Take Action! Don't Just Read. Do!

Is your art marketing a never-ending search for a magic pill? Are you looking for the one thing that will propel you to fame and success?
Where do you think this magic pill hiding? Is it a piece of technology? A new social media tip? Another class?
I don’t like turning away clients, but every so often, I ask an artist: “Are you still in research mode? You keep taking my classes, but when are you going to stop reading and start doing?”
Is this you? Are you guilty of gathering information without every acting on it?

Caroline Blaker
Caroline Blaker, Sometimes We Know Differently (We Don’t Forget). Latex on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. ©The Artist

Here’s a recurring email in my inbox that drives me nuts.

I’ve read all of the books, but nothing is working.

Perhaps the authors of these messages don’t intend for me to take them literally, but all I have to go on is what’s in front of me. This says nothing about taking action. It says only that some reading has taken place. “I’ve read all the books” is not the same as “I’ve written three blog posts a week, sent out a monthly newsletter, had three solo shows in the last two years, and mailed quarterly postcards.”
The bottom line is that it doesn’t help you to read unless you do something with what you’ve learned.
I would even argue that you haven’t learned much if you haven’t done the work. If you’re just reading and reading, you’re not using your other senses. You’re not touching, applying, failing, and readjusting.
It’s easy these days to get sucked in to the bottomless well of tips and advice. It’s harder to say to yourself, “I’ve got to stop gathering information. It’s time to get to work!”

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16 thoughts on “Take Action! Don't Just Read. Do!”

  1. Great post! Very generous advice from a person that makes her living through coaching and writing. There will always be class taking junkies out there and I have gone through that stage and will probably go there again. Sometimes all we need is a hard kick in the rear end to get into action. You are a great coach Alyson!

  2. I think Merlin Mann (Mister 43folders himself) tweeted something like this a while back: reading a book about running is not the same as running.

  3. Excellent post, Alyson. There is a time for learning, especially from others, and a time for putting that information into action. The thing is, we learn then as well. Yes, action is scary, but not terminal. Staying in one place out of fear, now that’s deadly.

  4. Oh, gosh, where do I start? This hits so many problems. The first that comes to mind is our definition of courage. A lot of people think that the definition of courage is not having any fear, when in reality it’s about being afraid and doing it anyway. Second, changing to any career can be daunting. But art also has a stigma attached to it whether we like it or not. So finding an entry point and facing leaving a comfortable place socially is downright terrifying sometimes. Reading is safe. It makes you feel like you’re actually doing something. Which leads me to my third point. We sit around thinking in our day jobs and feeling like we’re producing something. We have a culture of inactivity in the US. Working with your hands is considered low-class. That’s why the manufacturing jobs have moved overseas. All of these things can make it nearly impossible for someone to get moving, especially when they have no support around them.
    I love a swift kick in the butt as much as anyone, but I’ve also come to believe that the best way to lead is by example. I shouldn’t just be doing what I need to do to launch my career, I should be encouraging the people I know and care about to try as well. I need to be helping them along, but always keeping in mind that no two paths are alike. Some will back off, some will want to live vicariously through me, but some will find their own paths and with it the courage to just get up and try. As aggravating as the whiners are, we need to still work towards beiong the example.

  5. It’s actually a good idea to do some research before taking action but the action has to start sometime or the research will all be wasted. Continual research is still a good idea as it promotes growth but action is key. I know my pottery would not be as successful as it is without my continual pursuit to promote it and reach new audiences.

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  7. Rebecca: I getcha. I find myself doing it, too. I have to make myself slow down, read the content and then say, “I think I know this.” The harder part is making sure I’m doing it.
    Brad: He was onto something. And I’ve written about this before. It just seems like I need to post a reminder every 6 months or so.
    Patricia: Love this: “Yes, action is scary, but not terminal.”
    Lori: I agree. I’m a researcher myself. Note that the title includes the word “just.” Don’t JUST read it, but do it.
    Donna: Thanks!

  8. Very good advice. One of the things that has stuck with me most firmly from the GO class is (to paraphrase) that a system does not get you organized. USING the system is what works. The same thing applies to marketing.
    One problem is that there is SO MUCH information out there and I tend to read it all. Most of it is duplicative but every once in a while someone will have a different slant or an idea I haven’t seen before and it throws me into a tizzy, not knowing how to incorporate it with the stuff I already know, but may or may not be doing. But, true confessions here, the real problem is that if I would just go ahead and do all the stuff I know I should be doing, I wouldn’t have either the time or the need to keep reading! And, yes, Alyson, your book/blog/classes are the basic foundation of my plan — anything else gets compared to that for usefulness!

  9. I tend to think this “lack of performance” is due to lack of belief. Believing it’s impossible – looking for that one little tidbit that’s going to say – yes, it’s possible, yes, others are doing it! Not just what society has fallen back on – that artist live in poverty and that’s all there is to it.
    One way I find to believe in something is to do it – is to put on those shoes and get out there. Get to the table and paint, then buy an easel and more paints, working in small steps until you are an artist. Doing causes the belief, not just the other way around. And, not just studying it.

  10. It also helps to not take every action that comes before you. In other words, limit oneself to only a few actions, see them to their conclusions – or at least long enough to figure out if they are effective – and not stop and start something new every time something shiny appears.
    That said, getting started is often the hardest part of any project for which one has made the necessary large emotional commitment. Is it fear of failing or fear of succeeding?

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  12. Somehow this week, the things I’ve needed to read and hear have been coming my way. This is one of those things, and I appreciate that you’ve written this. Rest assured, you have reached at least one person with this article. Thank you!

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  14. Yes.. sucking all the info sounds like a very nerdy thing to do – if that is all you do! However I’m probably doing the reverse as I want to truly have something [my art] strong & worth having to offer before marketing toooo well. Hence I spend MOST of my time practising my painting…tho still do some n’letters etc. So it’s the chicken & the egg biz again!!

    Well written & appreciated anyway

    sincerely Lisa Vogel-Harris lisavogelart.com

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