Rip Your Own Heart Out

You’re going to feel attached to your art, whatever form it takes, but the brutal truth is that you need to take those shimmering strings of sentimentality and sever them with a saber.

You might also want to make sure you’re not using too much alliteration.

There are essentially three motivations for creating art:

Self expression.

Making money. 

Pleasing someone else. 

Obviously there are hundreds of other motivations which shade these three, but when you strip away everything else, every excuse and secondary motivation, these are the three reasons for creativity. And the brutal truth is that if you aren’t creating purely for self-expression, you’re going to have to walk up to the ledge, scream KALI-MA at the top of your lungs, and plunge your flaming fist into your chest to rip out the beating heart of sentimentality.

Making Money

I have this discussion with my wife at least twice a month, usually after she returns from a songwriters club meeting. Now, my wife is one of those people who creates to please herself. She composes songs which are deeply personal and employ multiple layers of metaphor and imagery to convey her feelings. In contrast, many of the people in her group are writing with the goal of selling their songs to commercial singers, who in turn are purchasing songs which they (or their agents and producers) think will sell to a broad audience.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your work, but if that is your ultimate goal then you’re going to have to focus all of your effort into finding an audience and crafting a product which they will want to buy. Sure, there is still a lot of artistry in doing this, but if you’re trying to sell a product you’re going to have to let go of some of your personal preferences and focus on what your audience wants.

Part of that audience focused approach is to do some research and actually learn what they want. Are listeners still responding to your style of music, or do you need to adjust your genre? Are readers still buying epic fantasy novels, or do you need to switch to shorter urban fantasy adventures? Is your particular style of webcomic art drawing an audience, or should you study the marketplace and adjust your drawing and comedic timing to better fit the popular styles?

This brand of chasing the audience is a solid method of making money in the short term, but I’ll warn you that it carries the risk of having to continually readjust your style to meet the shifting demands of the marketplace.

Pleasing Others

There’s nothing wrong with writing to please other people. Some of the greatest art in the history of mankind was created to please a patrons in renaissance Europe, or the empires of Asia, or to inspire worshipers in churches and temples.

But if your goal is to please others, you need to be prepared to adapt to their desires. It doesn’t matter if you write a joke that leaves you breathless with laughter if your husband reads it, raises and eyebrow, and goes back to browsing Facebook. If your goal is to make him laugh, you’re going to have to figure out his tastes.

This style of working has a similar problem to chasing money: You’re chasing the approval of others.

It also carries the risk of never making money. It doesn’t matter if your best friends love every twist and trap in your Pathfinder module if it relies on inside jokes and references to pop culture that would make it impossible to sell due to licensing issues. You’ve pleased your audience, but you’re not going to make any money.

Pleasing Yourself

It’s Gentle Hammer of Truth Day, so let’s be honest: If you’re not enjoying what you create, why the hell are you creating anything?

I’m serious.

If you’re going to be miserable while doing creative work, then you might as well find a job that pays better and doesn’t coil around your brain like a hungry python at 2:00AM. Which isn’t to say that you should give up on your creative work if it’s hard. All good work involves struggle and effort, but I’m not joking: If you find yourself crying for the tenth day in a row, swearing that you’d rather drive a garbage truck than record another damn take of the audio for your indie animation… then stop. Find something you love. You can probably earn more money in any other field and if you’re among the vast majority of creatives who don’t make a living from their work, then there are countless hobbies which are more enjoyable.

Tell me about it

Seriously, tell me. Reach out on Twitter (@alinke) or send an e-mail to Andrew{at}PixelWretches[dot]com to tell me why you do the creative work you do. Even just sitting down to write that message may help you work our your reasons in your head.

(Be sure to tell me if you don’t want me to mention your e-mail on the podcast.)