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Being an Artist in Tough

frustrated_writer_200I’d like to start off by reminding people that writers are artists too.  This seems to get forgotten for some odd reason.  We think of painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic artists, and even musicians as artists.  But for some reason people don’t think the same about writers.  Writers are artists of words.  We paint pictures in your mind.  We sculpt characters into life.  We make music with our plots.  But, as any artist knows it isn’t easy to be an artist.

First, most people assume art is a hobby.  I’ve touched on this before in other posts.  But it really aggravates me how many people refuse to see my art as a potential career for me.  We are a corporate world.  We see a nine-to-five, cubicle bound, TPS report filing job as being “real” work.  If you think you want to be an artist when you grow up, expect to be frowned upon by friends and family (unless they too are artists).  Not all of them, no.  But you would be surprised how few of them will really truly support your work.  They will see this as a hobby.  They will see it as something you do when you are not working.  They won’t understand your desire to do it full time, it is foolish to expect to make money from creating art in your basement.

Which leads me to my second point.  Making money in the arts is hard.  Of all the artists out there, I think musicians and actors (performing arts) are one of the few to regularly command big bucks.  But even only a fraction of the performers out there hit the “big time”. If you paint, you probably won’t make a lot.  I’ve certainly made it clear how hard it is to make money as a writer.  From others in the arts, I have seen that it is hard to make money in most of the arts.  And to make good money someone has to “discover” you.

Hitting the “big time” is rare in the arts.  The reason is that you have to be discovered.  You have to find your niche and get someone’s attention.  Not just anyone’s attention either.  But the attention of the “movers and shakers” of your particular art.  If your a short fiction writer, that is one of the big time markets.  If your are a novel writer that is one of the traditional publishers out there.  This is if you really want to be the next big thing.  But, most artists out there want to be found.  And so many of them are shouting “pick me” to the people the hope will “discover” them.  I’ve seen a lot of excellent talent give up because they just can’t be heard among everyone else that needs attention.

Of course, you can simply publish your own art.  I see this in more than just writing.  Painters and Sculptors will sell there work online, or attend art shows.  Writers can now self publish with relative ease.  YouTube has allowed movie makers and performers to reach a large audience.  Just about all art forms can “self publish” in one way or another.

No matter if you self publish or get found, you will have to promote your own work.  That is the bigges pain in the ass of all this.  I struggle with it all the time.  You will beg for reviews, sales, mentions on on other blogs, and ask all your friends to please help you get the word out.  You will quickly find that most of your friends and family, or even your social media followers, will not do much to help spread the word.  Most of them won’t even bother to click the link you posted.  And even more will simply start to ignore you because of you are over doing it.  If you are expecting your friends and family to buy and review your art, don’t hold your breath.  So few people take the time to review anymore, your friends included.  You’ll count on your friends to support you.  Give you an opinion on your work.  Don’t do it.  Trust me, you have friends that will repost everything you say about your art.  But not nearly as many as you thought.  And so few of my friends have ever purchased anything I’ve written.  And those that have, less than half (maybe less than a quarter of them) have written a review.

You’ll try to advertise.  But finding the right audience is a talent that can be hard to perform.  You’ll have to attend conventions, art shows, and much more simply to get the word out.  And all this takes away from your time spent creating art.

You will also hit a lot of rough patches in your quest to make your art a career.  You’ll get a bad review.  You’ll have a lack of ideas.  You’ll get depressed and think you can’t possible make your art a career.  You’ll reach out to your friends for support and they’ll ignore you.  Or tell you that “they don’t read”.  You’ll get rejected by your favorite venues.  You’ll get rejected by a mentor or someone you looked up to.  Someone will bash you for your technique.  Someone else will say you lack the education to pursue your art career.  You’ll get so down that you’ll think you were foolish to ever give art a serious try.  You’ll think it is time to give up on this and focus on getting a “real job”.  You’ll cry at night because you just wanted that acceptance letter so bad, and you were shot down.  You’ll be heart broken because you hoped your closest friends would read your work and they don’t.  You will hit a point where you realize walking away is the easiest thing to do.

And that is when you have to make choice.  But, if you really are an artist to your bone you will realize that, no matter how easy it seams, you can’t walk away.  You will have a moment when you realize that even though it is tough, you know you have what it takes to be the next big thing.  You will realize that art was always something more than a career to you.  You will rise up and make the choice to push forward.

You will still be hurt when the people you love don’t see your art as more that a “hobby”.  But you will network and make additional friends that enjoy the same art you do.  You will make the effort to learn how to use social media without driving your followers away from over promotion.  You’ll learn how to advertise.  You’ll find conventions, and shows, and other ways to get your book noticed by the people that really matter.  You’ll learn that the “movers and shakers” certainly have an important part in the art world, but they are not who you create your art for.  Your art is for the people who want to see it.

You will work to put out more of your art so that while you may not make much per piece, you’ll have a wide variety of art to choose from.  You’ll also realize that money isn’t the real reason you ever made art in the first place.  And you will get back to making your art for yourself and let the money come second.  You’ll realize that you may have to work for years before you get discovered and that is okay.  You may need to work your day job and work on your art on the side.  But you won’t care anymore because you are still creating.

