The Burn of the Creative Torch: Notes from a Fired Up Writer

Leon Cato Photography

I got all fired up this week. Maybe there was some full moon crazy going on, maybe my inner Leo needed to do some roaring or perhaps my heart just took another hit when I saw some more of my artistic family trying desperately to stay afloat

My artistic family are not blood relatives but we definitely go deep. We are fused together by our desire to create a world that hasn’t had the soul sucked completely out of it. We are united in our quest to make a difference through our words, imagery, movement and craft.

Our creativity connects us from all around the globe.

When one of us gets bruised we’re all left with a mark. When one of us gets ripped off we all take a loss. We may work individually but we are a collective and we count.

The struggle is more real than is comfortable much of the time. If you’ve had the guts to take the creative torch and run with it then you know that burns and scars are inevitable.

I’ve learned (and still am learning) that the journey is joy and sorrow intertwined and that carving out a path from faith and imagination can be both the blessing and the curse.

Here are some of the truths that have left their stain on me:

Prepare to be pissed off

Gloria Steinem told us: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Same goes for your art. And trust me, it will really piss you off.

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Our art is our truth. The truth we wrestle with and revel in. The surreality we try to harness and hold on to until it has no choice but to become a part of our reality.

You will come to realise that your art is not something you do, rather something you are. It is not a creation that is separate from you, but a continuation of your individuality, an extension of your expression.

After you’ve been to Pissed Off and back several million times, you will find that (in between visits) what emerges from the depths of the shadows is a quiet reassurance.

It serves as a reminder that even in the darkest hours, you will have a friend. You will never be entirely alone.

Every aching hurt and every devastating grief will be channeled into a tangible creation. Your art will not change your circumstances. It will not bring back lost love and it will not smooth over jagged scars.

But it will keep you alive.

Watch out for the C word

Collaboration. Make no mistake – getting together with like minded people to create and innovate can be truly amazing. There is potential to access a whole network of people that you may not ordinarily have had the opportunity to reach. You’ll also get a chance to experience the deep joy and gratification that comes from working with partners who are totally on your creative planet.

However, a word of warning. The word ‘collaborate’ can often be used as a gorgeous smokescreen for “Do my marketing for free”. I speak from experience. I’ve been flattered into more than one collaboration thinking that it would be a culmination of equal effort from both parties only to find that I’m suddenly expected to plug this or promote that for the other person/organisation – and it’s been a one way street.

Some tips on teaming up:

Do your research. Is their message and vision in alignment with your own? Will it benefit your current clients/readership? Will it open up new opportunities that you are actually interested in? If the answer is no then don’t invest your precious time and energy – it’s needed elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity on what is expected from you AND what you will receive in return. We worry too much that we’ll be perceived as egotistical if we lay down our terms but there is a way to communicate with respect whilst not over compromising ourselves in the process.

Watch out for the other C word

Community. And I do literally mean watch out for them. I never used to pay much attention to my extended community of artists and ‘preneurs. If anything, I avoided getting too involved because I didn’t want to measure myself against my peers.

Over the last year I’ve come to realise artists hubs are essential – online and offline. Community support is crucial because trying to take on the world as a solo effort can be so damn draining. Trying to dodge corporate bullets and survive in the creative world takes courage. We need each other.

Establish connections and foster them. Pour what you can back into your community. How can you support each other? What business acumen can you share? Look for sustainability within your creativity.

Working for free. Yay or nay f*cking way? 

I recently read an awesome blog post by Chuck Wendig that put the spotlight on Huffington Post and their stance on not paying bloggers for their work. I can vouch for this – I used to blog for them. When I first found out they were publishing my work I was ohhh so excited. I felt like my words were being given validation, that my message mattered. I even got a lovely reply from Arianna and I had people asking me how they, too could get a HuffPo profile. Dizzy heights…

I knew upfront that I wouldn’t get financial remuneration but I was getting a chance to ‘showcase’ my work. I feel slightly nauseous just typing that now. I was so thrilled to have my work recognised that in all honesty I just felt grateful.

I was published by HuffPo eight times. Some posts did better than others. When they featured me on their Facebook page in addition to their website it had a huge impact on the amount of likes and comments I received. No Facebook = no bueno. The articles that didn’t get shared on FB were basically hanging out with the tumbleweed.

I decided to stop blogging for them when I found that I couldn’t reconcile their ethos with their content. I wasn’t ok with the spammy sexist ads that sat alongside women’s empowerment articles. I wasn’t ok with the fact that a photo of Jennifer Aniston was used as a click bait pic on a post about why the author (who absolutely was not Jen) didn’t want kids. 

