Exactly how hard do I have to Art?*

*The title of this post was brought to you by this wonderful Chuck Wendig post, ARTING HARD LIKE AN ARTFUL MOTHERFUCKER

There is a myth in the creative industries that I always think of as,

“If you build it they will come.”

Which is just a fancy way of saying,

“If you art hard enough eventually people will notice and the transformative powers of capitalism will turn the attention into money.”

This is not a lie but it’s also not true in any useful sense. Let’s look at the problems with it.

  1. Building it isn’t free.
  2. People have to know about it in order to come.
  3. Even when they know about it most of them won’t come.
  4. Some of the ones that do come will be dicks about it.
  5. You can’t pay your landlord in exposure.

1. Building it isn’t free: Some of you might be ready to jump in and point out that I’m a writer and writing is free. No it’s not. It is one of the cheapest ways to art but it’s not free. I need food, and a device to write on and electricity to power it and internet access to get whatever I write into the world. Even if I wrote with pen and paper, and stole the pen from Argos, and scavenged the paper from recycling bins, and photographed it on a borrowed phone, and posted it using free wifi; I’d still need food and a roof over my head. Also there’s a limit to how many times you can borrow a phone.

2. People have to know about it in order to come: The internet is full of people trying to get other people to look at stuff. Any budding artist is just one more voice in the cacophony. Maybe you get lucky and a tweet goes viral? Perhaps someone famous happens on your work and boosts it? Or neither of those things happens and the same ten friends see everything you do and nobody else ever knows about it.

3. Even when they know about it most of them won’t come: You’d be amazed at how hard it is to get people to look at your stuff. Even when your stuff is finished. Even when they know and like you. Even if it’s the kind of stuff they like. Even if they’ve said they’ll look at it. Most of them just don’t. Maybe they’re worried that it will suck and then they’ll have to tell you that it sucks or lie to you and watch as you make a fool of yourself. Maybe they’re just busy. Maybe it’s just that tendency to underestimate the people you know because how special can they be if they know you?

4. Some of the ones that do come will be dicks about it: Everyone knows that you should never look at the comments. That’s because people are dicks in the comments. If you do attract the attention of someone other than that same ten friends who look at everything you make then eventually someone is going to be a dick about it. They will complain that you’ve made it badly, or that it’s the wrong sort of thing, or that you’re the wrong person to be making it. And if it’s visual art there’s a good chance someone will steal it. And if it gets stolen and you object they’ll be dicks about that too.

5. You can’t pay your landlord in exposure: I have no idea how to monetise art. Every attempt I’ve made has failed. Some people seem to do it effortlessly. Maybe you should ask one of them. Or better yet ask one of those people that you can see working at it because they have skills rather than privilege. Maybe they’ll have some useful advice. I can’t help. I’m stuck here trying to write better because it’s all I know how to do.

If you have enjoyed this bitter rant on the subject of creativity why not prove me wrong by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi. Or pop over to the Shop of Doom (only open till May 8th) and buy yourself something nice.

Advertisements

Art and work and money

I am very bad at turning work into money. It’s a terrible flaw for anyone but it’s particularly bad for someone who has as much trouble getting any work done as I do. I’d say it was a problem with turning art into money but it really does apply to all the work I’ve ever done. It’s just that it’s even harder with art.

It feels impossible but I know that it’s not. There are people who make money from art. A few of them make a lot, some of them make a living and there’s a lot of people who make something.

I’ve been writing novels for more than a decade and writing has been my main focus for two years and I have made precisely fuck all. I don’t even feel any closer to making money. At least it’s not costing me very much. I spent about six years making jewellery and while I did sell some of it I’m pretty sure that I never actually turned a profit. I probably made a loss. I spent more than 10 years painting and I never sold anything to anyone I wasn’t related to.

I have to admit that I was never much of a painter. I tried hard but I wasn’t very good. I was much better at making jewellery but my physical limitations didn’t help and I was too poor to afford the best quality materials.

I am good at writing. There are no financial or physical limitations keeping me from success. But somehow I still can’t seem to make any money. I’m not saying there’s no money to be made. I’m saying that I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body.

I’ve said in the past that I didn’t want to self publish and I’ll reiterate that it’s not because I think there’s something wrong with self publishing. It’s because I don’t want to spend time that I could be writing on all the other stuff that goes with self publishing. I want to be a writer I don’t want to run a business. Traditional publishing is an effective way to subcontract all the work involved with turning a manuscript into a book without having to pay people up front. Self publishing means either doing it all yourself, or paying people, or guilting people into doing it for ‘exposure’ but fuck that noise.

