Friday, September 26, 2014

3 Things Aspiring Artists and Writers Do That Make Them Their Own Damned Problem

I've always been an artistic, creative type. I've also always been considered kind of weird. Whether or not my weirdness was a good thing depended entirely on who you were and how you felt about people that are different from what you already know.

I thought that when I finally made the decision to embrace and accept myself as someone that was simply meant to be an artist and a writer, my days of feeling weird were over. I could simply associate myself with other artists and writers . Then I'd have "a people"... a tribe. This tribe would no doubt understand me. I would also understand them and they would never, ever leave me shaking my head, right?

Yeah, not so much. Honestly, one of the saddest discoveries I made when I first decided to throw myself into the pool as far as existing creative communities go was that I don't really like most other artists and writers very much. They keep doing the same things over and over again to piss people off and bug the ever-loving shit out of everyone, including their peers. Things like the following. If you do any of these things, please stop. For the love of God and all that is holy, stop.

1. Over-Promoting Yourself

OK, we get it. You paint pictures. You have a blog. You just self-published your first completed novel. We're happy for you... but we don't need you to sell whatever it is to us all over again every hour on the hour. Telling people that you're working on a project you'd like them to consider supporting is one thing. Acting like a walking, talking commercial every second of every day is another. The fact that you're always trying to sell yourself makes you seem even more annoying.

The thing is, your stuff may seem ground-breaking or earth-shattering to you, but in all likelihood, it's not everything you think it is. We're all a bit blind when it comes to our own work, after all. Even if through some miracle it is everything you think it is, not everyone will be interested and it would probably be best to quietly respect that. How interested were you in actually reading the last piece of crap fiction some person you barely know on Facebook wrote in the first place? And how badly did you want to rip his stupid head off after he made his billionth promotional post about it? Yeah, exactly.

I find that quality generally tends to speak for itself. That said, maybe spend less time trying to force your crappy material on other people and more time actually getting so good at what you do that people just can't resist becoming part of it. Concentrate less on making sure you're posting enough announcements about your latest whatever-it-is on social media and concentrate more on actually showing people how interesting, funny, and worthwhile you are as a person. The interest will soon begin to extend itself to what you do. I promise.

2. Hitting Up Fellow Creatives for Free Services or Support

There was once a time when seeing that a person was a fellow creative made me more likely to accept a random add request from them. I would instantly think: "Oh good, a peer. I can always use more peers on my list." You know what I think these days? "Oh, fuck. Another one." This drastic change in outlook was a direct result of the way so many independent artists and writers not only over-promote themselves, but also seem to think their more successful peers somehow owe them free endorsements, services, or help with that over-promotion.

Case in point, I got a friend request a few months ago from some dude that was obviously an aspiring writer because the last twenty-five posts on his Facebook were in one way or another advertising his new novel (which -- rumor had it -- was horrible). I accepted the request against my better judgment because the person and I had mutual friends. This dipshit proceeded to made a half-assed attempt to feign interest in me as a person for a day or two. Then before I knew it, I woke up to a message from him telling me he'd like me to read his next book and write up a positive endorsement for display on the back cover. He totally acted like this was some amazing privilege I should feel honored to have, too. When I politely told him that I can't/don't provide endorsements on demand, he unfriended me.

As someone that actually earns a living as a writer, I get this kind of thing a lot. Other creatives think I somehow owe it to them to give them a leg up and should feel honored for the opportunity to do so. If they don't expect me to help them advertise, then they expect me to use my reputation to endorse their work or my experience to help them get to the next level. Some even have no qualms flat-out asking me to donate artwork or perform other services that I would normally charge a lot of money for.

You've got to get rid of this "you owe me" attitude when approaching peers that you perceive to be more successful than you are. First of all, if they're anything like me, they probably don't have the money and resources at their disposal that you think they do. I'm very open about the fact that even though I make an OK living as a writer, I still have trouble making ends meet just like the great majority of creatives do, especially those in business for themselves. It's just that no one seems to hear me when I talk about it. Second, no one owes you a damn thing, least of all your fellow creatives. Do your own heavy lifting. The chances are excellent that that person had to.

3. Acting Like Being a Non-Professional Makes You Better Than Your Peers

Writers and artists that create and share their work solely "for its own sake" are great... but so are those of us that do what we do for our living and bring home a paycheck. Lately, it seems like there are a lot of hipster-like independent whatevers out there that are clearly interested in getting somewhere with what they do, because they promote it ad nauseum and are constantly bragging about how popular they think their material is. However, they sneer in the general direction of anyone that's actually getting somewhere with what they're doing.

