you’re supposed to ask? Isn’t that how you get ahead?
He’s not alone. Certainly, I myself wasted many chances to learn about how to improve my craft by instead asking people I admire for superficial hacks and career opportunities. I see the same mistake repeated in subreddits and forums and blogs and Facebook groups that (aspiring) creative professionals — writers, designers, startup founders — use as networking vehicles and support systems. If Seinfeld ever saw them, he’d cringe at every word.
Because these often closed groups are self-selected communities of ambitious, motivated go-getters, there is a tendency to skip the slow and immeasurable creative process and go right to the tactics for getting attention or catching a break. They want tricks and tips for getting ahead, hacks for advancing their careers. Even amongst the more advanced or already successful, the questions posed to the group are mostly technical: How do you guys like to negotiate contracts? How can I sell more copies or increase my fees? Who is the best agent?
No one pursuing an artistic career wants to hear what sits at the core of Seinfeld’s advice: Your work isn’t good enough.
Not that these things aren’t important. Certainly I’d like to know the answers myself but judging by the amount of time people spend asking them, or talking about their complicated Evernote systems or their preferred deal terms, or the readiness with which they are willing to share their elaborate rituals and routines, the less cynical person would assume that everyone must have already mastered their craft and the only thing left for them to worry about is mopping up a few minor…