Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Nine Step Guide to Artistic Credibility (An Explanation)

Earlier this year, I got frustrated by the number of publish-on-demand authors who acted like they had never heard about the difference between negative attention and positive attention. These authors had made the choice to publish their work through a limited gateway that would make their marketing difficult before they got started. Instead of being careful about marshalling their resources and presenting the best possible image to the market, they seemed bound and determined to act like idiots.

True, they attracted attention to their work, but probably not the attention that they really wanted. Ridicule and laughter are hardly effective marketing strategies and it can be difficult (if not outright impossible) to recover from something like that. The gap between what they wanted and what they got was, in large part, directly attributable to their inability to present themselves credibly.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that every new writer should probably be given a guide to how to present themselves – how not to act like a fucking idiot. Perhaps that was not the best title, though. I sat down and wrote a series of one-page essays with a more positive slant and called it the Nine Step Guide to Artistic Credibility, which I will be publishing incrementally over the next several days. Like all good writers, I wrote it with myself as the ideal audience.

You see, when I was 16, I would have killed for something like this. At the time, I thought I knew everything, but somewhere deep inside, I also knew that I knew nothing. Half my life later, I’ve learned quite a lot about life and the artistic process. Most importantly, I learned the hard way about the attitudes necessary to keep from crumbling under the pressure of knowing that I don’t stand a chance of actually achieving the commonly held artistic measure of “success.” Not because the quality of my work is bad, per se, but because “success” is simply statistically unlikely.

There are a lot of writers in the world and most of them are jostling for the same thing: a share of the audience’s attention, which they think will bring them fame and fortune. I’m not entirely convinced that that’s all there is to it. In fact, I tend to think that it’s perfectly respectable to simply be an amateur writer who periodically releases his own material - generating an honest body of work in the process - and doesn’t make every product into a “Hail Mary” attempt at reaching the pinnacle of success.

This may come as somewhat of a shock to some people. We live in a capitalist society where excess is subtly encouraged and moderation is actually derided. But if you stop and think about it, you will realize that not everyone measures success by the same yardstick.

Personally, I believe that it is enough to be a credible writer – that is, someone who does his best to refine his craft and possibly release finished products every now and then without having to worry that people are going to laugh in his face.

There are a lot of people who will disagree with me, which will make me very happy because discussion is healthy. Even better, I am happy about the fact that I live in a country where my right to express my beliefs is (for the time being) Constitutionally protected.

My aim with these essays was to crush dreams and force people to rethink very stubbornly held received wisdom. Not because I am a sadist, but because I think that sometimes people need to expose their belief systems to the cold reality of the way things are. This is especially true if you actually plan to make a living selling your writing. It is not enough to merely want something. In most cases, you actually have to work hard to achieve it. And even then, hard work is no guarantee of success.

Like I said, when I was 16, I would have been happy to know all of this. I doubt that it would have kept me from making the series of mistakes that led to me to where I am in, but that’s okay, really: I like who I am and where I am. And that’s been my key to success: knowing how to aim for satisfaction.

1. Why Credibility?
2. What is Your Motivation?
3. You Do Not Want to be Famous
4. Is It Done Yet?
5. Learn to Love Criticism
6. Managing Your Expectations
7. Going Corporate or Going Solo
8. Networking is Essential
9. Setting the Terms of Your Success