A Letter to Young Creatives

(People often ask me: how do I write a book? How do I get published? How do I get better as a writer? This letter is my response. If you want to hire me to read your first chapter or your book proposal, email me - johnasowers@yahoo.com) 

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Dear Matt,

Thank you for sharing your writing with me. You obviously put heart and thought into this, and it looks like the beginning of a great book. Sharing your writing with one person the first step. Well done! Creative endeavors are risky propositions. Every brilliant invention first began as an idea.

Sadly, many people never share.

As long as your creative idea lives only in your mind, it will stay safe - but unknown. No one can criticize you, belittle you, or say you are crazy to try. Even though your idea is safe – as long as you hide it - it will never grow wings. How many brilliant ideas remain locked away in our minds – out of fear – never revealed to the world?

How many great books stay un-written, inventions un-made, movements un-born?

You asked me for specific feedback with your creative idea and I will be glad to give that. But not in this letter. I hope to share a few things to sustain you and serve you better than my small edits here and there. Years ago, before I launched this project and wrote that book, my mentor told me:

Find and attach yourself to the hip of a master.

Millions of young men and women are confident and smart and talented. Most of them try to ‘make it’ alone. They spend many years trying to figure out a craft, and then start excelling in their late 30’s or 40’s. But if you can attach yourself to a master (of any profession) – you can speed up your mastery and accelerate the process by a decade.

This resonated. Since then, I have carefully sought out mentors of excellence. The choosing is critical. Masaaki Hatsumi once said, “Students deserve their teachers.” Do not choose poorly. But you need to choose. Look for mentors who are masters, leaders in the field. I look for visionary leaders, writers and communicators.

Even more than talent, find mentors who believe in you and listen to you.

Whoever you allow to speak into your life is a sacred choice.

I see many young leaders damaged by submitting themselves to the next strong personality. He may be impressive and self-confident, but with no personal concern for you. Worse, he may flatter and use you to build his own platform. The same way a good mentor imparts wisdom, character and craft, a bad mentor will impart his habits, reactions, and negative worldviews as well. A bad mentor can be like visiting a bad chiropractor - you leave worse than you start.

When a mentor believes in you, it does not feel like a possessive or controlling thing. He does not insist you do this or that. He feels more like a listening friend. Patient. These mentors often become guides and friends. A good mentor is not just an advice-dispensing machines and more interested in you.

A good mentor listens to help you hear and find your voice.  

When you find your voice, you will create something original. This is where the power is: finding your divine fingerprint and walking in it. You will find the security to walk and be you, no matter what others think. You are the only you. You are the prototype. There is no other precedent. Many young voices are echoes, striving to sound like others. But echoes have diminishing returns, they get weaker with each reverberation.

The mentor who helps you find your voice is a rare gift. Part of finding your voice is allowing others to say hard things and speak direction into your life. King Solomon once said, “a wise man is impressed by a rebuke.” (Proverbs 17.10) Be open to criticism, especially from those you trust. The Twitter and Blog Trolls matter not. They may on occasion say good things, but it’s mostly: drama, one-upmanship and attention grabbing. Sometimes name calling and even bullying. Trolls can be an unpleasant and ill-smelling sort. You do not need to respond to them, or even read their words in the first place. Stay away from their dark and moldy bridges.

The critics who matter are the ones you know and respect. These people want the best for you. This is the key in receiving correction and advice. Does this person love me and want the best for me? Or is this person seeking my good? Or is this about ego or shaming or control or something else? Some feel obligated to say hard or mean things, which is forced and unnatural. 

There is a narrow balance here. I have several famous friends who are surrounded by fan friends. Fan friends always smile and say, “you are beautiful, you are brilliant, no matter what you say or do, we are with you.” Fan friends leech off charisma and fame for personal meaning and affirmation. Fan friends are terrified to say anything to lose their precious position. So all the famous friend hears is, “Yes.”

Find friends who are not afraid to speak the truth in love.

Even if this is only two people, keep them, value them, appreciate them, listen to them. They won’t always be right – but they care enough to speak. If you eject all these friends from your life, the “Yes” friends will puff you and warp you.

Do not be discouraged if you have no great mentors in your life.

For years, I had several who I only spoke with a twice a year. Even these short conversations and small touches can make a huge difference. Also, a third of your community can live in your mind. (But not more than a third.) Seek out the great voices, the writers and leaders and thinkers of history with whom you resonate. Devour books. Read letters. Find and dance with the rhythms of the great ones.

I pray some of this is helpful.

Thank you again for sharing your writing, it is a great start. My time is short today as the university is closed for holiday, and Goldberry is waiting. Please feel free to write again, and thank you for trusting me with your words and ideas.

Yours sincerely, John