a pep talk for the upstart punks like me

Making things for a living is such a weird job. Mostly I’m thinking of writing, but I guess it really applies to anything creative. It’s not like you can get certified like a physical therapist does and then just go on your merry way realigning hips for the rest of your life. You have to start from scratch, collaging together shitty work however you can. You have to start by sucking and, inevitably, disappointing yourself (see: Ira Glass).

Some of us stop there, which stands to reason. Others get further, sending our work to editors or gallery owners or whatever gatekeeper position is appropriate to our art, and things get worse. External rejections to heap on the internal. Journalism’s dying, books might be dying, no one can “monetize” anything and we’re all going to have to become SEO robots and sell a kidney to afford enough vitamins for soup.

Then we stop. We made things, things we don’t think suck, but no one will disseminate and no one will pay.¬†Stopping makes plenty of sense. Running into a brick wall over and over again will only take you so far, right?

But! Here is the inspirational-turnaround part. Creators are in a pretty good place right now. We have the internet! We can get things out there in less time than it takes to write a cursive sentence (if anyone still even knows how to do that). We can start putting things up–essays, sketch shows, fan fiction, handknit infinity scarves–as soon as we make them, hot off the press if presses were still a thing. We can learn about our craft as our audience slowly builds. And yeah, money can be made. We have little, incremental, peculiar ways to sell our wares: Kickstarter, Etsy, the Kindle Store. Gatekeepers are over. People can get to our stuff–all we have to do is make it good enough that they want to.

So we (and I’m using the royal we that denotes any college student with a parent-issued laptop) have infinite resources out here. And it can work. And for the people for whom it has worked (Kate Beaton! Emily Books! The Awl! Ze Frank! Amanda Hocking!), I can tug out one common thread: work hard. Work damn hard. Because no one will care about things you haven’t made, and there sure as hell is no invisible hand that will swoop you into success. You’ve got to build your success up, brick by shitty, half-baked, getting-better, actually-decent brick. You’ve got to see through enough projects to lose count, and then you’ve got to start some more. Don’t dwell, don’t hesitate. Keep making. There’s always money in the banana stand¬†room on the virtual bookshelf for more.

Finally, get over labels. Or at least mush them together. You don’t have to be A Poet or A Novelist or A Person Who Makes Stop Motion Videos With Legos. You can do it all, if you want! It’s your life. You’ll still have to work hard, maybe harder, but you’ll learn a lot more, too.

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