Do It On Purpose

When I think of my authentic self, I think of Dolly Parton.

No, it’s not because I’m a diehard country music fan (it’s growing on me), or because I’ve seen the movie Steel Magnolias several times (and still cry every time). I just like to think of Dolly saying these words:

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

As much as I hate to preface my work in any capacity, I feel the need to do so here. Even though I identify with what Dolly’s saying, and as much as I like to think that I know who I am now, as an adult, married woman with a career and a passion, the reality is that I’m still very much a work in progress, as is my ability to connect with other creatives. I’m OK with that. Really. I own it.

So, this isn’t going to be a post about how to gain two million followers on Instagram, or how to sell more of your art. Instead, I’m going to share ideas and concepts that I hope, with continued work, will contribute to helping me create meaningful connections and achieve my creative goals. I believe in the truth of them. And, if I’m not speaking the truth in a way that resonates with you, then I’m not doing my job as a writer. I’m not being authentic.

Be Intentional

Art may be subjective, but we all know the difference between work that moves us and a piece – whether literary or visual – that falls short. Your audience knows what it feels like to be disappointed, to be duped by the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. They have expectations. They want to connect with you, the artist, not a substitute who is unable to forge a connection in a real and genuine way.

So, how do you do it? How do you form a meaningful bond with an audience that wants to connect with you? Easy.

You just have to sell your soul.

Kidding (sort of).

You can do this by becoming intentional about the way you portray your authentic self through your art.

Like I said, piece of cake.

Here are three methods I use to ensure I’m mindfully infusing my true self into my work.

1. Ask questions

One of the most effective methods I’ve found for developing characters is to interview them, on paper. I start with a question, and then respond to it as if I’m the character. I call this phase of my writing: Discovery.

Disclaimer: If you’d rather have this conversation out loud versus on the page then I highly recommend having the interview in your home office or in the shower instead of, say, the middle of Grand Central Terminal.

My favorite question is: Why? There’s a reason that kids love to ask this question. I think it’s because, it works. The more they ask why something is the way it is, the deeper it goes and the more amusing it becomes to watch the adults they’ve led down this rabbit hole become more perplexed by their own responses.

And we are confused because how often do we ask the important questions? Maybe you’re reading this and thinking – I already have and I know the answers. If so, let me be the first to congratulate you on being part of the probable less than 1% of us that actually have it all figured out. But I challenge you anyway to come up with just one more answer to those same questions and see what happens. Keep digging. The truth, your truth, and the key to being a more successful artist likely lies somewhere between what you already know and what you have yet to discover.

2. Relate through shared experience

I’m currently working my way through writing a novel about a team of operatives working for a clandestine government agency. I don’t, nor have I ever, worked for the CIA (I swear). Nor, to the best of my knowledge, do I have any friends who claim government operative as their job title. So, what entitles me to write from the point of view of characters who are completely outside my realm of expertise?

Because even though they’re a team of highly skilled professionals who are trying to stop a deadly criminal, they are also three childhood friends from the same neighborhood in upstate NY. They grow up together, and when one of them chooses to go all in for the greater good, his best friend follows his lead. It’s not just a story about trying to catch a bad guy. It’s also about love, friendship, risk, loss and eventual acceptance. These themes might be universal, but I have a personal relationship to each one that allows me to connect with my characters, and the closer I am to my characters, the more sincerely I can write them.

3. Let go

I recently re-listened to an inspiring episode on one of my favorite writing podcasts called, Write Now. In it, Ms. Werner discussed the concept of letting go of what’s expected, to do what brings you joy and fulfillment. As artists, we’re constantly being told what we’re supposed to do. I’m supposed to want to write 1,000 words today, I’m supposed to keep up with social media, I’m supposed to be constantly feeding my ideas notebook if I don’t want the well to run dry.

But sometimes, we just aren’t feelin’ it. It happens. We’re not robots.

Instead of doing something that doesn’t feel right, take a breather. Ask a couple questions, re-evaluate, get a little closer to free-dom inspired by your intention to be more authentic. Your audience is smart. They’ll know if you fake it, so don’t. Be honest about who you are and how you’re feeling in the moment.

Let’s be clear – I’m not suggesting that you vent all your frustrations involving your inability to produce on any given day to anyone who will listen. This will probably only work on your mom or, maybe your spouse when he/she isn’t in the middle of watching sports or reruns of Game of Thrones.

Rather, I’m encouraging you to engage with others in a more meaningful, purposeful way. A way that allows your true self to shine. Be the person you would be if there was nobody else in the room to impress. Find your voice and use it to create something truly special. Go all in. Do it on purpose. Why?

Because Dolly says so.

Dream BIG.



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