Famous American playwright and screenwriter David Mamet offers two rules for success as an artist.
Although he speaks primarily from his experiences as a dramatic writer, Mamet’s advice is useful for all kinds of creatives including painters, musicians, comedians and even bloggers on Medium.
He said, “You’ve got to do one thing for your art every day, and you’ve got to do one thing for your business every day.”
What does Mamet’s advice look like in practice? And is he right?
Define What Success Looks Like
As a full-time artist, David Mamet has spent a lifetime writing plays, films, books and more.
He’s answered the one question every creative should ask themselves: What does success look like?
Perhaps you want to quit your job and go at your craft full time, spending your days writing poetry or creating like David Mamet.
You’ll need to learn secondary skills like finding customers or readers, marketing your work and even taking care of the books so the taxman doesn’t hunt you down.
Perhaps you’re happy to create around the margins of the day before work on evenings or during weekends.
That’s fine too.
The great British poet T.S. Eliot worked for years in Lloyds Bank while composing poetry before and after work.
You don’t need to burden your art with the expectation of paying the bills.
However, you do need to learn other skills like productivity and self-discipline so you get the most out of those valuable hours when you’re free to create.
How to Work on Your Art Every Day
No, this is not what being an artist looks like
When I first heard Mamet’s advice, I’d an image of a bearded recluse hunched over his desk, working by candlelight and etching out War and Peace with an expensive quill pen.
That’s not reality. There’s usually a boss, a spouse, a child or even a bank manager who needs your attention.
Still, it’s relatively easy to work on your art a little bit every day, provided you lower expectations about what Mamet’s first rule looks like.
If you’re a writer, for example, don’t worry about trying to produce Ulysses before eating lunch. Instead, write just 500 or 1,000 words. Alternatively, if this wordcount looms over you like a guillotine, write about one topic for just 30 minutes.
If you want to learn how to draw, sign up for a drawing class. Or you could practice basic drawing skills like cross hatching or perspective.
If you’re an actor, consider joining a local theatre group. Or take singing classes to improve your voice and yoga classes to improve your form.
If you’re a comedian, set a goal of writing one joke every day, something Jerry Seinfeld did before he became successful.
How to Work on Your Business Every Day
I once told a friend about how much I earned from my last book. He asked, “Bryan, what about literature? Have you sold out?”
And I didn’t even earn that much. My friend, like many people I know, had bought into the myth of the penniless artist.
Here’s the thing:
In Tools of the Titans, the high priest of productivity aficionados everywhere, Tim Ferriss, gave readers the key to success as he sees it.
Ferriss’ tip matches with Mamet’s second rule: You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.
Instead of trying to break into the top 1% of your field, combine working on your art with a business skill. This is more effective.
- Learn how to create an online product and sell it to fans and followers.
- Create an offer like coaching or even a course.
- Share some of your work on Medium or other networks and grow your audience.
Artist and writer Austin Kleon does a great job of showcasing his poetry on Instagram.
How I’m Applying Mamet’s Rules
“Always tell the truth — it’s the easiest thing to remember.”
A few years ago, I started a blog about productivity. I didn’t know much about technical things like web hosting and so on, and Medium wasn’t as big then as it is now.
After publishing my first few posts, I felt frustrated because nobody read them! I started paying for things like an email service provider, SEO and copywriting courses. And I learnt how to find readers for my blog.
Blogging became an expense I needed to cover each month. So, I studied other business skills like how to self-publish and sell books on Amazon.
Behold the riches from my first book
After Amazon paid me, I had to learn how to sell more books, track my finances and build relationships with readers.
In other words, working on my craft a little bit every day opened a door, and inside this room I found secondary skills to study.
You might not need to follow my approach, but once you put into practice what Mamet teaches, you’ll find a wealth of new skills to master.
- David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing. Masterclass. 2017.
- Tools of the Titans. Tim Ferriss. 2016.