You probably know the type because it seems like there's one on every Facebook list and blog roll these days. They spend so much time talking about what sell-outs other creatives are for caring about traditional publishing or for accepting opportunities that actually allow them to make money doing what they do. They also apparently have no idea that they're not fooling anyone in the least and that everyone can smell the sour grapes. If you truly didn't care that all of your stuff is self-published or that you can't get anyone to pay you to make your art, it wouldn't be coming up so often.

I know because when I was younger, I used to be that sort of creative and I absolutely remember why. Like many creatives, I didn't think I had what it took to ever make real money writing or designing. I was so into the idea of self-publishing all my things because I didn't really see myself in the same league as "real writers" that get book deals, and columns, and actual paychecks or "real artists" that have their things hanging in actual art galleries. So I flipped both middle fingers at all of those concepts in an effort to make myself feel better about being mediocre.

Looking down my nose at traditional success gave me a really great excuse not to even try to achieve it. I would never have to read a rejection letter or be told "no" after seeking out an opportunity I really wanted. I'd never have to find out whether or not I was actually as talented as I claimed to think I was. Convenient, right? Then I grew up, put on my big girl panties, and got honest with myself about my reasons for thinking there was something so very wrong with caring about actually being successful at the very thing I was pouring so much of my energy into. I'm not saying everyone should define success the same way. What I am saying is that people shouldn't be so quick to write off the possibility of succeeding in a more traditional way as being "only for sell-outs".

Don't get me wrong. I still do a lot of creative things just for fun and self-expression. For instance, this blog doesn't make me a dime. Neither does the great majority of the stuff I produce just because I want to. However, that doesn't mean I'm not proud of the fact that I've achieved some professional success as well. Being able to provide people with something they actually want enough to voluntarily pay for it is pretty awesome. Being able to keep my cell phone connected and pay for food using what I consider to be my one God-given talent is pretty rewarding, too, actually. I will even go so far as to say that feelings like those are really too good to pass up. Just saying.

In Conclusion

So, yeah. If you ever wonder why it is that people don't seem to respond to your work the way you want them to, you're probably doing one or more of these things. If your way of putting yourself out there seems to earn you more ridicule or hatrid than real opportunities and respect, you're probably doing one or more of these things. If you ever deal with the nagging suspicion that other creative people don't really like you or find you annoying... well, one or more of these things is probably still the reason why. I guess that means your options are either to work on it or quit caring.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tell Your Stories, Own Your Experiences

This little graphic goes around online every so often and it always gives me a lot of food for thought. I need to be thinking those thoughts more often. I stay so busy with professional commitments these days. When I'm not writing for clients, I'm probably blogging if I really feel like I have a lot to say on a given subject and firing off frivolous one-liners over social media if I don't. That said, it's been a while since I really sat down and spent more than a few minutes here or there writing any fiction. I've been feeling the urge lately though, as I sometimes do when summer draws to a close. 

It's been so long since I wrote creatively on a regular basis that I've been forced to really ask myself some questions as to what my style is even like anymore. I've been suspecting for a long time that I'm no longer the fanciful, young person that was very concerned with producing things that are beautiful and imaginative. Recent years have found me certain of it. I'm much more raw these days as a person. I say what I really mean instead of beating around the bush. I'm more concerned with whether or not the way I look, the way I live, and the way I express myself is true to who I am, as opposed to specially designed to earn me the most approval possible from the people around me. I feel like the most recent stage in my development has been taking place quietly inside of a sort of cocoon and that now, I am finally ready to emerge.

I can tell that same rawness that permeates my social media feeds these days would also come right out in my writing if I sat down to write a creative piece at this point in my life. As I've mentioned before in brief, I relate much more to an author like Charles Bukowski than I would Jane Austen these days. I feel the urge to do what he does -- tell the real stories of the things that have happened to me in my life. The people I've known, the places I've worked, and the experiences I've been through. I'm good at nothing so much as I'm good at just being me and I would like to see what that looks like in some form of creative writing.

There's just one little obstacle left to consider -- how certain people are going to feel when they recognize themselves in the things I write. It will all be fictionalized, of course. However, these people are very likely to recognize my perception of them and of certain events in the stories I tell and they're not going to be happy about it. That's been a concern of mine for a long time... but the last time I saw this Anne Lamott quote roll through my Facebook feed, I think I realized that no longer care. Why should I? It's not like any of the people I'm thinking of ever stopped to consider my feelings. I'm ready to write my stories and I won't let anyone take them away from me ever again. Let the shit storm begin.