Let’s start with the title of this post, because it sort of warrants an explanation of its own.
First, I have to assume we are all familiar with the term “black sheep”. Done. In this instance, I’m referring to those people who have chosen to wield their art to make it through these strange times. Now, let’s be real with each other for a moment so we can all admit that, yes, a healthy majority of us are a bit off the baseline, and in several possible ways. Embrace this, and move forward with it, displaying it with pride on your way towards the goals and landmarks you aim to reach.
There is the sea.
There are a million paths that lead to there, but once you’re in what I call “the weird”, it’s best to relax and not struggle until you have a clear way out. Ride it, don’t let it ride you. That being said, congratulations and my condolences.
Congrats because it seems to me that occupying “the weird” in the first place is not for everyone. It can get worse than bad drowning terrible in the toilet, or it can be moments of glorious revelation, but it brings a freedom that doesn’t come with anything else. Use this.
My condolences come threefold.
- You’re stuck in this for now. Sorry.
- You’re trading something to be here.
- Your peers and competition are one and the same, and they are all doing the same thing you’re trying to do.
To explain these observations, I shall pose them to you in the context of, oh…let’s say writing, shall we?
Did you know that damn near everyone will try their hand at writing for pleasure at least once in their lives? O course you didn’t, because I just made that shit up, but it really doesn’t sound all that far fetched, does it? If you look at the countless titles that are written and self-published by wordsmiths in untold numbers, it becomes very clear that there is no lack of fuel for the dreams and fantasies of an avid reader. But while we are in an age where we have the ability to read tales from storytellers that, not too far back, may never have had the opportunity to tell them at all, every storyteller, poet, novelist, and wordslinger faces the conundrum of trying to be a stand out needle in a big ass pile of needles, all plucked from various haystacks.
Let’s be clear about this. What I’m not about to do is sit and give you some tips or tricks or some other nonsense to do that. First off, I know full well most of you haven’t kicked down anything to my Patreon, and I’m not feeling up for giving free advice. Second, there is nothing I can tell you that’s going to matter until you go through that shit firsthand, and learn the goddamn lesson, whatever it is, for yourself.
Imagine you’re an author. Horrifying, I know, but just play along for a moment so I can illuminate my point. Not only are you an author, but you happen to write erotic short fiction about chupacabras. You go to table at your first convention of some kind, and you see that there are a lot of other writers there, but more specifically, there’s three or four that just so happen to write erotic short fiction about chupacabras. Now, while your morbid, chupacabra-loving heart might be aflutter at finding your people, you happen to see that with the way foot traffic goes, the fans attending are going to be passing by your new found peers before they get to you. And what’s more important is, anyone that happens to be searching for erotic short fiction about chupacabras has a lot of other options to go through before they even get to you. Add to this the knowledge that a lot of people generally have a set amount of money to spend at places like this, and your once peaceful dream of sharing your passion for writing erotic short fiction about chupacabras with other authors who also have a soft spot for goat-sucking lizard monsters, has suddenly become direct competition for the fan bucks with what could very well be the only people that really “get you”. This is the nature of the beast in this situation. It isn’t bad, and it isn’t good. It’s just the landscape.
But now that you know it, how are you going to stand out against it? How are you going to attract the fans whose thirst for erotic short fiction about chupacabras can be quenched several times over before they even make it to your funky goat-sucker well? Why you? Why this reading material instead of the rest? Why this chupacabra?
Just writing something, or painting something, or composing something because you enjoy it is great, and I think more people should do that if it would bring them joy. Deciding to make it your business should find you armed and ready for a very, very long tour of duty, because if you’re not ready to understand that no matter how much you like your peers, they are your direct competitor, don’t even bother enlisting.
Cynical? Maybe. And let me add I am not advocating adversarial shitheadedness between artists of the same peer groups. We’re in it together, and it’s during that long haul of time that the trade comes. Something gets traded for your ability to make your art of choice every time. Maybe it’s money, or social interaction. Maybe it’s stability, or security. Maybe it’s a partner or a friend. I have this theory that every artist has that thing if they have been in “the weird” for the long haul at some point, but from it you get skill, voice, experience, style, insight, and even wisdom.
Not to say that all artists are these elegant, learned beings. Quite the opposite, actually. Some of the most influential, groundbreaking artists that came along and redefined the discipline were complete fuckwits, in their regular lives, while some literary hacks are household names because they have a great publicist.
But what’s your hook?
It’s one of the most maddening, yet vital questions about being a creative as a career, in my opinion. The answer can only be determined by you, and the limits to it are set by the same.
*No authors of erotic short fiction about chupacabras were harmed in the writing of this blog post, but not for a lack of trying.