Friday, February 23, 2018

What's Old is New Again: 5 Common Traits of Successful Artists

Note: I originally posted these 5 Common Traits in 2010, but the comments below them in blue are 2018 new.


I somehow 
wandered upon this blog by Lori McNee that posted what they thought the 5 traits of successful artists were.  They focus on visual artists, but I think many of these work for writers too. 

I'll put my own thoughts below in blue text...

5 Common Traits of Successful Artists:

1.  Art is the core of their lives. Successful artists wake up and go to sleep thinking about art. They carve out time in their day making art or marketing it. (In fact, for these artists, there seems to be no clear distinction between the creativity of making and marketing.) If they have a full-time job, it is secondary in their minds to art and mostly a means to and end. Their real job  is being an artist.

-- Here's something you may not know about me--I go to sleep ordering my manuscript in my head. Or I play with the title or different titles right before taking a nap. I think about a specific poet all day and am unclear why they are in my head. Yesterday was Delmore Schwartz. The day before Frank O'Hara.

Sometimes my poetry life gets so intermingled with my regular life, I call up a friend to tell her they have these new protein bars named after the Anne Sexton poem, "Her Kind." --"No," she says, "They're just called 'Kind' bars."  I'm confused, I'm SURE the wrapper read, "Her Kind." I am wrong.  

2.  Successful artists understand how business works in the art world. Successful artists understand the entrepreneurial aspects of making a living as an artist. When they encounter something new or unusual on the business side, they investigate and learn to do it or delegate the task. They know the value of relationships and network in person and through social media.  

--This feels like a nice way of saying, Don't be a big baby or a huge jackass if something doesn't go your way or you don't know how to do something.  And you don't need to understand exactly how something works, but if you are confused, do research or ask someone. It's okay not to know something, but there are so many resources with the internet at our fingertips, you can find things out for yourself with just a few keystrokes.  

Successful artists have a strong work ethic. They  manage themselves, their creative energy and resources. They balance the time to produce art and to market it. Whatever rhythm of working they choose, they stick to it. Whether these artists enjoy the business tasks or not, they know they must be done  and they do them without complaint or resentment.

---"Make sure you are creating more than you consume." And I thought, yes, that's an important element to think about as poets, writers, & artists. If you find yourself always in passive moments--watching a TV show, reading posts that you really don't care about, scrolling some endless feed (words or photo), you are consuming. If you are writing, interacting with another poet on a collaboration, doing writing prompts, reading a poem then responding to it, writing a blog post, a review, an essay, a journal entry, you are creating.  

Successful artists are resilient. They know that success does not happen overnight – it requires hard work. These artists understand that things don't always work out the way they expect. When they make mistakes, they focus on solutions, not on regrets. They learn from experience and experiment to improve on any success they have.

--- This is so true. I've send some of the best poets aren't the ones who are the best, but they are the ones who won't stop writing, who won't give up. They don't let a rejection, a NO, a missed award, an overlook, stop them. I know an incredible poet who you will never hear about because they have stopped submitting because the rejection part was too hard to handle. It's a loss for the readers in the world when that happens. 

I have made huge mistakes as a poet, from sending my Visa bill in with a snailmail submission, to missing a deadline, to writing a terrible poem and thinking it was good. We all do it (okay, maybe not mailing in your Visa bill), but mistakes will be made, failures will happen, and so what.

Keep writing. 

Successful artists spend time only with people who are 100% supportive of their art career. They limit their time and emotional involvement with people who are negative  especially about art as a career choice. If people close to them have the skills and inclination to be more directly involved in their art career, the artist can produce more and better. Successful artists do not allow unsupportive people to be an obstacle to their plans for success.

--If you make one change in your writing life this year, this is one thing you should do-- keep the positive, supporting people in life. Do not hang around with wet blankets, people who bring you down or do not support your art.

If you need to get offline because it's too much information, negativity, or people you don't really care about, do so. Hide or mute accounts that bring you down. Unfollow, deactivate, take a break, hide your laptop. 

You do not need to apologize for not tweeting or not posting on Facebook. These are volunteer jobs and if you don't show up, it's okay. It's important to create boundaries, compassionate boundaries, in our life. 

Until next time, 

~ Kells 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Poem by Matthew Olzmann: Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

I committed to blogging once a week. This week, I'm shaken by another school shooting and the deaths of children and a country that won't respond.

Just know, I'm focusing on my editing work and my family & friends. I'll return to my own work and hopefully a better attitude next week.

