Staying True to Your Artist’s Spirit: Advice to My 19-Year-Old Self

If you read last week’s post, then you know I’m a huge fan of podcasts. For nerds like me who genuinely enjoyed school, podcasts are like mobile mini lectures that can accompany you pretty much anywhere; they’re digital professors in your pocket! (technological marvel to some, make-it-stop nightmare to many!)

At the close of several of the podcasts I listen to, the hosts often ask their guest a question that goes a little something like this, “If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give your younger self before [he/she] started out on their career path?”

Everyone’s answers differ slightly, but the majority of responses boil down to this simple, yet powerful response: “I would say, ‘Just keep going. It’s going to get tough, but it will get better. It will be worth it. Your hard work will pay off.’”

So far, no one I’ve heard has said they would advise their young self to throw their dream in the trash and pursue a job that’s far less risky and uncertain (these people, by the way, are all entrepreneurs and/or artists like us!). They realize that while a safer, more secure route probably would have proven easier, it wouldn’t have made them feel nearly as fulfilled as pursuing their passion has. They might have earned more money and experienced fewer failures and setbacks, but money is no substitute for fulfillment and a soul-deep sense of satisfaction. Staying true to themselves and not losing faith during trying times reaped rewards that money can’t buy.

When one hears that question repeated on a regular basis, one can’t help but try and answer it for themselves. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and while Tim Ferriss isn’t asking for my response, here it is for you:

I would tell myself, let’s say my 19 year-old-self (me a decade ago), to maintain an artist’s spirit.

Now what do I mean by “artist’s spirit”? I mean that childlike, free-spirited, unaffected, untainted naiveté that doesn’t care which book genres are currently best-selling, which character types are trending, or what top-selling authors are doing.

An artist’s spirit was born with an innate – and I would say God-given – gift that must be nurtured and protected as though it were some sacred relic which Resistance seeks to destroy. It’s a fragile, ethereal, otherworldly substance that mustn’t be polluted by worldly desires, nor diluted with insidious compromises.

[Tweet “An artist’s spirit was born with an innate gift that must be nurtured and protected”]

“If you ‘write to market,’ you’ll have a greater chance of landing a publishing deal! Stop writing about holistic health and write a diet book instead! How about ‘How to Drop Five Pounds in Five Days’? Something like that.” (I was actually advised to do this by a major Christian publisher.)

“Amish romance is the genre to write in right now. Why don’t you try that instead of fantasy?”

It was tempting to pollute the stories my artist’s spirit wanted to write with tantalizing gimmicks, what others might euphemistically call “business savvy.” It was tempting to dilute them with external suggestions, each of which was purely motivated by money.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t break the heart of that bright-eyed seven-year-old girl who dreamed of writing about Centaurs and Griffins and faraway realms. I couldn’t disappoint the recovering anorexic teenager who knew she would one day be strong enough to share an empowering message of faith-based fitness with other women – not another diet book.

I couldn’t abandon my artist’s spirit.

Staying True to Your Artist's Spirit

I was a freshman in college when I was 19. I was at the University of Texas studying screenwriting because I wanted to learn how to make characters come alive and create rock-solid plots. My goal – my dream – was to be the best storyteller I could possibly be, not to learn how to make big bucks by writing what’s hot.

So far, I’ve stood by that dream and defended it against the relentless voices of Resistance and those who’ve advised me to alter it, or desert it altogether. And while it hasn’t always been easy, it’s definitely been worth it.

Every day, I wake up excited to write. I can’t wait to revisit my characters, see where they left off, and follow them on their day’s adventures.

Every night, I fall asleep thinking about two things: my current work in progress and what awaits me tomorrow, and my daddy, who went to heaven nearly seven years ago. He was my biggest fan. It was he who first instilled my love of fantasy, and it’s he who inspires me most when I feel my artist’s spirit growing weary.



How would you answer the question, “What advice would you give your younger self?” Comment below or tweet me your answer at @dandersontyler. I would love to hear from you!

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