I’ve looked into a Patreon to support this blog and thought about setting up a Kickstarter so I can publish my first novel but I don’t think I have enough followers to make either work. And I am shitty at self promotion.

So here’s to another year of writing for free in the hope that I’ll learn the alchemy of popularity that turns art into gold.

Advice to writers – tribes

One of the great things about writing is that it’s an art form with very few pre-requisites. You need to be able to read and write. You need something to write with. If you want anyone to appreciate your work you need access to an audience. Writing well is a bit harder though. Staying sane while writing well is harder still.

It helps if you don’t try to do it alone.

The first person you need is the one who believes in you. It’s not always easy to believe in yourself when you’re trying to be creative. It helps if you have someone else’s belief to push you onward when your own belief fails.

Adam Savage (yes the Mythbuster) talked on one of his fantastic youTube videos* about how a maker needs at least one person who believes in them. They don’t have to understand you or the things you make but they have to believe that you have value and your creations have worth. To that I would add that they don’t have to be physically close to you, online friends count. They don’t have to still be alive, the memory of a parent or grandparent who believed can be a light that you hold within.

If you’ve just realised that you don’t have that one believer in your life then don’t panic. You can find one if you start by being one. Find other creative people and believe in them. You’ll find that some of them will believe in you in return. You’ll also find that it’s easier to believe in yourself because you’re strengthening that part of your personality.

Once you have that one person who believes in you it’s time to fill out the rest of your tribe. You need people who face the same challenges as you. Even if they don’t meet them in the same way. So if you’re a writer you need other writers, if you’re having trouble balancing creativity and a busy life then you need others who’ve been through that, if you have to deal with mental health issues or disability getting in the way then you need people who’ve been through that.

You need people who are following the same path. So if you’re writing fanfiction you need to have some fanfiction friends in your tribe. If you’re planning to self publish then you need to reach out to others on that path. If you want to go the traditional publishing route then you need others who understand the pain of querying. When you’re writing your first novel then it helps to be around other new writers.

You need people who like the stuff that you like. They don’t have to be writers but it does help if they’re makers in some way. If you write scifi then you need friends who get scifi, people that you can go to movies with and binge watch TV with and discuss books with. You need people with whom you can get into knock down drag out fights about who’s the best Doctor, or Star Trek ship captain and whether Malcolm Reynolds is a bigger scoundrel than Han Solo.**

And finally your tribe needs diversity and generations. You need to reach out to people younger and older than you. You need people from the widest possible range of backgrounds and experiences and cultures and ethnicities. You need beginners and old hands and every level of experience in between. And you need to listen to them. People will tell you about their experiences both in creativity and life and you need to listen and respect. Not only will you be a better writer but you’ll be a better person.

Reach out to people. Find your tribe. Support them and accept their support in return. Be there for them But a word of warning. In your journey you may meet people who seem to be part of your tribe but who never repay. They’re happy to accept your praise and lean on you and others in your tribe but when the call for help goes out they’re never there. It’s ok to let them go. You don’t have to call them out. You don’t have to confront them. You can just withdraw from them. Concentrate your attention on the people who know they’re part of a tribe not the people who think you’re part of their entourage.

* I can’t find the exact video but here’s a link to the channel, Tested. I recommend it.

** The correct answers are: all of them, Sulu (yes he counts), and yes but Han has the cooler ship.

Life Lessons: You can enjoy stuff you’re not good at

When I was a kid I hated being bad at stuff. I hated it so much that I would avoid doing things that I was bad at. Which is a problem because when you’re a kid you’re bad at most stuff and you can’t get better at stuff if you don’t practice it.

One of the most important lessons I learned was that if I wanted to be good at something I would have to endure being bad at it first. I would force myself to practice things in the hope that I would eventually get good enough to enjoy it. That’s a good attitude to have but it’s not the complete lesson.

The complete lesson is that, with the right attitude, you can enjoy being bad at something.

Which brings me to World of Tanks. I’ve been playing it a lot recently and on a good day I’m kind of sort of ok at it. On a bad day I’m terrible. I will never be a world class player. I will probably never be great at it. I might eventually be quite good (probably not though). But that doesn’t matter because I can enjoy it anyway.

