How Banish Envy – Revisited

Once again, I have a video version of one of your favorite blog posts, “How to Banish Envy.” If you’ve ever felt stifled in your own work by your envy of another writer/artist, this one is for you. It’s okay. It happens to everyone. The key is to understand that no one can do the work you do, so rather than wasting time envying the talents and accomplishments of others, focus on doing your best work in your own unique way.

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Are You Cool Enough to be an Artist/Writer?

Not long ago, my youngest daughter and I were talking about high school popularity.

“But Mom, you weren’t cool in high school, right?”

“Oh I was extremely cool,” I said. “It’s just that no one knew it.”

See, from my point of view, being popular in high school (for most people) meant giving up part of yourself. Maybe in junior high you wore Star Wars shirts to school every day, but in high school, if you wanted to hang with the popular kids, you had to stop. You had to change your hair style and the way you talked, and ditch some of your old friends. Some of the popular kids appeared to be blazing their own trails, but once those trails were cut, they were sort of stuck. If they wanted to veer a different direction, they couldn’t. People now expected something from them.

And this bookish, semi-nerdy, goody-two-shoes actually liked herself the way she was. I had no intention of giving up carrying a novel with me everywhere I went or cutting my waist-length hair or dumping a single friend I still liked. I wanted to do the things that made me happy and filled me with creative energy, and if those things were not cool, so be it.

That’s kind of how I approach my art, too. There are decisions I could have made along the way that would have put me a bit closer to the “in crowd.” I could have chosen a more popular genre, or gone with a traditional publisher, or written about people who already had name recognition. Instead, I stuck with the things that gave me excitement, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose.

The interesting thing about the arts, though, is that not everyone who is seeking popularity achieves it. To try to manufacture the cool factor is harder than it looks. On the flip side, I’ve known many an artist who doubted their work would ever be popular and it took off.

The question then is not whether you or your work are “cool” enough to succeed, the question is whether you are remaining true to yourself. Because trust me, you do not want to play games in order to succeed, nor do you want to compromise your beliefs, principles, or talents. You’ll then be stuck in a trap of your own making. Instead, focus on your strengths and the things that give you energy, and if they make you popular, great. And if not, at least you can walk down the hallway with your head held high.

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Getting Back to What You Love

When I was in junior high and high school, my teachers told me, “Teresa, you’re a very good writer. You should be an author someday.” And I took their advice happily. It’s all I ever really wanted to be.

After my first novel came out, I started speaking about my book, and event coordinators told me, “You’re one of the best presenters we’ve ever had. You should be a speaker.” And I took their advice happily. Speaking gives me great pleasure.

After I started speaking, people told me, “You are good at explaining things, you should develop some workshops or classes.” And I took their advice happily. I love sharing my knowledge.

After I started instructing, people said, “We wish we had more time and access to you.” So I decided to become a coach. I get great satisfaction from helping others improve and reach their goals.

Before you knew it, though, I didn’t have one job (writing), I had several, and every year new projects were also added on. Like many artists and entrepreneurs, I enjoy reinventing myself, learning new skills, and moving in different directions.  And like any successful businessperson, I understand the need to change with the trends and markets, but the more spread out I became, the less effective and more tired I felt. And the busier I got, the more I drifted away from my art. I was so preoccupied running the business and tending to others, I lost myself in the bargain.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy everything I do, but lately I’ve been clearing some things off my plate to get back to what I love most, writing.

What can you clear from your life to make time for your art?

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Hold On Arts Lovers, Here We Go Again

Are we seriously going down this road again? Are we seriously discussing again getting rid of the National Endowment for the Arts, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and The National Endowment for the Humanities? And do we seriously have to argue again for the value of supporting creativity and culture?

Do we really need to trot out the thousands of studies that show that interaction with the arts improves the intellect, that exposure to the arts increases tolerance, that participation in the arts relieves stress and improves confidence, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Do we still, after so many generations, need to point out that not a single day will go by in which art will not affect and enrich each and every person’s life?

If we haven’t learned yet the value of the arts and culture, will we ever? Does it matter how many reports we quote, how many statistics we present, how many experts we bring forth to testify? Does it matter how many artists and celebrities create videos begging us to acknowledge the importance of art or how many writers pen beautiful essays to convince us of art’s influence?

