Fine, It's Called “Collaborate With Others.”
Having had my ideas of being the lone mad genius smashed to smithereens, this chapter proceeds to set the smithereens on fire and, once cremated, sweep them into a tiny jar with the label “Here lie the remains of the idea of being a hermit and an artist.”
Hermit artists may occur in nature, but no one has ever seen one. Because they don't go anywhere or do anything with anybody.
I saw the names C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in this chapter and pounced on it. I love their work and I'd gladly follow in their footsteps if only I knew what those footsteps were. Evidently their footsteps led to regular meetings with other great writers over a period of seventeen years. This didn't make their works derivative of each other, but helped drive a passion to improve and continue writing.
This sounds like the kind of writing crit group I'd love to belong to. A place of mutual respect and accountability (that the know-it-all guy who's more concerned with being the alpha than being actual help doesn't attend).
I am collaborating a bit already – my amazing artist Mia takes my ideas for the comic and pushes them farther as she illustrates, and I love getting her feedback and looping her input into the storyline as well. I want her to have her creative freedom as well, even though it is work-for-hire. As a bonus, I'm learning so much!
My next step (ugh, I'm getting behind on all these steps) will be to try again on the writing crit group front. Or some kind of creative group. I know so many amazingly talented, creative people but I don't actually see them in the same place at the same time.
Just a reminder, I'm giving away one copy of Jeff Goins' bestselling book, Real Artists Don't Starve, to one commenter on this blog series. So, leave me a comment!
Have you found a good crit group? Any tips for me?
P.S. I have some errands to run before I can post my very linky catch-up post, stay tuned!
a.k.a. I Swear You're Trying to Kill Me.
This chapter deals with creating in the right place, near the sort of people who will encourage your craft, where you will make connections and help other people make connections.
Okay, I've had my teacher baggage dredged up, I've hauled my past failures into perspective, I've even gotten to work on projects that I intend to actually show people – and now you want me to be social, too?!?!
One thing I love about this book (it is turning into a rather painful sort of love) is that it's giving me solutions that I honestly have not seriously considered before. It's also showing me where I've wanted the myth of the Starving Artist to be true, because I'm much more comfortable when things aren't my fault. And my isolation as a creator and as a human being in general is my own fault.
Maybe in the past I had good reason to prefer solitude and keep everything I cared about to myself, but now those habits are only hurting me. And having that pointed out is painful too.
I suppose that if it's going to hurt in either case, I'd rather have the healing pain of dealing with it than the slow rot of pretending nothing is wrong.
I don't think that right where I am could be considered a Mecca of the exact thing I'm trying to get into – but one of the good things about being interested in many art forms and attempting to synthesize them into a cohesive and unique whole is that what there is around here, I can use.
Comic cons are interesting and full of passionate fans of everything. Even the relatively small local cons are increasingly about more than comics, branching out into gaming, various TV and movie fandoms, and animation too. True, I spend the entire event in my booth being an awesome vendor, but maybe I could make more of an effort to go to the peripheral events. And there is an arts community – in this rural area, there are still county fairs with art exhibits of various kinds, and there are writers, maybe not in my genre but very respectable in their own genres. I could try a little harder to find people who would also understand the value of art and creating.
What about you? Do you have any sort of local creative scene you could get more involved in? And is that question as uncomfortable for you to deal with as it is for me? Leave me a comment and I'll enter you in the drawing to win a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve.
Am I even ready for this? I'm still dealing with teacher baggage from the last few chapters! Okay, here we go, all about cultivating patrons.
We're out of the Mindset section and into Market, which is something that definitely does not get covered in art class but is vital nonetheless if artists want to not starve. It opens with an Elvis story that I hadn't read before, and which I will not retell here because it really ought to be read in context to get everything out of it. But I will quote this bit: “If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate – a person who sees your potential and believes in your work.”
So, lonely, misunderstood artists slaving away in service of nothing but their passion who suddenly emerge from their solitude and strike the world still with their brilliant creation? That's a myth. What apparently really happens is that they emerge to find, like Rip Van Winkle, the world has moved on and their idea has already been done by someone with better publicity. At the time it looks and feels like someone “stole their idea,” but maybe it's just that they had no patron.
