Building a body of work means spending a lifetime doing work that meets the following criteria: it interests us, we are good at it, and the world will pay us for it. That’s what we do as artists. We build a body of work. Be it Scorsese with making engaging films, Madonna reinventing herself with every album, Stephen King writing suspense/horror novels, or Chef Jiro making sushi (and countless other examples). They have spent a lifetime doing the work and they continue to do so. They do the work because doing the work itself is the reward for them. Doing the work has also become a part of their identity.
As artists, we all have something that makes us uniquely us. We have a common thread that ties all of the work together. That is how we identify our work no matter how diverse.
So why build a body of work? Here are a few reasons:
One of the things I firmly believe is that we owe ourselves to live up to our true potential; otherwise, we are doing a disservice both to ourselves and to others. The way to live up to our potential is to do great work. And the only way to do great work is to do a lot of work. Only by doing a lot of work can we close the gap between our talent and our taste (to paraphrase Ira Glass).
Doing the work is a gift we give to ourselves. Speaking of giving gifts to ourselves, we do the work for ourselves first and others second.
We build a body of work so we can provide continuing value to others (through our work) long after we are gone because our work has the potential to make a difference in the lives of others.
For those who want to build their own body of work, here is the advice I will share with you:
Figure out the work you want to do. Of course, it might not be easy to figure this out right away, so you will likely have to take some time to try different work options before you can commit to something for life. This might take a while, so be patient. Why commit to something for life? Unless we commit to something, we will be distracted by everything. And because you can only do a few things better, avoid spreading yourself too thin.
Once you figure out the work you want to do, then commit to it. Once you know where you’re going, you will find a way to get there. Most people don’t know where they are headed, so it doesn’t matter which path they take.
Next, focus on doing the work every day. Let the process of doing the work every day determine the outcome of your work. Work hard every day and be patient because it will take a while. As you’re doing the work, remember that doing the work is the reward in itself; this is not to say you shouldn’t celebrate your progress, but that should not be the main reason for doing the work. The journey should be more rewarding than the destination as you will spend most of your time with it.
Building a body of work takes time. It happens one day at a time. You have to put in the hours; there is no way around it. There will be times you will feel like giving up. It is precisely at those times you should be asking yourself WHY you do what you do. Your response to that question will keep you going.
This weblog is part of my legacy project. One of my goals for this weblog is to write at least 2,000 pieces. That goal is both inspiring and concrete to me. That is my body of work I am building that will outlast me long after I am gone. I am slowly building this body of work by putting out one piece every week.
Focus on doing the work that will stand the test of time. In my example, I write about things that will provide lasting value to readers; things that will be as applicable and relevant many years from now as much as they are today.
Creating a body of work takes a lifetime. It starts with knowing the work we want to do, which is about understanding the convergence of our interests, skills, and what the world will pay us for, and knowing that is what we should be doing. This means we commit to a few things to begin with so we can say “no” to almost everything else later.