S2/E2: Real Artists Don't Starve by Jeff Goins
This week’s book is Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins, published in 2017.
The author is Jeff Goins, the man behind Tribe Writers, which offers group coaching in marketing for writers, especially bloggers and “authorpreneurs.” He also hosts a podcast called The Portfolio Life, which addresses similar topics. He writes a popular blog and is a bestselling author of five nonfiction books on marketing for creatives. He got his street cred by building a million-dollar business in three years by employing the methods he teaches other creatives how to do.
Most of the topics Goins addresses are around an artist’s mindset, but there’s a little business advice sprinkled throughout. He divides the book into three sections: Mindset, Market, and Money. I’ll include one thing from each section.
1 Mindset – Goins challenges underlying notion that writers and other artists must stop thinking that writing is something you’re born to do or aren’t. As if fate came around and sprinkled fairy dust on some and not on others. In his mind, the real difference between a writer and someone who simply wishes to be a writer is gritty stubbornness. You have to believe in yourself before others will. But when you do, others begin to believe in you, too, which builds your confidence, which makes more people believe in your work, your vision. Gritty stubbornness applied to the belief in yourself and the commitment to see your dream through: It’s the pathway to everything.
2 Market – There’s lots of good stuff about the importance of community in getting more work out there and better work at that. But I’m going to zero in on another one of the concepts he talked about in this section of the book: practicing in public. It reminded me a little of my favorite chapter in last week’s book (Dear Writer, You Need to Quit by Becca Syme) which urged writers to stop (over) preparing and get to it. Goins version of this is to “Practice in Public.” Don’t wait until you’re perfectly ready for every challenge. Get better by doing the actual work and getting it out there in front of the world, for others to see, react to. It’s the path to improvement.
3 Money – While there are specific pieces of advice in this section (e.g. don’t work for free, maintain ownership of as much of your work as possible), I’m going to actually focus on the notion expressed in the title of the book iteself. If I had to pick one thing that Goins is trying to convey to readers here is that it is long past time to ditch the “starving artist” trope. It’s a limiting belief system and it’s poorly suited for this moment in history, when writers have more outlets to get paid for their work than ever before.
I love what he says about the relationship between money and art:
“To be an artist is to be an entrepreneur. We must learn to embrace this tension and the beauty that comes from it.” Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve, p. 147
This book clocks in at 231 pages, a book on the shorter side. There are loads of examples to underscore every point. Some stories will stay with me — like the grit exhibited by a young F. Scott Fitzgerald in the face of many, many rejections or the way Dr. Dre’s decisionmaking over when to hang on to the ownership of his work and when to cut bait and take the payout, really worked out well for him in a lot of ways. But there are many others included, as well. The example of Michelangelo, who apparently only played at being a starving artist and was in fact the J.K. Rowling of his time, is visited throughout the book.
*I cheated a little on the hack part this week: I picked up a tip from one of his blog posts instead. He breaks his writing into three parts: ideation, creation, and editing. To make the most of the time he has in front of this computer, he tries to generate at least five ideas (or lines) throughout the day. Then when he sits down, he may have a blank screen, but he’s ready to start filling it up.
Jeff Goins has a couple other books you may want to check out:
I hope this was helpful to you! Next week I’ll be applying this same approach to my little Rookie Book Report to How to Work with an Editor: A Guide for (Nervous) Authors (2017) by Mark Dawson.
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!