As someone who’s been at this making a living at a creative endeavor thing for a while, I feel the occasional compulsion to offer “sage wisdom” from my time in the trenches. Like all advice, you can and should take or leave whatever parts of this advice suit you.
- What you’re doing matters. With that said, it may not matter as much as you’d like or to the people you want it to matter to. Being creative and putting it out there for the world is the definition of leading by example. Even if your book or art or music isn’t changing the lives of millions of people, if you’ve ever gotten a positive review on Amazon, sold a painting or received some likes on that YouTube video where you did a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” (and kudos to you if you did cover that song, you madman) you reached someone. You jolted them out of their grind enough for them to take the time to say something or do something. That is huge! Don’t underestimate it.
- You should expect poverty. Being wildly successful and making (insert your fantasy sum of money here) is unlikely. There is no accounting for why some things sync with the cultural or international zeitgeist and some things don’t. By all rational measures, The Shawshank Redemption should have been the highest grossing, most Oscar-winning movie of the last 20 years. Every movie with the name “Twilight” attached to it should have made exactly $0 and gotten relentless trashed by anyone with the mental development of the average 3rd grader. Yet, Shawshank bombed at the box office and was ruthlessly snubbed by the Academy. Twilight was, as of late 2013, closing in on $5.8 billion in total revenue and still being defended by fans with a cult-like zeal. Maybe that’ll be you, but don’t bank on it.
- You can make a living with your creative endeavors. It is possible to achieve that goal. It isn’t easy. It isn’t always reliable. It is, however, entirely possibly to make enough to live on from year to year. Tens of thousands of people are doing it right now.
- You’re not as good as you believe you are. I know, I know, that sounds mean and cruel, but it’s almost always true. It’s the rare bird whose actual skills are in line with their perception of their skills. In the early days, you’re almost never as good as you imagine. Later…much, much later…the asymmetry sometimes goes the other way, but assume your work is about 50-75% worse than you think.
- Persistence pays off. Creative fields are a nightmare to break into because the margins are wafer thin for most of the places that buy that kind of work. They aren’t looking to bring along a promising talent. They’re looking to slap recognizable names onto the cover of the magazine or the front of the theater because that brings in paying customers. If you give things some time and you’ve got any real talent, you will start to book gigs, get clients, sell stories and see your work out in the world.
There you have it. Five tips for aspiring creative types. Did I miss something you think should be on here? Think I’ve got something on here that shouldn’t be? Got a good recipe for Tiramisu? Drop a comment below and let me hear about it.