How many more stories do we need to hear of famous artists, writers, directors, dancers, producers, and creators who got their starts through NEA grants? How many times do we have to be reminded of the importance of television shows like Sesame Street to help kids of all economic levels experience quality broadcasting? How many times does it need to be pointed out that some other countries spend billions of dollars funding the arts, while our politicians are once again suggesting zero funding.

Is there anything, anything, I can say that will once and for all speak to the value of the only thing that outlasts a civilization, its art? If no one listened to John F. Kennedy, or Winston Churchill, or Maya Angelou, why would they listen to me?

In some odd way, we artists and art lovers should be flattered. The politicians know that nothing will keep us from making art and no one is more resourceful or clever than artists or the people who support us. We’ll outlast whatever attempts are made to discourage or destroy us. But why, in the 21st Century, is this still necessary? When will we ever grow up?

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Greater Must Our Courage Be – Video

Maybe it’s time to revisit the concept of courage and one of my favorite blog posts, which is based on something that actually happened to me, something that changed my life. I’ve recorded that blog post in a short video. It will take you less than 3 minutes to watch it, but I hope it inspires you to take a giant leap of faith in your life too!  Ironically, my business is once again making a big turn, and I’m screwing up my courage to move forward. We never stop growing, do we?

If you like this video, please share! 

All That Matters is You Don’t Give Up

The other evening, my husband and I were strolling around downtown and popped into one of my favorite art galleries. I bought a couple of note cards and a glass nail file, and as we were leaving, I heard someone say, “Are you the author? The book editor?” 

“I’m Teresa Funke, yes.” 

“I had a meeting with you a few years back so you could look at my book,” the gentleman said. He described his project briefly, and I recalled our consultation. “You told me it needed work, and I was pretty upset,” he said. 

“Yes, I remember that. Usually when I meet with a client, I’m able to leave them feeling at least hopeful, but I remember thinking you seemed more down than I had experienced.” 

“Oh, it wasn’t you,” he said. “You were very kind and I trusted your opinion. It’s just that I was at one of the lowest points in my life and your advice was the last thing I wanted to hear. But you’ll be happy to know our meeting turned out to be a good thing. Afterwards, I couldn’t bring myself to work on the book anymore, so I went back to my painting, and now look at me! My work is hanging in galleries, I’ve sold a few pieces, and I’ve even been invited to show some of my work in Europe. I’m going to Europe!” 

“That’s wonderful,” I said. And then he showed me his beautiful pieces and we talked about his unique process. 

“Who knows,” he said, “maybe someday I’ll go back to the book. Maybe I won’t. But in the end, I realized something. It doesn’t really matter which direction you take with your art, all that matters is that you never give up.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Is Your Art too Trivial to Matter?

Please, don’t let this feeling end. It’s everything I am. Everything I want to be. Anyone recognize those song lyrics? If so, you’re as old as I am. But when your art is flowing and you are in the zone and all is right with the world, this is often how it feels. That’s not to say it isn’t hard, but the challenge is somehow invigorating.

Recently, though, several of my artist friends have told me some of the luster has gone off their work. “How can I focus on my trivial dabblings when the world is falling apart?” they ask. “Isn’t it selfish or naïve to think my art really matters when so many people are suffering?”

I feel that way too sometimes. But no matter how bad things have gotten in our world, most of the people we know are still showing up for their jobs every day. Doctors and teachers and journalists aren’t asking whether their work is important, even in times of trouble. They know it is. But so do mail carriers, and garbage collectors, and restaurant workers. We are all needed, even when times get tough, and that goes for artists too.

Can you imagine if every artist dropped their “trivial” work to become full-time activists for the causes in which they believe? There would be no new songs or movies or plays or books to inspire and awaken us. And there would be no hope.

There’s nothing trivial about what we do. For the past 25 years, my entire body of work has centered on preserving history so we learn from it, honoring those who have been marginalized, speaking to the injustice of prejudice and the pain of bullying. My books have explored the themes of loyalty to country, the righteousness of war, the aftermath of suffering.

And they have celebrated the ordinary people working to make their nation and world better in whatever ways they can. My books are “just” fictional stories, and more than half of them are “merely” children’s books, but their messages are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s, when my books are set. And they will be relevant 75 years from now too. What has your art been telling us? What do you hope it will say moving forward?

Now is not the time to set aside our art, now is the time to recommit. I’m not at all saying artists, myself included, shouldn’t advocate for the causes they believe in and use their talents and voices to further those efforts. Those actions matter! I’m just saying, don’t minimize the importance of your art at the same time.

