Journalism Tips: The Wall (and I’m not talking about Pink Floyd)

The other day I reached out to one of my favorite up and coming music writers to inquire as to the reason I had not seen them on social media as of late. I waited somewhat impatiently while the three dots on my phone screen told me they were writing a reply, and even though I had an idea what the response would be I was still surprised to see it appear in front of my eyes. “I feel like a fraud,” they told me. “I’ve spent the last few years trying to become a music writer, but I feel the same as I did on the day I started, except now I know some musicians who have found success. I think my success, or whatever you call the progress I have been able to make, is more due to their rising notoriety than the strength of my words. If that is true, and I think it may be, then how have I grown in all this time?”

This isn’t the first time I have heard someone in music writing put themselves down in this way, though in certain circumstances the reasons people begin to question their own growth and progress are slightly different. Sometimes it’s not that they have witnessed musicians they know find success, but other writers. I’ve spoken to numerous site editors and founder who have built great sites that help aspiring writers gain the recognition they need to begin pitching outlets that are able to pay their contributors while the people the editor and/or founder struggle to make the same magic happen in their own careers. It’s a frustrating situation to believe yourself to be in, and it’s not hard to understand why it makes so many people question their desire to continue working in writing. If all you do is push others into the place they want to be without managing to move your own place in the hierarchy of the music business, then why should you continue doing what you do?

It’s important to understand that everyone in music writing – and probably everyone in the entertainment business – finds themselves in this position from time to time. Call it a creative rut or a professional crisis, but we all encounter what I like to call ‘The Wall’ in our individual journeys through life. This wall can be birthed from many sources, but its function in your life is largely the same across the board. ‘The Wall’ exists to make you question yourself and all you have done to help others because a very primitive part of our brain is telling us we need to ensure we get ahead at all costs. Modern society is a world different than the ages where people had to fight to get anything in life, but the part of our brains that evolved to help us survive are still adapting to the way life works in our globally interconnected society. Individuals no longer have to fend for themselves out of necessity, nor do we have to avoid helping others because we run the risk of preventing ourselves from finding success. In fact, the opposite tends to be true more often than not. Helping one another success is the fastest way to get ahead in this industry, and just because you don’t rise up as fast as those you surround yourself with does not mean you are in any way, shape, or form less than them.

Here’s the kicker: Knowing that ‘The Wall’ exists and knowing what can cause it does not in any way guarantee you won’t encounter this mental block time and time again in your professional journey. I’m about to turn 29 myself, and a few months after that I will celebrate 10 years of work in the world of music writing. In all that time I can count at least five instances where I found myself in a creative drought where I lacked imagination and motivation as a result of feelings I had towards the success of people around me. I could spend months or even years promoting someone’s talent, but as soon as I felt they surpassed me in some way – big or small, doesn’t matter –  a little piece of me began to turn on them. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for my friends as much as it was that I selfishly wanted their success to be my own because I felt their getting ahead somehow meant I was on a plateau or otherwise not progressing myself. What I have had to remind myself time and time again, just like I am reminding you now, is that all of that nonsense lives in your head.

No matter how you feel about yourself right now, know you are worthy of this industry. If anything, this industry is not worthy of you. Don’t let the progress of others lead you to believe you are stuck in place, and do not let the fact you have not lived up to your idea of what success should look like make you think you are not successful. You are a success. By taking as little as a single step toward chasing your dreams you’ve done more than the vast majority of people ever even attempt, and with each additional step taken you inch closer to the goal and further into the rarified air experienced only by those who don’t let their fear of failure prevent them from taking action. You are worthy. You are good. You are what this industry needs. Don’t lose hope.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.