So how do you go about getting a patron? There may be some slaving away in solitude involved after all, because you have to have some kind of work to show that you're worth the trouble. And being able to take and use constructive criticism is a huge plus.
Manners are also a huge plus. Nobody owes you the time of day, so thank people for their interest in you and the time they spend helping you. Don't give them any reasons to regret making eye contact. And one of these people (evidently) will be so impressed by your work and your good attitude that they'll get as invested in your work as you are.
Now, there's nothing that special about an artist interested in his own work, but an artist plus another person interested in it? That's unusual. Make it another person who knows the genre or media well enough to make a reliable judgment about whether the work is good or not, and you have an influencer. And without one, the creative work won't spread far enough to make the impact you want it to make.
So, what's your project that's going to showcase your best skills to potential patrons, and is there any sort of project that you'd be interested in seeing?
Remember, commenters on this blog series are entered to win a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve by Jeff Goins. Just comment before the series is over!
Finally, Something I Know How to Do.
This chapter is all about stubbornness. While I still have trouble knowing when to be stubborn, I do know at least that I've got it in me.
Yesterday's post forced me to confront a scary truth about myself. I started off this book thinking sure, I know who I am and I'm secure in my art and vision and message and all that. But yesterday, I realized that I'm really still thinking like the girl I was in college – firmly convinced that I'm not worth anyone's time, just plugging away trying to learn more, without hope of “getting discovered” or whatever. My teachers all said there was way too much competition in the arts and hardly anybody made a living at it, after all. I was there to learn to draw and to please my teachers, and when those motivations got stripped away, I quit.
I walked away from a full scholarship and deliberately failed a class because the final exam was to show up and sign in and leave – the teacher wouldn't even be there.
In retrospect, it wasn't a great decision. But I was a teenager used to being treated as an adult at home, and I was insulted. All semester, I had driven an hour to get to the campus, had a morning class, and then waited around for two hours before that class started. I did all my homework with excellence and left bored every day. I'd tried to talk to the teacher (also my advisor) after class about some kind of extra credit or project or anything I could do, and when another student started just talking over me, I was the one told to “calm down.” All semester, I'd fought the feeling that the class – maybe all my classes – were a waste of my time, and that “exam” proved it.
I left that college believing that I wasn't worth the time to teach properly, and now that I'd blown my scholarship on this place, I couldn't afford to go to a college that was even equipped to teach what I wanted to learn anyway. The only thing I felt confident in anymore was English class, so, after a couple years of failing everything else I tried, I went to a different college and enrolled as an English major.
I slayed being an English major. Any time I wanted to quit, I remembered what it was like to wait tables and be screamed at by my manager. I remembered what it was like when my great-aunt – who I was a live-in caretaker for briefly before we realized she had dementia – grabbed the car keys and ran away from home for an entire day. I remembered what it was like to fail at caring for her and come back home with everything I'd worked so hard for as a teenager gone, with no way to get it back. And I graduated with honors.
In my last post, I tried to describe the push that makes decent work into art. Now, this chapter is talking about that weirdly competitive zone you get into when you aren't going to let it beat you – whatever “it” may be. Other people, your circumstances, your own doubts or whatever it may be, you won't allow them to stay in your way. Jeff Goins says, “When you harness your strategic stubbornness, you give the world a reason to believe in your work.”
It's funny, because I don't think of myself as competitive and I'd just as soon opt out of a “game” entirely as soon as it seems like I'm getting dragged into something pointless (social status games come to mind). But when I'm up against something that I want to beat, I'm all in. Also, if I lose in one arena, I simply shift to the next arena I can win... and I may not be terribly concerned with any rules that don't actually disqualify me from winning. (When you grow up with brothers, you learn to be suspicious of extra “rules” that give other people advantages.)
I think everyone has this in them. It just needs to be tapped into and applied in the right way – not to trample people, but to build up your own life above whatever rut you may have fallen into.
What triggers your competitive streak, and how can you harness that to drive you on to where you want to be?