Make No Apologies for How You Work

The other day, I was conducting an author visit at a middle school, and a sixth grader said, “I read about an author who gets up at 5:00 every morning to write. Is that what you do?”

“Honey,” I said, “I don’t do anything at 5:00 in the morning except sleep!”

I then explained to her how you were more likely to find me working on a new scene at midnight than at five a.m. And I told her what I firmly believe, that as artists we need to figure out what systems, methods, techniques, and time schedules work best for us, and then build our lives around those things.

I’ve gotten plenty of ridicule over my lifetime for being a night owl. I’ve been accused of being lazy because I’m a late riser and “spoiled” because I’ve set up a schedule that works best for me. This baffles me. If I go to bed at 1:00 a.m. and get up at 8:00, and you go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and get up at 5:00, we both get the same amount of sleep. So what difference does it make?

If one person needs all the latest technology to do his art well and another needs only the most modest tools, who is right? Neither, as long as they are doing what makes them feel most comfortable and efficient in their work.

A friend of mine was talking about his artistic son one day. “This boy,” he said, “sometimes he just jumps out of bed, heads straight to his computer and gets to work. He doesn’t even bother putting on pants.”

“Are pants necessary to the task he’s doing?” I asked.

My friend looked at me like I was crazy, but I’m not. As artists, we don’t have to conform to society’s rules if we are not hurting anyone. As long as we are not going bankrupt by buying more tools than we need or causing our family serious distress in any other way, we should never feel the need to apologize for how we work.

And if people want to make fun of us, let ‘em. If they want to call us “privileged” or “entitled” or “lazy” or “odd,” that’s their judgment and envy talking. We know how hard we work.

And we also know it’s pretty difficult to create with confidence if you are busy worrying about what other people think. So poke fun all you want. We’re not listening.

New Video – How to Manage Your Research and Outlines

I’m taking a moment this week to draw your attention to my new writing video “How to Manage Your Research and Outlines.”

I know many of you are becoming more and more interested in stretching your writing skills and moving in new directions with your work. You may have been inspired by the start of a new year, the change in political and world events, a growing feeling of concern for our environment and human rights, a sense of urgency regarding everything from our economy to the effects of technology on our children. Or maybe you just want to tell a really good story.

If you are thinking about starting a new fiction or nonfiction project, this video will help you get off on the right foot!

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Why You Should Ignore Their Pain Points

As an author-entrepreneur I’ve attended many a class and read many a book on sales and marketing. So often I’m told that the first step in selling your products or services is to identify your buyer’s pain point, then you explain how your product or service is the solution to their pain.

Every time I hear this advice, I bristle. I once asked, “What if my customers don’t have a pain point?” (I was thinking that really the people who buy my books are just looking for a good read). “Then you convince them they do have a pain,” I was told. “They just don’t know it yet.”

Okay then, your pain (though you don’t know it) is that you are tired of reading so-so fiction and dismayed that you don’t know enough about your own country’s history, therefore you need my books. No, I’m serious, if you don’t buy my books, you’re going to regret the time you’ve wasted slogging through those mediocre stories and you’re going to feel more and more inadequate because you don’t know your history. My books are going to save you, especially given current events in the world. Convinced?  Good . . . click to my products page or hop over to Amazon and buy, buy, buy.

To be honest, I resent how advertisers take advantage of us. I resent that the sale is, so often, the only goal. I think it’s true that many people are selling products that truly meet a need, and I’m grateful for those products, but art is about more than feeding a need. Art is about the artist first examining his or her own pain points – what we need to understand about ourselves or our world right now–and then creating art to reflect that inner journey in the hopes that fellow journeyers will recognize themselves in the piece and a connection will be made. A true connection, not one born of manipulation.

I’ve been told I’ll never be a bestseller because I can’t embrace this notion of selling to your pain, and they are most likely right, but I’m okay with that. Some of my happiest moments are when people tell me, “I knew nothing about World War II and didn’t know if I’d like your book, but I loved it. Now I want to know more.”

In reading my story, they didn’t go looking for a solution to a problem, they took a chance on something new, something unfamiliar. They didn’t find a remedy which could provide rest and relief, they found the opposite, a pinprick that awakened in them questions and curiosity. Or maybe they just found a few hours of enjoyment. What’s wrong with that?