I was talking to a mentor friend the other day.
She had a theory: that artists', musicians' and writers' creativity comes from two main sources.
From ego or from value.
This really resonated with me. I finally understood something I now consider profound.
When you write from ego your focus is on people's responses to your work, or the accolades you might receive or the fame and riches you might enjoy as a result of your work.
There's actually nothing wrong with this. After all, many famous people have used the technique of visualizing a glorious end result as a form of motivation since time began. It works - and explains why some of us get famous for seemingly no valid reason - except perhaps that was all they ever wanted.
Your ego can be a superb motivator. It's consistent too. It can pick you up and propel you forward on a daily basis. You can be productive and prolific using just the ego alone.
What are you actually saying in your work?
Are you creating anything of any value?
Does your work say anything profound about the human condition?
When you look back at the great artists and writers of history, what do you see?
Those that have stood the test of time were not just commercially successful, they also had within their work a depth of meaning, or observational skill, that allowed their work to transcend mere 'beauty' and become intrinsically 'valuable' to our species.
Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Melville, Conrad, Dickens, Austen weren't just writing to entertain the crowd. They also had an ability to teach us something important about ourselves to each successive generation after their deaths.
These were writers who wrote from a commitment to value.
Everybody wants to be famous these days.
You see it in film schools where students learn the art of film making and are ambitious but when you ask what their next project will be they have no idea.
You see it in writers' groups where everyone is dedicated to improving their craft and getting published but can't think of anything to write about...
They often can't think of anything to SAY.
My feeling tends towards the idea that if you have nothing particular to say, you probably shouldn't be expressing yourself artistically at all. Not much good can come from it - unless you just want to be a technician, an artisan or a crafts person...
But of course the urge to create isn't quite as simple as that. We all have the urge to some extent, some of us a lot more than others.
But true artists surely have a responsibility to look at life and their own intrinsic moral stance (even if it's not so ethical), to look deep inside themselves and ask the profound questions.
What is it to be human? What does it mean? What can I say about the human condition that will be enlightening? Meaningful?
I think when we're formulating ideas for creating our next artistic project, we should be asking ourselves these questions - along with all the usual technical stuff - because when we do, our work becomes more valuable.
The added benefit being that we can then transcend the ego within.
Because part of the problem with creating from ego is that it leaves you open - exposed - to savage criticism. When you create something essentially shallow and are criticized for it, it hurts because a part of you knows that what you've done is next to meaningless.
Criticism is hard to take for most every artist. But if you know, deep inside, that what you've done is create something meaningful - and works in a profound way for YOU, then criticism becomes practically irrelevant!
Knowing that you wrote something that mattered, that had to be said, gives you a higher purpose - one that is unmoved by what lesser folks, critics I mean, have to say about your work.
Criticism is easy. We all do it for that reason.
Creating is hard - and creating trivial pieces of entertainment is probably just as hard as creating something of lasting value - IF you have the right mindset from the start.
Don't let yourself get carried away by the idea that you must write like the latest bestselling author or come up with another superhero because that's what seems to make artists successful.
Write from your heart.
Write with integrity - and only when you have something important or profound or at least significant to say.
It's a tough call I know - and not exactly necessary these days. But if you take the time to go that extra mile, I think you'll feel better about yourself and what you do.
Who knows, you might even create something that is still around in a few hundred years' time.
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write
According to the latest sales figures for books, the sale of digital books is increasing by around 300% a year - while the sales of real books - hardbacks and paperbacks - is dropping by around 5% a year.
You'll notice that I didn't call them e-books - mainly because I know many writers have a knee jerk reaction to the word and just close down - and say, that's not for me and dismiss the whole idea of being published in anything other than paper form.
Fact is, the publishers you aspire to impress are beginning to feel the pinch because they too have had the same 'jerk' reaction to digital content. They really don't know what to do about the e-book...
Trouble is, the new players in publishing like Amazon and Apple - and the thousands of digital publishers already on line - know exactly what to do about it!
Do you remember about ten years ago people were saying that hand-held book readers would never catch on? That the paper book was some sacred object that could never be replaced?
Well, that's still true.
But now iPads, Kindles and Androids are here - and guess what? they're just new names for hand-held book readers.
I suspect the same will happen with e-books. They will change their credibility factor by simply changing their name...
No idea what to at this stage.
Something more sexy sounding than e-books, to be sure.
One of the more interesting findings that a recent survey uncovered is that the average person already has around three times more digital books on their computer hard drives than they have real books on their bookshelves at home.
And who said e-books would never catch on?
Are you missing something here?
Here's an example of a writer who's not missing the boat on this one:
J A Konrath, a crime and horror writer tired of being rejected by NY publishers, even though he's been very successful offline, released his entire back catalog of books and short stories through Kindle - available only as digital downloads.
Last year he made nearly $48,000 in royalties on just those books - yes, forty eight thousand $US, even though his e-books sold for less than, on average, $2 each.
Konrath is the first to say he doesn't know if he's unique in this regard, only that he has no faith in traditional publishers to make the correct commercial decisions for his work anymore.
The big problem I am seeing everywhere is that authors - good authors, great writers - are being serially rejected by publishers. Trouble is, they're taking this rejection to heart and thinking it's somehow their fault - when clearly it's not.
It's the fault of a traditional publishing industry that is losing its grip on how to sell books to readers.
Digital publishing is fast and cheap.
The big publishing houses take, on average, two years to get a book from submission to publication - mainly because their internal structures are massively inefficient and cumbersome to the point of silliness.
Plus, they lack confidence in the market for books... they must do.
They're currently rejecting 99.9999% of all new manuscripts arriving on their desks because they already have all the books they can handle and can't sell - plus leviathan lists of hopefuls lined up for years to come (that they probably can't sell either).
Now, publishing works on the principle that one bestselling book pays for another one hundred not so successful books on a publisher's list. It's always been that way. It's a good business model.
But how can you know what the bestsellers are going to be?
Well, you can't - which is why releasing new books - and often - is so necessary to compete. And releasing new books often is exactly what digital publishing is all about.
The money side is different for digital.
Gone are the big advances - unless you get a movie option. But also gone is the long wait to get royalties.
Digital books might not make you as much money - but you get it sooner - which means you can 'keep writing' while other would be authors have to work their day jobs in the faint hope of a real book contract.
The times are changing.
It's not a case of thinking that e-books won't catch on...
They already have!
Inventions like the iPad have made digital downloading and reading of books commonplace. And only those trade publishers with blinkers on don't see that their days are numbered - unless they all want to become boutique niche suppliers to an ever dwindling marketplace.
I remember back in the 1980s someone said to me (Herman, his name was - I loved him dearly until he attacked me with an ax - a long story), "Rob," he said, "the future is digital."
I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. But this was just before CDs took over from vinyl records.
And to think, most musicians in those days thought that CDs and barcodes marked the end of civilization - in much the same way that many modern writers still refuse to embrace digital books - the future in other words.
Have I convinced you yet?
Do you still have your head buried in the sand over this?
I hope not.
Robyn and I are living proof you can get rich and successful as writers using a combination of book distribution networks - online digital and offline with real paper books - and not relying exclusively on any old-world publishers to help you.
Because, to be honest now, I really don't think most trade publishers know what they're doing anymore. They're shrinking and floundering on a seashore they can't come to terms with - because they missed the boat while they were wondering what to do about the Internet...
Having said all the above, we're very excited this week because we've just acquired nationwide distribution for our own 'real' books in Australia and NZ, through our own new publishing company, R&R.
Well, you know what they say. If you can't join them, beat them!
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”