But for now,
I offer you this poem by Matthew Olzmann for this week's blog:

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?
Those same children
also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing
on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs
as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop
to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might
reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,
I had one student
who opened a door and died. 
It was the front
door to his house, but
it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written
any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old
and was aiming
at someone else. But
a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t
distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,
and how was the bullet
supposed to know this
child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment
because his friend
was outside and screaming
for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who
opened a door and died?
That’s wrong.
There were many.
The classroom of grief
had far more seats
than the classroom for math
though every student
in the classroom for math
could count the names
of the dead. 
A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,
nor could the gun, because
“guns don’t kill people,” they don’t
have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose
or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t
have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how
we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,
and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside
each of them. Today,
there’s another
shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,
a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world
is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,
you may open a door
and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be
mourned, then buried
in rhetoric. 
There will be
monuments of legislation,
little flowers made
from red tape. 
What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close
like a door above you.
What should we do?
And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

Originally published on the Academy of American Poets "Poem-a-Day"

~ Kells

Thursday, February 08, 2018

On Rejection: And Some Advice from Drag Queens Too...

I'm leading a class on submitting and publication with Susan Rich on Saturday and it has me thinking about rejection and how it can mess with us as poets, writers, and artists.

Being rejected is part of the deal as a poet. It's doesn't always make it better to know that, but it's true. You will be rejected more than you are accepted. You will celebrate an acceptance then sadly weep into morning coffee over a rejection that rolls in the next day. 

Sometimes you will receive rejection after rejection after rejection and like Jinkx Monsoon, you say, "Water off a duck's back, water off a duck's back."

(By the way, Jinkx won that season...) 

And since we're talking drag queens (and RuPaul's All Stars is on tonight).

Here's some other advice I've learned from drag queens:

Boos are just applause from ghosts. 
   ~ Sharon Needles

Don't be bitter, just get better.
  ~ Alyssa Edwards

Ultimately, this is a marathon not a sprint. Enjoy the journey. Yes, you may trip over a patch of rejection or get all sparkly-eyed over that rare acceptance bird you found, but what it comes down to is writing the poem. 

Control what you can control-- reading, writing, submitting.

Let the rest work itself out. And if you get a rejection, remember Sylvia Plath's "I love my rejections, they show me I try." 

My advice?

Life is short. Do your best. Make good art.

~ Kells ________________

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Confession Tuesday: The Making of a Manuscript Edition

Dear Reader, 

It's been over a year since my last confession. I am slightly out of practice and am slipping through the door late on a Tuesday evening, then pressing the button on Wednesday. I am making the sign of the cross with sparklers and cheese sticks. I am opening the confession door and carrying my manuscript inside...

I confess I have been working for years on my current manuscript. I have watched my manuscript morph in front of me, moving from a waltz to the current of waves.

I confess I did not send it out because I had pinned "perfectionism" to my shirt and wore it like a badge.

I did not send it out because I felt it wasn't done, because I didn't give myself enough time to work on it, that I allowed my job to be a greedy child stealing all my Kit-Kats of time. Actually, I gave my Kit-Kats away, then complained I had no Kit-Kats. 

I confess I had a title, changed the title, then spent over a year seeking a title.

I confess procrastination came in years that look like productivity.

I confess I have become less anxious about "publishing a book" and more interested in finding a press that is right for me and my manuscript. 

I confess at my writing residency I said, "I am writing the best poems of my life" and meant it, unironically. 

I actually do not know what "the best poems of my life" look like, but sometimes it's more of a feeling than a fact. 

This is what I tell my poet-self when she's in that euphophic phase with a manuscript. That said, I do believe I've done some good work, and while as a perfectionist, this can be hard to say, I'm become better at it.


~ Kells ________________

Friday, January 26, 2018

Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

^^^^^ Hey, anyone know where we can get one of these? ^^^^^^^
            (Quick answer: disconnect the wi-fi 
😉 )

I've been thinking about how to use my time more wisely as a poet, writer, and artist in the world. 

Distraction has always been the enemy of writers (note: I will do a post on the positives/pros of distraction, because you can use it for material very easily!) 

As writer and human, our most important possession is time. It's the one thing that *guaranteed,* we have less of every day. 

I know time feels like a bottomless margarita, and we're all dizzy with the belief of this endless cup and the refill, this ongoing buffet where there's always coconut shrimp and the frozen yogurt machine never runs out. But yeah, nobody is adding more minutes to our pockets. Friends, this isn't a dress rehearsal. 

And what makes it hard, is our world is made up of things that want to steal our time for their benefit. And maybe "steal" isn't the right word, maybe we *give* or *accidentally handover* our time to things that don't want the best for us, but for them.

