In my previous post on this topic, I told the story of publishing my first book. I shared the significant amount of work it required and a number of setbacks that I had to overcome. I used this story as an introduction to the talk I gave on the Re:create Cruise on “The Role of Work in Creativity.”
In this post, I want to share the essence of my talk, including the common myths that aspiring writers and other creatives have about the creative life. It is what I refer to as “The Romantic View of Creativity.” It includes four assumptions:
- The creative life is easy and effortless.
- People will beat a path to your door.
- People will love you for your art.
- You might just get rich—or at least able to make a living.
However, unlike this romantic notion of creativity:
- Real creativity involves significant work. In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000-Hour Rule.” The basic idea is that success in any field is, to a large extent, the result of practicing a specific task for 10,000 hours—or more. It also applies to creativity.
Whether you want to be a great author, musician, painter, or comedian, it takes lots of practice. You don’t just suddenly show up and demand to be acknowledged because you think you have talent. It’s not that easy. You must do the hard work of practicing and investing in your craft.
With respect to writing books—the field I know best—doing the work requires you to:
- Come up with a great idea
- Develop a proposal
- Find an agent
- Shop the proposal
- Secure a publishing contract
- Write the book
- Process the edits
- Rewrite the book
It’s not easy. This all requires significant effort. Contrary to the common myth, great artists, including writers, are incredibly disciplined.
- Real creativity requires significant promotion. A few years ago, a famous author told me, “Look, my job is to write the books. Your job is to promote them.” Sadly, this hasn’t been true for at least twenty years. This author was simply out of touch with reality.
Successful publishing requires that the author both write the book and assist in its promotion. It’s no wonder that the author I referenced is a shadow of his former self. He has almost completely lost his audience. As a publisher, we simply can’t make it work without his cooperation.
I understand why many authors are uncomfortable promoting their own work. But I think this inclination is misguided. If you have invested the hours creating the work and really believe in it, then wouldn’t you want to get the work out to as many people as possible?
Today, it is more important than ever to have a “platform.” A few authors can succeed without one, but it is rare. And the time to build a platform is before you need it. The first question we ask at Thomas Nelson is about the book’s content. The second question s about the author’s platform. It’s rare for us to offer a contract to a new author that doesn’t have both.
- Real creativity invokes criticism. From a distance, fame looks very attractive. You think the famous among us are endlessly praised and adored. Not so. Anytime your head rises above the crowd, someone is going to take a shot at you.
As a result, it’s easy to lose perspective. I know. It often happens to me. (Ask my wife.) I can receive one hundred positive blog comments, yet one negative one will throw me into a tizzy. I suddenly think that everyone hates me, and I am ready to quit. (Most authors I know express the same sentiment.)
You have to distinguish between friends, critics and trolls:
- Friends love you and are willing to share with you the truth, even if it hurts a little bit.
- Critics don’t have anything personal against you; they simply disagree with you.
- Trolls are spoiling for a fight. They attack you because something is wrong with their heart. My best advice is to ignore them. If you engage them, it only strengthens their resolve.
- Real creativity can be monetized, but it requires deliberate action. Whenever someone tells me, “It’s not about the money,” I know one thing for sure: it’s all about the money. For some reason, Christians often have an uneasy relationship with money.
However, the Bible has a lot to say about money. One important verse for creatives is this: “A laborer is worthy of his hire” (1 Timothy 5:18). We should not feel guilty about charging for our work—and even maximizing our earnings. This is simply good stewardship (assuming it is not motivated by greed).
When you put a price on something, you create value. Art that is offered freely without charge is often disregarded. In other words, if you, as the artist, don’t think it is worth anything, why should I? This is why I don’t think giving your work away for free is good for you or for recipient. If you believe in your work, charge for it.
If you are a true creative, the work won’t scare you. Embrace it. There really aren’t any shortcuts, despite what you may hear. The only thing standing between you and your dream is hard work and persistence.