At the end of this series, I'll be giving away a copy of Jeff Goins' bestselling book, Real Artists Don't Starve. To enter, just leave me a comment on any post in the series about the book. If I draw your name, I'll email you and get your address so I can mail it directly to you.
Or you could just buy the book. It's worth buying, and if you bought through my link you'd be supporting my site since I'm an Amazon Affiliate now. Out of all the things I could be reviewing right now, this book has enough material to prompt a 14-part series from me, so imagine what kind of insights you'd be getting.
Heading into chapter 3 of Jeff Goins' Real Artists Don't Starve and I've hit big trouble. Specifically, in this axiom of the New Renaissance: “The Starving Artist believes talent is enough. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.”
It's not that I think I'm so smart and talented that I'm done learning – quite the opposite. I love learning. I'd have stayed in college and collected more degrees if I could've afforded it. I have a lot of respect for teachers. I'll learn just about anything a person is willing to teach. I'd love to apprentice.
Unfortunately most of my heroes are dead.
C.S. Lewis – Christian fantasy writer whose work has made it to film (posthumously, but still). Solid mythology and theology, and beautifully clear writing. If only I could learn such clear-mindedness.
J. R. R. Tolkien – Christian, epic fantasy writer, fantastic films from his works, yes, but what I really want to know about is being a linguist and (IIRC) mapmaker. I so want to create languages and realistic maps of my worlds. There is no telling how long it would take me to gain even a shadow of his mastery of worldbuilding and more importantly, culture-building.
Walt Disney – holy cow, y'all. Inventor, artist, voice actor, showman – if there was an occasion, he rose to it. If there was a need, he threw himself in and filled it. If there was a problem, he dug in until it was solved. He had grand visions and he saw them through. If I could learn one thing from that incredible man... who am I kidding, I'd be happy to fetch coffee and doughnuts for him every two minutes if it meant I could hear him just talk about how he kept going in the face of so many setbacks and how he brought people around to help him achieve so much.
Steve Jobs – The iPad changed my life. I had always wanted a “computer book” like Penny had in the Inspector Gadget cartoon (and now you know far too much about me and my childhood) and the iPad was everything I thought it would be. Apple is now getting too fiddly for me, and drifting wide from the simple unbreakable elegance of Jobs' vision. He was the visionary of my generation. I want to know if it's possible to duplicate the “reality distortion field” he was rumored to have, because that would be a cool superpower.
By the way, all these great masters and many more are featured in the book. I was so excited to read a few stories about them I hadn't come across before, and see how lessons could be drawn from their lives that I could apply to my own.
For living masters, I greatly admire the imagination and attention to detail of Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda, who may or may not be competitors in the realm of anime feature films in Japan. Their work is thematically and stylistically very different, but they both have such an incredible grasp of the universal and the specific of human nature. The movies are for Japanese audiences, but they translate so well. (Though Ponyo makes more sense with the sound off. I have no idea what Ponyo's dad was muttering about and his explanations were clear as mud).
Anyway, unless something significant changes around here, I'm not going to get an apprenticeship with any masters of animation in Japan. And it's not likely that I'll come in contact with any in America either - John Lasseter comes to mind. He's done so much amazing work with Disney and Pixar, and pulled them both free of the muck of formulaic storytelling while still delivering stories that have that universal and specific magic in them. I can see where he's learned from Miyazaki there. Probably the thing I'd have to be most concerned about if I did have a chance to learn directly from him is how to not just copy how he does things but to also remain my own person with my own vision, too.
To be honest I'd have that problem with any master. I really do have a ton of respect for teachers, despite a few who seemed to try really hard to disillusion me. And I can see how special it is when someone who's achieved mastery in their chosen arena takes the time to teach someone, because teaching is the most time-consuming, frustrating, crazy-making thing there is. If the precious gift of their time, attention, and interest was directed toward me, of all people, I don't know what I'd do.
I guess I could write some non-stalkerish letters to people I admire who may actually write back. And finishing one of these ambitious projects would be good, so... back to the grind!
There is much more to say about the book, so come back tomorrow, and if you want to enter to win a copy for yourself, just leave a comment on any post in this series. For instance, I'd like to know who your heroes are. Who would you love to learn from, and what do you want to know?
