Plan versus Action

If you choose a career in a creative field you must have thick skin. You will need to prepare yourself for a series of seemingly never-ending Mexican Standoffs; many people believe they can do exactly what you can do, if only given the opportunity. They’re going to tell you so. Over and over again.

Trust me. I’ve been doing this for a while now.

When I landed my first paid screenwriting assignment I was thrilled. When people asked me what I did for a living I was able to say that I was the real deal – a honest-to-goodness professional writer! It felt good. It felt great. What didn’t feel so good was the response, in one form or another, that came down the pike.

Someone: What do you do for a living?

Flash: I’m a screenwriter.

Someone: Oh, you write movies?

Flash: Exactly!

Someone: That’s great! I’ve always wanted to write a movie… I just haven’t had the time. Someday, though.

Flash: Oh, that’s great!" Good luck.

Someone: I have some really great ideas – we should sit down and discuss them.

Flash: …!

I’ve had this conversation, in some iteration or another, 1,000 times. I used to take it personally. Quite personally. It hurt my feelings. It felt like people were taking a shot at me – the only reason I had become a professional was due to an abundance of available time. The quality of my work didn’t matter. My skills, experience, knowledge – secondary to time. Everyone has an idea – 101 ideas, each one better than anything I could ever come up with on my own.

I reacted. I became fairly prolific. I wrote nine scripts between 2005-2006 (not that all of them were good… or intelligible). The conversations didn’t change. It didn’t really matter how much work I did. There was this time in Los Angeles when I was meeting with my agent and a producer over lunch. Our waiter, stone faced, told us that he was also a professional screenwriter – he just hadn’t caught a decent break. He hadn’t met the right people. He hadn’t been as lucky as me.

 

Making a Change.

I decided to write a book. Surely things would change if I wrote a book. A book is many times longer than a script. A book is many times more difficult to write. Respect would be mine!

I kept my project a secret until the book was finished. I kept it a secret until the book was published. I sold a few books. I did a little tour. I did some public readings. I met some people.

Some people: You wrote a book!

Flash: I did!

Some people: Great. That’s great. I’ve been working on a book for a while now myself. Who is your agent?

Flash: … fuck.

Movies. Books. Same-same, but different.

 

The Life of a Travel Photographer.

Things haven’t changed. Things will never change. Now that I’m a professional photographer I don’t have this type of conversation every once in a while – I have it every day. Everyone with a camera is a would-be-professional photographer. Everyone. Make no mistake about it. Not that there is anything wrong with that; quite the opposite, in fact. It means there are plenty of people running around out there with whom I can talk shop. That’s a good thing. Of course, there are many people I meet who don’t see the difference in what I do and what they could be doing – especially when traveling. The only difference now is my own attitude.

People ask me how I got my first photos and travel stories published. I tell them the story – they’re underwhelmed. It all seems so easy! Anyone can do it! Travel a little. Take a picture. Call a magazine. Get published. Easy as pie. What’s the big deal? Where’s all the hard work? Why aren’t we all doing it?

I don’t take things so personally anymore. I don’t get bent out of shape – not as often as I used to, at any rate. I’m more confident in my skills and abilities than I used to be. That helps. The great thing about being a photographer is that I can show people my work at any time – on a laptop, on an iPod, on an iPad – and gauge reactions instantly. It’s not like being a screenwriter or an author; I can’t pull out a copy of my novel on a crowded subway and hold a public reading to showcase my skills. [Or could I? That would be interesting.] Photography is a different beast.

Someone: What do you do?

Flash: I’m a travel writer and photographer. How about you?

Someone: I’m an architect at Vandalay Industries. Photographer, yah? I love taking photographs, too. I took this one shot at the Eiffel Tower…

{Flash calmly removes iPod from his bag, brings up image of Angkor Wat at sunset, hands iPod to Someone.}

Someone: Oh. I don’t think I have anything like that.

Flash: Redemption is mine!

 

Cambodia_24543-3

There’s No Such Thing as Redemption.

That last exchange is a bit of a joke, of course. While it happens that way from time to time, other reactions are quite possible – quite probable. People look at an image and they say I must be good at Photoshop. I must have a good camera. I must use a lot of filters. I must get up early in the morning. All of the above is true, but the bottom line is that I know what I’m doing. I’ve blogged on the topic of camera versus creativity before. A million people have. I’m not going down that road here. The important thing here, as I’ve already mentioned, is that I’m confident in my abilities. I let most of that other stuff roll of my back these days. But why?

Because people love to talk – they will rarely act.

This is the key.

This is the big secret. This is what people don’t want you to know. Many people talk a big game. Few get out on the field and run the ball past the goal line. Take stock of all the times you’ve felt belittled or had your feelings hurt in your professional career. You have a running inventory in your mind – I know you do. I t doesn’t matter what industry you work in. Writer. Photographer. Plumber. Accountant. You remember the name and face of everyone who ever told you they can do what you can do. I know I do. I use that as motivation. Fuel. Fire.

It’s likely that the big talker you met a few years ago is nothing more than that – a big talker. Talking as much today as he was yesterday. It’s unlikely he’s doing what you do or doing it better than you. But what if he is? What if he used you as inspiration to become a professional writer or photographer or dentist or circus clown? Now he’s your competition. Now there are two clowns shopping for the last pair of floppy shoes.

What do you do?

You work harder. You get better. Success doesn’t come easy; it doesn’t stay easy, either. You must to continue to improve and perfect if you intend to remain a working professional. I know that most of the talkers are likely still talking and not acting, but I’m not willing to take the chance. One or two of the talkers might have started working hard. That’s part of the reason I strive to improve, innovate and creative every time I set to work. I act. And I strive to act first.

You’re only an artist when you’re creating. Otherwise you’re a public speaker. It’s fine to get together with friends and discuss the things you want to do or plan to do – it’s much better to get out and do it. I don’t put much stock in idle talk; you shouldn’t either. If you are already a creator then you need to toughen up. Work on that thick skin of yours. People around you are going to talk. They’re going to talk at you as often as they’re going to talk to you.

People join clubs and groups all the time because it’s a great way to meet like-minded people. Photography clubs specifically are a great way to foster creativity – as long as you don’t go putting the cart before the horse. It’s easy to throw out a dozen ideas. It’s difficult to see one project through to completion before starting another.

Here’s the bottom line: I’ll never tell you what I plan on doing. I will only show you what I’ve already done.

Back to the road.

- Flash

4 thoughts on “Plan versus Action

  1. Great article! It is actually very inspiring. :) I, myself, am not a professional photographer, but am an avid fan of photography. I am too young and inexperienced to be there yet, but I am working on it and will every day! This is an amazing photograph.

  2. Interesting take on the “your pictures are so great, I wish I had a camera like yours” rebuttal. I know that’s not the entirety of your message here, but I feel like most of what you said is applicable to that time-worn conversation. And you know what? When people see a nice picture of mine and say something like, “I wish I had your camera,” and we get into the whole, “You know, photographers find it insulting when you say that” conversation, I will often bring up your work as an example of someone with the same (or similar) equipment as mine doing bigger and better things – simply with skill and drive.

  3. Very nice blog post. As a pro photographer I can really relate. It used to bother be a lot when I would meet other photographers that talked big talk, and then I would go to there website later and find they actually were nothing but talk. I don’t really care much anymore;)

    Work harder then everyone else. That is really all there is to it.

    Nice article and nice images. Keep up the good work.

    Dan

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