The film focused on a set of years when Miles Davis wasn’t recording during the late 1970s. Using flashbacks to earlier times, Cheadle gives us snippets of Miles’ career and how it once flourished. But what we mostly see is the breakdown and its insanity and his path back to resurrection.
Being on top never seemed comfortable for Miles. Yes, there were the record deals and financial deals, but there were also the distractions of drugs, racism, and women. Yeah, being on top as a black man didn’t make him immune to the vagaries of racism.
How does all of this apply to you? I think as indie authors it’s easy to fantasize about what life as a famous author might feel like. We all want to experience it. Don’t you?
I mean, how does it feel once an author receives money, acclaim, and maybe even an award or two – or at least movie rights? How does it feel once speaker fees roll in, the big house. Maybe even a big car, if you are so inclined.
Create Something Great
Does it get easier?
One thing that doesn’t get easier – at least I don’t think it does – is the desire to create something truly great. To create something of beauty. To satisfy yourself and your readers. Because like Miles Davis, there’s the ever-present pressure from others to keep producing. To continue meeting the expectations of others and that can be too much pressure for an artist of music or words.
Whether we’re talking about yesteryear’s Raymond Carver or Ernest Hemingway or today’s indie rock stars, such as Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson, the push is there. Will always be there. To keep producing. Keep entertaining. Keep your fans and readers happy.
It’s thrilling, and it’s a pressure cooker, all in one.Fame is thrilling and it's a pressure cooker Click To Tweet
Hemingway, even as a Nobel Laureate, seemed tortured. He drank too much and eventually committed suicide.
Carver was a master short story writer but had a difficult relationship with his editor, and smoked until he died of lung cancer at the age of 50.
Take Joanna and Mark as examples. They work long, hard hours. Whether successful authors have publishers or don’t want publishers, the fact that they’ve enjoyed success doesn’t mean that their past success will beget future success, now does it?Past success doesn't beget future success. It takes work.Click To Tweet
They have to earn it, over and over and over again. And for some artists, that push – whether or not it comes from your inner drive or an agent’s – can feel like pressure. But if we want to write at our best, it’s the pressure that we have to ignore, let go of. Don’t you agree?
If we aren’t secure enough, and don’t let ourselves fall prey to alcohol and cigarettes, like Hemingway and Carver, or cocaine, like Miles did, well, then we have a chance.
To stay on top, to continue to attract our readers while attracting new ones, we have to continue to perfect our writing, our craft, our marketing. We have to perform, perhaps not as Miles Davis did in front of live audiences, but we still perform through our words.
In today’s world of indie publishing, writing one book isn’t enough. In fact, talk to any successful indie author and he or she will suggest that you produce at least two to three books back-to-back in a year. At least. More is preferable.
This is the era of short attention spans. If you publish a book and wait a year before you release a second, who’s to say anyone will still remember you? Even if they do, you’ve lost your momentum. So you have to begin anew and launch your second book as though it were the first because if you take too long of a break between books, readers move on.
So it makes me wonder how Miles Davis must have felt. I can understand why he needed that break.
Miles was brilliant. Let’s not forget that. He studied the masters of classical music and understood them perhaps in a way that few others did. Then he created his music. While following his passion and his muse, he created new forms of music and success found him.
Miles Davis – Dorothy Allison
Like Miles Davis, author Dorothy Allison took a break as well. Sickness made her stop everything and nearly did her in. But fortunately for all of us, she survived and is about to finish another novel.
I had the gift of hearing her speak at a writer’s conference recently and, oh my goodness, what an artist. There’s something different about Dorothy, something special. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, Dorothy received mainstream recognition with her novel Bastard Out of Carolina, a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award. She also wrote Cavedweller, published a collection of short stories called Trash, and is coming out with a new book, She Who.
Dorothy speaks lyrically. Speaks with depth, and like Carver, writes only about those things that matter in the world. To hear her speak is to listen to someone speak poetry in prose. Despite her recognition, do you know why she writes? To have someone come up to her and say, “Thank you for telling my story.” That’s all she wants.
Like Miles and like any successful author, Dorothy follows her truth, her heart, her passion. And by following her heart, she found her readers.
There’s a beautiful line in Miles Ahead in which Miles Davis says,
You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.
Can’t you feel the veracity of that truth in your gut? You have to write a long time to write like yourself. To write the stories that match your passion. And if you’re lucky — because there’s some modicum of luck in all of this — you’ll find your readers, just like Joanna, Mark, and Dorthy did. Because you will with time write like yourself. Master your craft. Communicate your message. Find that some day a reader will approach you and whisper in your ear, “Thank you for telling my story.”
Regardless of whether fame or money find you, I believe that you’ll find satisfaction in having done it your way. At having created the only path you could.You'll find satisfaction in creating your own path Click To Tweet
You’ll find satisfaction in creating your version of art.
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About the Author: Frances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. She’s a regular speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference and a contributing writer at TheBookDesigner.com. She’s written several books including Social Media Just for Writers, Avoid Social Media Time Suck, and Twitter Just for Writers, which is available for free here on her website. Her focus is on helping authors surmount the barriers that keep them from flourishing online, building their platform, finding new readers, and selling more books. Her clients include authors of every genre and writer conferences. Not sure how you’re doing online? Ask Frances to prepare a social media audit for you.