Monday, April 2, 2012

5 Things that Jonathan and Charlotte Taught Me

Like almost everyone on the planet earth, I watched the youtube video of Charlotte and Jonathan last week, and witnessed them blowing minds and melting hearts  on Britain’s Got Talent. If you haven’t watched it yet, spend a life-affirming six minutes and do it now.
Jonathan and Charlotte’s tale is a beautiful story about the art of friendship, and the kind of friends an artist needs. Jonathan admitted that he wouldn’t have had the confidence to perform if it weren’t for Charlotte. And when arguably the most powerful man in show business, Satan (played here with convincing relish by Simon Cowell), suggested that Jonathan would have more success in the contest if he went on as a solo act, Jonathan refused to dump his friend. They were in it together.
As artists, it is vital that we seek out people who support our craft, and encourage our best efforts. That’s what Jonathan has in Charlotte—someone who knows the depth of his talent, and believes in him. Here are five tips for finding your people:
1.     1. Learn to recognize the difference between helpful criticism and insults. An insult is vague, and offers no opportunity for improvement (Example: “That piece didn’t move me.”) What’s helpful about that? On the other hand, real criticism is invaluable. It’s specific, and gives plenty of room for new execution. (Example: “This image was unclear to me. Can you make it clearer?") Don’t spend time with people who only offer insults. Being in an artist tribe is a give and take. If they aren’t going to give anything helpful, then move on.
2.     2. Dump people who are consistently negative. When I announced that I was going to quit my editorial job and become a full-time writer, one of my friends asked, “So—what does that mean? That you’re just a housewife now?” That friend Did Not Get It. He didn’t believe that I could be successful, and ultimately I had to accept that there wasn’t any room for him in my life.
3.     3. Aim high! Many years ago, I attended a workshop led by award-winning YA novelist Ellen Wittlinger. I knew she lived close to me, and we had a few friends in common. So, when I was introduced to her, I asked if she knew of any writing groups in the area. She said that (gasp!) there was room in her writing group full of hot-shot award winning authors (she didn’t put it that way), and would I like to join? I thought, “I’m not worthy!” but I said, “Yes!” I’ve been with this group almost six years now, and have published three hardcover novels with their help. If you’re looking for artist friends, don’t just pick any old artist. Seek out people whose work you admire.
4.     4. Don’t compare. Art is service to the world, and it must be approached with humility. The worst art is created out of the ego—“I want to be famous!” Leave that stuff to the Kardashians. Good art is about communication--articulating an idea or an emotion to others in the hope that they will understand, identify, think, be changed, be moved, experience catharsis, etc. What you are trying to communicate is unique, and so is your art. If you are going to be friends with artists, you must be willing to teach them and to learn from them. But if you compare your art, you are doomed.
5.     5. Celebrate the success of your friends! There will be moments when your career isn’t thriving—and the career of your artist friend is. As I write this, I’m sitting across the table from Jo Knowles, who has been Starring It Up with her latest novel, See You At Harry’s. Am I envious? Yes! But I’m also thrilled for her. Remember that—like Jonathan and Charlotte—we’re all in this together. There is enough success out there for all of us, and we will all reach it in different ways, at different times. But, as creative guru Julia Cameron says in her brilliant book, The Artist’s Way, artists are like water, and water rises collectively. The success of your friend is your success, too, especially if you have been encouraging them with their art.
Are your friends helping you, or holding you back? Look for the Jonathans and Charlottes in your life. Those are the friends that will serve you forever.


  1. Hey, kiddo, we're lucky to have you in our group! And, btw, this is GREAT advice for just starting out writers. I'm going to share it with my Simmons students. xoxo, Ellen

    1. Thanks, Ellen! I *love* the group. ((hugs))

  2. All great points, especially the last. A rising tide lifts all boats, even if not all in the same way. A good reminder for the impatient (like me).

  3. I hadn't watched Jonathan and Charlotte until your post. Love them and love what you wrote about them as well.

  4. Wonderful advice, Lisa. I'm going to put this list above my desk. Best, Camille