Our time as writers is so important. If we don't have it, we don't write.

I've always taken issue when someone says, "I don't have time to write," because what I hear is, "I have not made time for my writing." Listen, if you're reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write. 

Your life happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it's only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts. 

The internet can be a downfall to writers. I'm going to write about Facebook below, but there are various other timesinks that may be in your life. 

(Note: If you don't want to read about the pros & cons of Facebook because you probably already know them, skip down to the ********* ___________________ and we'll get back into poetry and living a creative life). 

My Concerns with Facebook & Sites that We Created To Keep You There--

For example, Facebook wants me to show up every day because it wants more users and users that interact on its site--the more users, the more money they can get in advertising, and the more users the more others will show up to be part of the group, a circle of revenue... The news and the media is like this too, they want you to click on a link, each click is money in their pockets. 

But Facebook can steal a lot of time that I could be using for reading or writing (or even working.) 

So here are the pros and cons of Facebook:

  • My friends and community are there (yay, I can connect without leaving the house!)
  • See what others are doing  (Fun to see where people have been published and photos of kids & pets)
  • Share want I'm doing (sharing publication is fun, but also I know when I post, I have a project I need to keep up as I like to "Like" people's comments and respond to them). 
  • Sometimes see funny/cute things (like otters, and I love otters and golden retriever puppies)
  • Learn what is on others' minds or something I've missed or is important to someone  (I like to be aware of what I am missing in my bubble)
  • Feel less alone
  • Get immediate feedback on a question, ask advice, or interact with friends online


  • Time suck, I can go in and then it's 45 minutes later
  • I don't control what you see (some people post terribly graphic images to prove a point, and some of us who are more sensitive, may carry that image with them the rest of the day)
  • Facebook was created to make you stay there--the notifications are red for a reason, to get your attention, to show importance, to make give you a dopamine hit with each like, with each validation. 
  • If you compare your life to others, that can make you unhappy or feel "less than." 
  • "The worst thing that happened to me today" post (this is something new I've noticed where people post the worst thing that has happened to them during the day then we microfocus on it) Yes, a cashier or other stranger annoyed you, yes, that sucks, now move on. 
  • If I wasn't reading Facebook, what else could I be doing with my time that is more useful?

Facebook is one example, but there are many others-- too much news or having to read every news article when you wake up, screwing around on Pinterest, hooked on Twitter, binge-watching a not-so-great show, video games (I was coming home from work one year and playing Splatoon daily --and weirdly, there's a part of me that misses that). 


I have always said--everything in moderation, even moderation. 

So when I look at my life when I am feeling my best and doing my best, and while I may be engaging in some "not so productive things" and I am not drowning in them.

My best morning is goes like this:

Wake up, get coffee

Look outside for a few minutes, check in with the sky and birds

Sit on couch with book of poems and read a few poems with coffee

Pull out my manuscript in progress (printed on paper) and read through it, editing and making notes (note: if I wasn't working on a manuscript, this would read: write poems)

Open Bullet Journal (aka my life/to do list) and see what needs to be done

For me, when I'm in not feeling rushed or behind or overwhelmed or spending a lot of time online, I find I read more, write more, create more, find more space for walks, and am kinder. 

When I'm at my very best, I may say, "Wow, I actually have space to do whatever I want to do right now--what is that?" 

Sometimes I need a list to clear out my head or to read down and say, "Yep, for the next hour, I'm going to dig into my "In Process" file and find poems to revise. 

Or sometimes I just decide to read. Or nap. (Note: these are obviously on days I'm not working, though I have napped on a lunch break at work...)  But even coming home from work, I've decided to keep the laptop closed. Not to reach to see "what am I missing?" in the world, which is how sometimes the internet feels to me.

So instead of looking into this magical mirror world of who's having a birthday and what's trending and what's going on here, here, and here, I read our local paper, I play a game of Scrabble, cribbage, or Boggle. I look out the window and say, "Hey world in front of me, what's new with you? Any new birds migrating in or out? Anything blooming or growing?" This may sound terrible boring or dull, but it helps my mind be more present and also allows me to recenter then focus on what I love which is--poetry, family, friends, the environment, the universe, and books. 

And know, I am not a saint or perfect at this by any means (I checked Twitter 2x while writing this post and currently, my cellphone is dinging like mad from a group text.).

But maybe this is why I like to write about it to remind myself the importance of choosing how I use my time, reminding myself how much better I feel when I am writing and living creatively...

Thanks for reading.

May you keep the time you need for your art as well. 

~ Kells ________________
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