Hey y'all, I intended to carry the posts through the weekend as well but... looks like weekends are not particularly good for writing. So I'm trying things and learning as I go, which beats sitting around and wondering why I'm not getting anywhere.
Today's chapter deals with "Originality" vs. "Theft"
No, we are not talking about passing off someone else's work as your own or pretending it's okay to post unattributed works. But this chapter is about bringing together everything your know and love about many art forms in your own work rather than forge ahead trying to create original art out of pure nothingness. With thousands of years of recorded human history and art, the odds are against that approach anyway.
For example, I am not reproducing the entirety of the book here but rather giving an only slightly spoilerish review of each chapter, plus my own thoughts about what I learned and what that means for my next step.
The concept of bringing together the best of many disciplines is probably easier for polymaths to put into practice - if you're already into everything and trying several art forms, fusing them together is really the next logical thing to do. Here's a quote from Jeff Goins' bestseller Real Artists Don't Starve about the sort of "theft" that's okay in art: "The best artists steal, but they do so elegantly, borrowing ideas from many sources and arranging them in new and interesting ways."
I like that - a lot. It's what I've been trying to do already, and it's a big part of the reason I want to get into animation for my stories. Animation calls for such a huge variety of skills to bring the project to life - writing, of course, and drawing, but also acting, music, sound effects, light, color, mood, an understanding of what's simultaneously universal and specific about people. I'm always baffled by people who look down on animation as just being cartoons. Have they never really considered all the vast array of talents and the sheer amount of work that it takes to put together even a simple cartoon?
One thing I thought that this chapter could have dealt with more is the need to push the work that you're creating. It's mentioned as a matter of course, but it's such a crucial aspect of creating art that it may need its own chapter. But then again, it's a hard thing to quantify in words. Let me see...
The push - when you've done enough and it's decent, but there's an itch in the back of your mind when you just about know the direction your work is going. You could almost see the next mark to make, or the next bit to peel away, but at the same time, it's risky because you have an equal chance of destroying your decent work while trying to make it art. Is it worth pushing when you don't know where the edge is?
In a word, yes. When your work is in your hands and you feel that itch, that almost-in-tune feeling just before it sings or it cracks, push. Push to the edge and don't stop too soon.
Okay, y'all know by now that I am giving away a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve, right? Here's how to put your name in the hat for the giveaway: Leave a comment with your name on any of the blog posts in this series about the book. Counting the introduction and the conclusion, that will be 14 posts. I'll try to post daily but I may not make weekends.
I'm not exactly thrilled with this blog layout, because it isn't very obvious how to leave comments, but if you click on the number of comments in the top right corner of the post, you should get there.
Thanks so much for reading, and I'll see you tomorrow!
Chapter One: Becoming an Artist
The first myth Jeff Goins tackles is "The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one."
Being an artist is a process of continually becoming one, yes. Sometimes I think that we need to say we practice art, like a doctor practices medicine or a lawyer practices law. It's all practice - applying what we know to the best of our ability, but the scope is too great to presume we ever master it.
And here's an awesome concept: "At any point in your story, you are free to reimagine the narrative you are living.... adopting an entirely new identity - or a very old one."
(Somewhat modified quote there, note the 4 dot ellipsis indicating the abridgment of the original passage)
That idea is worth sitting with for a bit. If you could be anyone in the world you wanted to be, without changing your external circumstances, who would you be? Who would you enjoy being? What sort of person has a shot at climbing out of circumstances like yours (because I know some joker is thinking, oh, I'd love to be the sort of person who's already having a great life, thanks!)?
For me, I'm wondering if I'm adhering to rules and norms that aren't good for me. Maybe guidelines I've outgrown or warnings that are useful for a completely different personality than mine, or tips for communicating to people that aren't really in the audience I want to speak to.
Right here in chapter one, I found enough reason and inspiration and a kick off the couch to restart this blog. I've been poking around with rough drafts and groaning about it for weeks. Yeah, I know I need to write the blog, it's not like I can't write... but I can't make it perfect, and amazing, and relatable, and nobody reads the thing anyway... I know what I need now is consistency, let me get a whole bunch of perfect, timely posts written ahead of time... Well that one's too late to post now...