The rough patches will always come.  I hit them still all the time, even when I try to be rational about it.  But you will also hit some great times.  You will get excellent reviews.  You’ll have a moment of pure inspiration.  A friend you never expected will show up with a kind word and a helpful tip.  You will get an acceptance letter.  You’ll find a new mentor.  Some one will tell you how your work inspired them to try it. You will be reminded of why you really wanted to be an artist.

And that is the moment you will realize that being an artist is tough, but you can’t imagine doing anything else.

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Ten Ways Writing and Photography are the Same

camera and writersI thought this would be a fun little post for a Monday.  As many of you know, I have a number of friends in the photography business.  They are at various levels of the business, and I always marvel at how similar their posts are to those of writers.  This morning I saw a post on Facebook from Gustavo Alfaro Photography.  I can’t for the time of me figure out how to embed this post, so I will just quote it: “Photographers are the most insecure people I know. Don’t believe me? Look at one and tell them their work sucks. Part of being an artist I guess… #‎needtostepitup‬ ‪#‎changingmyvision‬”

This post reminded me a lot of myself, I have a few insecurities. And well, it got me back to thinking on how similar the lives of the writer and photographer are.  So her are 10 reasons writing and photography are the same:

1. We both never have time to work on our craft.

It is true.  I’ve never seen a group of people complain about a lack of time more than writers.  That was until I met photographers. We are remarkably similar in this. Our crafts take time, and there isn’t enough time to work on it.  Sure, we have to feed the dog, water the lawn, clean the house, care for the kids, but that isn’t the reason we have no time. The real reason…

2. We both spend far too long on the internet.

And we call this time on the internet, research. Writers are getting character ideas, researching possible locations, getting ideas on character names, learning the difference between than and then.  Photographers call it “getting shoot ideas.” or “buying props”. The truth is simple.  Just look at our Facebook pages. We are too busy sharing cat photos, complaining we don’t have time to work, and writing blog posts about the similarities between… well you get the point.

3. Our friends and family don’t take our craft seriously.

Oh, you write books.  How cute.  It isn’t hard.  HA! Sure.  You take pictures all day.  When will you get a real job.  Hell, my phone takes pictures. See, to them it is a cute hobby.  Your mom might love you, but your best friend is too busy to worry about this little hobby of yours.  Secretly they all hope you will get a real job so that you’ll stop posting links to your work and go back to sending the Candy Crush tickets.  Some even make fun little remarks like: “When will I see a movie about your book?” or “Was that your photo I saw on TIME?” or “So you still play make believe.” or “I bet it is hard to take pictures of beautiful women/men all day.”

No one promotes us. We are left to beg people to click like, or write a review, or vote in the photo contest.  Only about one percent of your friends ever share anything you do.  Not really realizing that that shared photo, or the nice review on a book you write, could be the referral you need. We all just want the acceptance of our communities, but it always seems out of reach.

4. There are tons of people in our craft with real talent who never see the light of day.

We both think our work is not good enough. As Gustavo said, we are insecure.  It takes huge amounts of courage for us to show you what we wrote.  For us to share it, and then for us to hear you say you don’t like it.  There are some excellent talented people in our crafts, but they are just too scared to put their work out there.

5. It is easy to do what we do.

Just ask anyone who doesn’t do it.  People who have never written a word come to me and tell me how easy it must be to be a writer.  You just sit down and your computer and type. It sure looks that way from the outside, but when you try it you see it isn’t that simple.  Photography is the same way.  We all have a camera, all you have to do is point the camera and take the picture.  It is easy.  Being a writer or photographer is easy in the same way that being a brain surgeon is easy.  I am sure I could cut scalps with no medical training, why the hell not.

6. We both spend more time editing than creating.

It is very much the case.  Photographers go out for a three hour shoot and spend the next week editing the photos. Writers may type out a manuscript in one or two months, but then spend then next year promising the release date is around the corner.  Editing takes the most time, and…

7. People have unrealistic expectations from the editing process.

Sorry folks, no amount of touch ups will make my fat ass look like Channing Tatum.  I can spend a year editing a book, I guarantee that it will still be released with an error.  Even the big publishers do it. Instead of focusing on what doesn’t matter, lets be realistic here.  Perhaps I can look like George Clooney instead.

8. People assume we’ll work for free.

Why does your book cost so much? Can you just send me one?  I’d love to buy your book, but I am broke.  I have a great idea for a book.  If you write it for me, I’ll split the earnings with you.

Hey, come to our wedding just bring your camera.  Can you remove the watermark on this photo so I can print it at Walmart?  Would you mind taking our family portrait, you know, for free?

9. We can’t wait to get discovered, just to show you we could.

We fantasize about how we will be discovered and start really bringing in the big bucks. How you will then wish you were nice to us when we were small time.  We imagine you coming to us asking for our time or money, but we are just far too busy.  We couldn’t possible sign anything right now, perhaps you could talk to our PR person.

10. We are both practicing an under appreciated form of art.

The number of active readers are decreasing. People don’t read anymore, that is why they want to see every popular book made into a movie or a TV series. And our print market is dying fast.  Everyone one wants digital. Books no longer line home libraries, but rather stored “in the cloud” or on eReaders making the true value of a book seem somewhat trivial.

In photography, the digital camera has ruined film.  And now that everyone has a camera on their smart phone, few see the point of hiring a photographer for anything anymore.  Homes seem to rarely display photos anymore, instead they sit on the hard drives of computers, never really being appreciated for the art form they really are.

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