Copyright © 2003 by Angela Booth
** Note: while this article is primarily addressed to
writers, it applies to you if you're doing anything
Can you make a living as a writer, artist, designer or
other creative soul? Yes, you can, if you learn a few
The most important trick is to learn to think of yourself
as TWO people. The first is the creative person who
writes, paints, photographs or designs, without a care
for anything except the creative work itself. The second
person is a sharp-eyed, clear-thinking marketer.
In many creatives, the sharp-eyed marketer is in
embryonic form. Fear not. You can nurture your inner
Here's how to start to make your creativity pay:
=> 1. Start small: downplay your creativity
Your ultimate goal may be a book on the New York Times
bestseller list, or your own show in a major gallery, but
start small and build your confidence.
While you're doing that, downplay your creativity at home
and among your friends. Why? Any number of reasons. The
chief one is that your creative endeavors are as
important to you as a new baby is to the proud parents.
While you're a taking the first hesitant steps of your
creative career, you're sensitive. You're likely to get
badly blocked if someone whose opinion you value says the
wrong thing to you. This doesn't mean that you're
completely unsocial. Get a writing or painting pal, take
a course, or join a group. But among your nearest and
dearest and closest friends, silence pays off.
Starting small means small sales, not working for free.
There are times you may choose to give your work away,
but in the beginning of your career you need the
validation that only money can give you. So write fillers
for magazines (fillers are small articles, of 200 words
or less), advertisements for your local bank, or copy for
greeting cards. Write a short story or two, and submit
them for publication.
Anything you write, that you get paid for, will boost
your confidence. When you're confident enough to
disregard ill-informed opinion, you can share your
=> 2. Be passionate, not desperate
Your passion and love for your work will sustain you
through your career, and your entire life. However, don't
take this passion for granted. If you don't nurture it,
it will fade.
Whenever you feel depressed, ask yourself whether you
still enjoy writing. Sometimes the answer will be a loud
"no". Perhaps your writing isn't going as well as you
hoped it would, or you've had some drama in your life, or
you've been rejected. At these times, remind yourself
that you love what you do, and ask yourself what you
would enjoy writing today. Then do that. Work on
rebuilding your love for your writing first, before you
concern yourself about anything else.
If success comes slowly (or hasn't arrived yet), don't
become desperate. Be patient. Selling your creativity
takes time. If you can sense desperation taking hold,
remind yourself that you're writing because you love to
Writers (and other creatives) may become desperate
because of others' expectations. "Have you sold that book
you were working on?" "Have you sold a painting?" This
pressure is why you play your cards close to your chest.
(See "downplay your creativity", above.)
=> 3. Market your work
When should you start to market your work? Immediately.
As soon as you've written something that you feel is
publishable, send it out.
This is where you tuck your creative self away, and haul
your inner marketer out of the closet. Divorce yourself
from your work as much as you can. Grit your teeth, and
flail yourself with a whip if necessary, but send your
work out. Then forget it. Your first marketing efforts
may be torture. That's OK. You don't have to enjoy
marketing, you just have to do it.
Starting small is important for writers, because you can
send out a short story or a filler article without
writing a query letter. For a new writer, query letters
can be dangerous. Here's why: some writers never get
beyond a query letter. Ask any editor. These writers
write lots of query letters, get good at it, and then one
day an editor calls their bluff and sends them a
contract. At this, the query writer panics. Not only
doesn't she write the article, she gives up writing for
several years. Then she starts again. Writing query
The good news is that once you've got into the habit of
writing and sending your work out, you can stop worrying.
Sooner or later you'll get a check. (Sooner, we hope.)
The big benefit of marketing is that after a while it
stops being a trauma. It starts to become fun. Your inner
marketer is all grown up. Then the only problem you have
is getting organized so that you keep track of what you
If you follow the three strategies above, you will make
your creativity pay, and sooner than you think is
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