And on and on it went.
So instead of putting off writing this blog forever because I'm so scared of it not being perfect, I'm just writing the thing. If I could be any sort of person in the world, I'd be the sort of person who is free to ditch things that don't work, but who doesn't look down on the things that do. Freaking out about perfection doesn't get the job done. Posting what's on my mind without first agonizing over whether my social filter was in place when I wrote it - I don't know yet if that works or not, I haven't tried it long.
Useful Questions from This Chapter
I think that the best way to become an artist is to start with who you already are and work from there to who you are supposed to be. Along the way, you'll create. You'll practice art. And while you're practicing, you'll be becoming.
So who are you? What rules are you following? At this point, are they helping you or hurting you? What "can't" you do that you actually need to be doing? Who are you really supposed to be?
Something really fun here is that at the same time as I was reading Real Artists Don't Starve, I was also reading Overcome by Clayton King and The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. These were good to have on hand for this chapter. Also, for us introverts, might I also recommend Susan Cain's Quiet.
If you're interested in buying any of those books, I'd greatly appreciate it if you used my links! I'm just now experimenting with the Amazon Affiliate thing and I'd get a few cents commission if you do. The great thing about the program is that they have so much to choose from, I don't feel any pressure to promote anything I can't get behind 100%.
I will be giving away a copy of Real Artists Don't Starve to one lucky commenter on this blog! Please leave a comment on any post in this series about the book if you want your name in the hat. There may even be a literal hat involved. I'll see if I have a nice steampunk top hat left around anywhere. I will announce the winner here and in the newsletter, so you might want to think about signing up for that too, especially if you have any interest in webcomics, cosplay, and comic cons.
I'm posting this now instead of making it perfect, so... hang on, this is going to be rough.
Hey and welcome to the big bloggery relaunchy thing! I have had enough keyboard freakouts and have arrived at the conclusion that I don't care anymore.
Well, I can't stop caring, exactly, but I think I can quit worrying about whether what I write will be taken wrong because I phrase things weirdly, take a different angle, don't get the givens, etc. Like anyone is going to be that invested in my little no-name two-bit corner of the internet. Sorry-not-sorry -- writing “properly” is not my concern anymore.
(Was that the sound of the entire English faculty at my alma mater gasping in horror? … Nah, couldn't have been.)
Anyway, IRL, I try so hard to be nice and normal and not irreparably damage anybody's tender psyche that my tender psyche is feeling the stress. So here, I'll just go ahead and say stuff.
That said, I will try to post things worth reading about.
One of those things is Jeff Goins' new book, Real Artists Don't Starve.
This book was not necessarily what I thought I wanted, and it certainly wasn't what I expected, but it's exactly what I needed to trade in my excuses for progress. I don't want this post to run too long, so instead of a full review today, I'll be posting a chapter-by-chapter series about it.
Way to go on the controversial title, Jeff! Artists everywhere are freaking out because the nobility inherent in their poverty is being called out like a zit on the nose of the spokesmodel for acne cream. And that's just the title. The inside is packed with much-needed, well-researched, and highly entertaining mythbusting regarding art, artists, and what it takes to be successful.
And by “successful” I mean “successful.” As in achieving what you set out to do. Please don't do that thing where you take out the word you don't want to consider and replace it with the word you actually have a problem with.
The controversy I've seen here is when people take out “successful” and replace it with “rich.” One, those are not synonymous, and two, how is there really an actual problem with being rich? If “all you want to do is create art without worrying about money” then getting rich would do that, but you could also successfully meet that goal by living rent-free in your mom's basement. YMMV.
What does this mean for us all?
So, back to the book! I'm going through it and taking notes, chapter by chapter, and if you've bought it, I strongly advise you to do the same. I'll be posting my notes in this blog series, AND I have also gone ahead and bought a copy to give away to one of you lucky people! It should be here next week. Comment on this blog if you want your name in the hat to win that copy, and this is where I'll announce the winner so you'd better be back with some way for me to get your address or I'll have to pick someone else. You can also sign up for my newsletter to be sure you get that notification.
