I used to teach pilots to fly. I'd always ask my student pilots the same question, "Do you want to be a pilot, or do you want to fly?" Most didn't get the question, so I rephrased it in the words of the immortal fighter pilot Colonel John Boyd, "Do you want to do something, or be someone?"
This is a lesson, a concept so profound, I dearly wish I had learned in my youth. If you're looking for a label, a status symbol, you will never be truly fulfilled as a human being. If, on the other hand, you are seeking a path to self-fulfillment and personal excellence, you will be a happier person. The titles and labels will occur as a result of that journey, not as a goal. I would tell my students that if they were chasing a label, I couldn't help them. If they were choosing a path that would lead to a love of flying, then I could help them along on their path. Then I would flick my fu-man-chu and ask them to snatch a pebble from my hands (if you got that, then you are old as dirt, too.)
The title "pilot" was just a milestone along the road, not the destination itself. So are the labels "author" or "musician" or "photographer" and why doctors use the term "practicing medicine." Attaining a title or label always leads to the perplexing personal question, "Now what?"
Back in my Underground Book Reviews days, I once attended a writers' conference hosted by a major university, where I encountered a memorable individual. He was not a only a writer, but also an English professor. It was his opinion there were way too many writers, most of which had no talent and wrote awful books. He felt there should be a way to keep these independent authors from publishing, because they made it more difficult for readers to find the good authors like him (of course). He was dead serious. It never occurred to him that he may be among the ranks of those great unwashed hordes of terrible independent authors. They shouldn't have an opportunity to publish, but he should. The professor had a point, albeit a twisted one.
Someone once said talent is cheap. My life experience teaches me this is true. My life experience also teaches me information is cheaper. If something is made or distributed with a click of a mouse, its cheap. The Information Age has dramatically lowered barriers to entry for creators and artists of all genres. In other words, its made content creation cheap. Anyone with a internet connection and a word processor can be a writer. Anyone with a smart phone and a Tik Tok account can be an influencer (whatever the hell that is). Anyone can create. The barbarians have crashed the gate. That means there is a lot of crap out there. Go browse Youtube and Tik Tok and you'll find crap content. You'll also find much more mediocre content. You might even find a few gems, but you have to wade through the slush pile first.
This is simply a fact of life in the 21st century. We are saturated by information every minute, every hour, every day. There are no more real gatekeepers for information. If you're a writer or a musician you know this better than anyone. Writers learned this first when Amazon and Kindle came along. Now with the advent of streaming services like Spotify, musicians have followed writers down this over-saturation path. Long gone are the days when getting published meant something. There are still traditional publishers, but even their books are harder to sift through. There are far more books in print and digital than ever before. The title "author" is cheapened by being so common, so accessible. To this I say, so what? Because it is the act of creation that is truly precious. The experience is priceless to the writer themselves.
It goes back to the question: Do you want to do something, or be something? The act of creation can be a reward unto itself. In fact, it MUST be the reward unto itself if one wants to endure and improve. No one reads books to get famous, we read for pleasure and information. Writing can be the same.
I take my inspiration for being a writer from several musicians I know in local bands. They practice regularly to continually improve their art, and are always striving to be better. They play in the same local club circuit to the same enthusiastic crowds. They have day jobs to pay the bills. They play for the love of playing, for the experience of playing. Stardom isn't their goal. They are musicians, not rock stars. Create. Improve. Repeat. This is the way. This is the bedrock from which everything else springs, whether that results in commercial success, or simply your next gig or independently published short story compilation.
Labels are cheap. Information is cheap. Talent is cheap. The journey is priceless. Do something. Embrace that something with all your heart, passion and energy. Immerse yourself in your art, and you shall transform and become something.
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