Author and performance poet Dan Holloway explains why steering clear of third-party validation is the key to true success as an artist, as a writer and as a self-published author.
Never take yes for an answer. Yes comes with conditions. Yes stakes ownership. Yes is the devil whispering “you can have everything I show you” while it cups one hand gently to your ear and with the other draws a veil over the most beautiful, untrammelled, unimagined parts of the landscape. Yes is the sweet hit of heroin that shrinks your horizons to the size of your eyeballs.
The most damaging thing anyone has said to me in my creative life is yes. All those “achievements” have been the result of some kind of a yes. Yes, we’d love to feature your book in store. Yes, of course you can put a show on here. Would you like to come and give us a talk/read us some poetry? I love what you did over there, can you come and do something like that over here?
This kind of validation, praise, affirmation, this kind of yessing of the world to your work, it makes you want to do Gene Kelly dances on rain-sodden rooftops. It’s what you live for. It’s the sign you’re doing it right. It’s.
It’s the most dangerous thing you’ll face in your writing lives. Yes does two things to you. As the most addictive substance known to science (actually that’s not just a garbled metaphor – yes is the endorphin releaser par excellence and endorphins are nature’s private crack pipe), yes makes you want more yes, and to get more yes you do more of what got you yes in the first place. And so the cycle of more of the same sets itself running and the quiet inner voice that’s been whispering that key sentence to you all the way through (if it was ever there at all) slowly starts to choke in the sea of yes-endorphins.
And then one day, when we’re aimlessly clicking refresh on the YouTube of our life, we come to that Bob Dylan bit, the video where we’re standing in front of us tossing out cardboard placards with their slogans, and then we stop. And there we are. Freeze-framed, staring through the screen and into our souls, strangers from our past with our fingers clutching the edge of the cardboard and pointing at the reason we took up writing in the first place.
Yes is the door the world opens to all of us hungry for affirmation and acceptance, and as artists we all stand with a foot each side of that threshold. Our bodies, minds, sensations, perceptions, conceptions are porous surfaces through which a constant exchange takes place, and the product of that exchange is our art.
But the door remains open, the lascivious arm of affirmation beckoning just the one way, offering everything it tells us we want if we would only take the second step, submerge ourselves completely.
Now, we mustn’t cut ourselves off completely. The world is the raw material that, filtered through the infinite complexity of creativity and experience, becomes our art, released back out into that world. Stepping into the world needn’t mean taking yes for an answer. Not if we journey as engaged strangers, playing, communicating, watching in horror and delight, learning, observing, but always the outsider, our artistic integrity stamped like the mark of Cain on our foreheads as we tramp through the Land of Nod.
And when those travels, filtered and synthesised, are spewed back out as art, it is we who must hold the door open, offering ourselves to the world so that it may change, by however little, through its encounters with us, just as we were changed by it.
Never take yes for an answer. Issue your invitation to the world and ask it to RSVP, not with a yes, but with a genuine encounter. With your art. With you.
Never take yes for an answer because yes leaves the world unchanged and you irrevocably different.
Filter the world through the prism of your hope and your history and offer it back to the world as art, inviting an encounter that leaves it still fundamentally itself and outside of you but changed, and you changed but fundamentally yourself and outside of it.
Dan Holloway's Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that they achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.