I'll be posting daily through this series, and then going on as long as I have anything good to continue with, so, see you tomorrow!
P.S. As I have quite a backlog of books that I've read, considered, and have thoughts to share about with you all, I have just now today become an Amazon Affiliate! This means that if you click on my link to buy a book, I eventually get paid a few cents for each book that led to a sale. Here's the official disclaimer Amazon tells me I have to post on my site:
“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”
So, we'll see how it goes.
This is a kind of scary article to write, but somebody has to say it. You all are close to my heart and I know that this can be a temptation for you – it's been tempting me, too - and a regret to make your heart sick later. If any of you reading have participated in this, I understand that it's almost impossible to go against your own nature and do the right thing instead of the popular thing. I just want you to be aware of how it starts so you can catch yourself before it's too late.
If you think this is in response to Situation X that got all that publicity awhile back, or that blowup on such & such social media, or that other person who did this and then all their friends jumped in... no. It isn't in response to any one of them. It's in response to the greater pattern I've seen online. This is everywhere.
People will do things in a mob that they would never do in their right minds. For example, you, by yourself, wouldn't stalk somebody and send them harassing notes just because they disagreed with you. You, individually, probably wouldn't even raise your voice in a disagreement. Most likely, if asked to interview someone you disagreed with strongly, would behave like a civilized person. You'd sit down, have a coffee, hash out exactly what the points of difference are, discover what you have in common, and either compromise on some points or shake hands and walk away, still in disagreement. There would not be name-calling or punching in any direction or any doubt that you are both human beings with equal rights.
Yeah, that doesn't happen online. Online, it's too hard to look at words on a screen and think, “That's a fellow human being, with innate human dignity and worth. They did not arrive at their perspective for no reason or for a hateful reason. They are probably pretty decent people overall and not so different from me.” Nobody thinks of that. Instead, they let their imagination and preconceived ideas run away with them – and most people tend to be worst-case scenario thinkers. With no evidence to the contrary, it's too easy to believe that somebody who disagrees with you, a decent human being, must not be a decent human being themselves.
Cue the Outrage
Somebody posts something about how offended they are, how wrong “those” people are, how “that kind of people” shouldn't be allowed whatever the topic of the hour is, and within a few minutes, more outraged people join in. It feels kind of fun to join in outrage – there's a morally superior little high that we, as humans, almost instinctively seek out. We all get together and start jumping in unison, stomping harder together than we ever could apart... and ignoring that we are stomping on somebody, a real human being with the same rights to live and speak and believe that we have. If we catch a glimpse of that fellow human being, we justify to ourselves that they deserve the beating they are getting, that they had it coming as soon as they opened their big mouth.
Does this sound like something sane individuals do? Not when they're at home by themselves, it isn't. It only happens when a group gets together and feels powerful, godlike even, so that they begin to believe they must have the right to dictate what is and is not acceptable to be said, who is and is not allowed to speak. It is the demon of groupthink, that pits groups against each other and starts wars and ruins lives. There are people who are now blacklisted from every job they apply for because of one thoughtless comment on Twitter, and it doesn't matter if they are sorry or if they've changed or if they were being sarcastic and didn't mean it the way it was taken. Their reputation is destroyed forever and the apology will never go as viral as the transgression.
Avoid the Trap
You might be tempted to post outrage against someone, for the attention, for the feeling of belonging, or because your conscience genuinely rebels against letting those people or those actions go without speaking up. If you are, examine your motives. Examine your method. Examine each word before you post and stick strictly to facts that you got straight from the original source, and if you must speak up, then post only truth and be prepared to monitor the comments afterward for fairness and truth to the best of your ability.
Because when you post in anger or outrage, it's like declaring open season on “those people.” Other outraged people will join in, and they'll bring rope for the noose. If that isn't what you wanted, they won't care. They won't leave until somebody gets hurt, because that's what they are there for – to hunt down dissidents and get their high from beating them up.
If you don't want that on your hands, if you don't want to wake up in the morning appalled at what you put into motion, then don't post outrage.
And maybe someday, there will be more truth than outrage online, and we will all be better for it.
Artist, writer, creator of stuff. I just want to build worlds for you to escape to.