Was it a good idea to write for them? In retrospect I’d say yes, probably. I attracted some new followers and it was interesting to see how different the comments engagement was in contrast to other sites I’d written for.

It was also a good idea to stop when I did. Before exposure became exploitation. 

Skylar Liberty Rose

My personal stance on writing for free is pretty much in keeping with my views on collaboration. It has to work for me on some level. I have to believe in the publication and what it stands for. Flattery is less important to me these days – integrity is much more attractive.

As Andréa Balt recently said in her kick ass blog post, 12 Vital Business Lessons for Dreamers & Artistpreneurs, “The way you do one thing is the way you do ANY thing.”

Set your boundaries. Respect those boundaries. Because, dearest truth trippers, if you don’t, nobody else will.

Ask for what you want

Artists are crap at this part. We suck at it. We have sat wet and shivering in a pool of our own self doubt for so long that we get way too excited about the prospect of a towel laid out for us on the tiles.

We never ask for a five star hotel. ‘Oh, I’m fine with the hammock. Yep, totally fine. Thank you soooo much!’

Well I’m getting ready to say hello to 42 and I don’t want to sleep in the sodding hammock.

Be clear about what you want and why you want it. Make that your benchmark. Accept or reject offers based on the criteria that matters to you. Your criteria may change – bills and rent aren’t illusions and much as we’d love to pay our landlords in meaningful quotes, they tend to prefer dollars. Sucks, I know.

Your mission is to find (create) a way to sustain yourself in the material world whilst still being able to drench yourself in the artistic one.

I work on that mission every damn day. There’s no map to this journey. We are all works in progress and quite often it’s a case of just seeing how the earth feels under your feet as you forge forward.

Even if your criteria changes, be sure to keep your clarity.

Understand your social responsibility 

Yes, you have one. Artists are always closer to the core of everything real because we don’t have layers of bubble wrap around us. We’re not looking out of skyscraper triple glazed windows at the street below – we’re on the street below.

We have a responsibility to reflect what we see through what we create.

Create with intention and integrity. It matters.

Originality vs authenticity 

I saw a wonderful quote from Elizabeth Gilbert recently (courtesy of the amazing Tabby Biddle).

“The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.”

Getting hung up on being original kills your natural creative instinct. It took me a while to be ok with this one. All too often I’d find myself thinking,  “Oh but it’s already been done”. Well, maybe it has, but not with the unique blend you or I will bring to the table.

Don’t plagiarise. But don’t get so hung up on being original that you forget that, by default, you already are.

Don’t let artists become an endangered species 

If you love individual expression as opposed to mass produced soulless monotony then here are some ways you can preserve and support us:

Buy art from the living

Claude Monet doesn’t need to raise cash for his living expenses. You’re a century and a half too late (and admittedly, probably many million dollars too light).  Visit your local art fairs and look for existing and emerging talent. There is an abundance of original art and craft – go get yours.

If you recently mourned the loss of David Bowie (as I did) then pay tribute to him in a way that he’d love – get behind musicians that are looking for the same breaks he sought back in the 70’s. Don’t use YouTube converter to rip tracks. Respect the time and energy that’s been invested into a production.

Skylar Liberty Rose
Background art by Toshia Humphries

STOP ROMANTICIZING THE STARVING ARTIST

Please step away from the cliché. It doesn’t serve any of us. In fact, it actually encourages and enables people to continue enjoying art for free because they feel as though somehow they’re making us Van Goghs and Allan Poes and “Oh darling, all we need are silk scarves to fend off the chill and we’ll eat poetry for breakfast” fictitious characters.

Bollocks. Pay me.

Discounts: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Unless you venture into stores like Bloomingdales in full haggle mode, don’t approach freelancers or small business owners with that mentality either. Rarely are we pushing rates that are greedy. If you have a budget that you need us to work within then we will try and accommodate that. But please don’t bleed us dry. It kills our spirit and it makes a goddamn mess.

Share our work

We LOVE getting shout outs and even if you’re not in a position to commission our services, spreading the word costs nothing. If you like our work then please use your voice and share the love. Credit accordingly – that part is crucial. We definitely don’t like seeing our art or words attributed to anyone else or floating around unclaimed. The more our work is shared, the more likely it is that opportunity will come our way.

All images courtesy of Leon Cato Photography

Painting in background of image by Toshia Humphries

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