Sometimes it’s a tough game to enjoy. I’m in the wrong tank on the wrong map with the wrong team and the wrong attitude. Sometimes I’m playing my socks off and I still lose because my teammates are donkeys. Sometimes it feels like I’m faced with a team of psychic tank drivers who move out of the way the moment I hit fire.

But then sometimes I’m the psychic tanker hitting tanks I can’t even see because I’ve worked out where they are and sometimes I’ll carry that team of donkeys to victory anyway. Best of all are the battles when I’m playing well and so is everyone else.

Here’s my advice on how to enjoy stuff you’re not good at:

  1. Accept that you have to suck in order to improve.
  2. Accept that there are some things you may never be brilliant at.
  3. Accept that you’re going to lose a lot.
  4. Realise that the more you lose the sweeter those victories are.
  5. Take full ownership of your wins even when you know it was through luck or the incompetence of others.
  6. Try to make new and interesting mistakes, if only for variety.
  7. Remember that it’s not the end of the world.
  8. Forget about external validation.
  9. It’s ok to laugh at yourself when you fuck up in entertaining ways.
  10. It’s also ok to laugh when other people fuck up in entertaining ways but only if you also laugh at yourself.
  11. Sometimes it won’t be fun it will just be frustrating and it’s totally ok to go and do something else for while.

Advice to a young writer part 1

This is based on some advice that I came up with to help my daughter. She loves telling stories and writes poems and fan fics but she’s having trouble finishing things. If there’s one thing I’m good it it’s helping people finish things.

Since her problem is with writing that’s what I’m going to focus on but hopefully this will be helpful for other arts.

There will be many more parts. Each one will set some homework.

You are not alone

The very features of the mind that make a person creative also make it harder to stick to just one thing. The very imagination that flits from place to place and links together disparate ideas and images is also as distractible as a puppy in a room full of squirrels.

All artists have trouble finishing things. All artists try to find methods to harness their imagination to the task. Some struggle with it their whole careers, some beat the problem so comprehensively that you would think they had never had to fight it at all.

Vincent Van Gogh was so prolific he could complete several paintings on a good day, but he sold only one in his lifetime and had to be supported by his brother. Leonardo Da Vinci was a chronic procrastinator who completed only 15 works but was supported by a series of wealthy and powerful patrons.

But they were painters. How about writers? The two greatest writers of humorous sci fi/fantasy of my lifetime were Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. At his most prolific Terry was completing two or more novels a year as well as countless short stories and articles. He was so successful he had to change banks because he filled the old one up. Douglas Adams wrote some of the greatest Doctor Who scripts ever, he wrote the groundbreaking radio drama Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he also wrote several novels and a book on natural history. He was such a chronic procrastinator that some of the episodes of the Hitchhiker’s where completed minutes before they had to be recorded. He once said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” One of his novels took three and a half years to write, but most of the actual writing was done in the last two weeks, and most of that was done over a single weekend.

My point is that having trouble finishing your stories does not mean that you are not a writer. It means that you have the same problem that every other writer has. And because it’s a problem that every writer has there are loads of solutions to it. Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing in advance which one will work for you so it’s going to be trial and error.

Homework

Your first task is to research some solutions for yourself. Pick a couple of your favourite writers and do some googling. You’re looking for interviews, articles and blog posts that talk about how they work. For example if you google “Derek Landy on writing” you’ll find the writer of the Skulduggery Pleasant books giving his thoughts on writing and answering questions about his method.

 

A moment of Peace

Just occasionally in my pursuit of displacement activity I find a few moments of peace. I forget that I should be writing or querying, I forget that there are chores that need doing, I forget that there’s a reality TV star in the whitehouse and that the British Prime Minister called a snap election to avoid fraud charges and that Britain is leaving the EU and that the NHS is heading toward full privatisation and that basically we are all fucked.

Whenever I question the value of my writing I remember those moments of peace. Because it’s reading a novel, or a comic, or watching a TV show or film that gives me those moments. One purpose of art, any art, is to give us peace.

There are other purposes. Sometimes art tells us truths that are too unpalatable to learn by another method. Sometimes art turns pain and loss into beauty to memorialise what should never be forgotten. Sometimes art elevates our soul and gives us hope that we are something more than just unusually violent, hairless apes. Sometimes art is a distraction from pain, or boredom or fear.

So I am going to write my stupid stories without feeling that I need to apologise because I’m not solving world hunger or saving the environment. I’d love to do those things but I don’t have the skills, or the knowledge and I don’t have the first clue how to get them. If I can create something that gives other people a little peace then I will have done something worthy with my life.