The4thDave Reads: “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins

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I need to begin with an apology. Jeff Goins’ team graciously sent me a hardcover copy of Real Artists Don’t Starve to review…around a year ago. It was right around the time we were working on Season 1 of Presto! Fairy Tales (now available on Youtube!) and I started the book but quickly put it down. It wasn’t because it was boring; on the contrary, I was really enjoying it. Rather, I think I stopped reading it at that point because it was making me…uncomfortable.

The premise of the provocatively-titled Real Artists Don’t Starve (hereafter called RADS) is that the myth of the “Starving Artist” is just that–a romanticized myth that does not need to be the reality of anyone pursuing creative work. Goins’ passion is helping creative people to step out and discover how they can bring their passion to life, and throughout RADS, he does this by contrasting the Starving Artist with what he calls the “Thriving Artist.” In the twelve main chapters of RADS, Goins examines these two visions of the artistic life, as a series of contrasting statements. For example:

  • The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
  • The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
  • The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.

Goins uses these contrasts to examine the assumptions that creatives make about how the creative life “should” function. In doing so, he presents a series of “rules” of the Thriving Artist, such as the Rule of Creative Theft (scandalous!) or the Rule of the Patron. By proposing these basic principles of what Goins calls “the New Renaissance,” he encourages the reader to rethink how he or she approaches creative work. RADS is organized into three sections, addressing the creative person’s mind-set, market, and money–the creation, connection, and commerce that are all part of producing and promoting your art.

So why was I uncomfortable when I started reading RADS? Because I’m in a season of life where some of my creative goals seem to be on hold. I say seem to be because Goins’ writing (and his podcast, The Portfolio Life) consistently challenge me to get going and stop making excuses.

If you’re a new reader, you may not be aware that I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I’ve got several false-starts and unexplored story ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years. Every so often, I’ll pull one out, play with it a bit, and then decide to put it back because it’s “not the right time” to (re)start writing. Beyond that, the typical discussion of “platform” and “self-marketing” always grosses me out a little bit. But as Goins addresses these issues in RADS, he challenges some of the stigmas around the business of art that I have been holding onto and forces me to admit that the reason I don’t try harder to make it happen is that I’m scared to fail.

What’s crazy is that despite my fear, these stories won’t let me go. These characters creep into my idle thoughts and want to be seen and heard. In some small measure, my attempts are regular blog posting are warm-up exercises for the transition to re-engage with the writing life. Or they may be a filler or replacement to give my itching fingers the illusion of motion.

(…Where was I? Oh, right, book review.)

Real Artists Don’t Starve is another excellent work by Jeff Goins that challenges the reader to get real about why they may not be pursing the creative life of their daydreams. His advice is practical and encouraging. The book itself is fast-moving and readable, but the reader should resist the temptation to speed through it. Instead, it may be beneficial to take each chapter at a time, and give the ideas some breathing room to germinate in your mind. Such contemplation will be well worth it. I would definitely recommend this book.

[And Jeff, I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. But if you think about it, it’s really your fault for writing something that got under my skin, ya know?]

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#FridayFive: More Medium Madness!

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for five more interesting Medium articles I’ve read in recent months. Here we go!

The Film the NFL Doesn’t Want You To See — I find myself really conflicted about this. As much as I have enjoyed NFL football (and cheering on my Texans), it’s hard to watch this and not consider how the game I love to watch seems to be devouring the men who choose to play it. I think that reality has implications on me as a fan, but I’m not sure (or not comfortable with) what that might mean.

Steve Jobs’ Secret for Eliciting Questions… — One of the hardest things for me when it comes to teaching Sunday School (or leading any kind of discussion) is creating a space where questions can be asked freely. My tendency is just to deliver content (or preach!) for 45 minutes and then ask for questions with about 30 seconds left in class. I’m looking forward to trying the approach described in this article.

How Jack Reacher and I Grew Apart — Proof that being a best-selling novelist doesn’t mean you’re that skillful of a writer. Even the most widely-acclaimed writers fall into bad habits and tropes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s comforting or disheartening.)

The Video Game That Shows Us What the E-Book Could Have Been — I’m intrigued by books that challenge the conventions of what a book is. (You’ll see that in an upcoming “The4thDave Reads” review.) This book…game…thing sounds REALLY fascinating.

Show, Don’t Tell: Character Development through Action… — As I’m working through how to restart a novel I began writing, this article about storytelling through action was eye-opening, as it dissects the opening sequence in my favorite Bond film.

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That’s it, folks. Have a great weekend!

Your Turn: Did you find any of these links helpful? Let me know, so that I can keep an eye out for more useful content to pass along! Have you read any interesting blog posts lately? Share them below!

 

 

 

 

“Guess who’s back…back again…”

“Good grief, Dave, the first post in 2 months, and you lead with a 20-year-old Eminem reference?”

Shaking the rust off, dude.

“What about all those promises to post reviews of books you read this year, remember that? Regular content, you said. I assume you *have* been reading books. So where are the reviews?”

Yeah, about that…

“You have talked frequently about spending less time on social media and more time ‘creating.’ You even wrote a Medium post about that. And that was it–just talk. Are you still on Twitter and Facebook?”

I deleted the apps off my phone.

“What about the browser? Are you logged in to them on your phone’s browser?”

“Look, man, I don’t mean to come at you so hard, right out of the gate. But you keep telling me that you want to write consistently. You have interesting ideas to explore. You wanted to do a whole series of posts about The Federalist Papers, remember? You wrote 4 or 5 posts before stopping. That was 16 months ago. And it was an interesting idea. You should follow up on that at some point.”

Yeah, I keep thinking about that.

“There are book reviews to write, sermon manuscripts to share, maybe even some short stories or poetry. Remember? You used to write poetry, too.”

That’s true. My wife really enjoys when I write poetry.

“See? All I’m saying is, it may be time to start delivering on the promises and good intentions you’ve been carrying around for all these years. How old are you now, 38?”

I’m 37. Birthday’s in October.

“Okay, then, 37. How about this? We start now with some regular content. Start flexing the ol’ creative muscles. And then we start working on the manuscript to your NaNoWriMo novel, Good Shepherd, and get that baby done before 40 comes around.”

That’s…not a bad idea. I still really like that story.

“You’re right, it’s not a bad idea–it’s a great idea. That story should be told. But we gotta baby-step this one. It starts with writing consistently.”

Okay, I’ll do it. Starting today, I’m gonna–

“STOP. Stop making promises. No more resolutions. Just do it. Don’t tell me about it. Just do it.”

Okay. Today, then.

“Today.”

Done.

#FridayFive: Another 5 Interesting Medium Posts

Hey folks! Back this week with another group of Medium posts that I found informative and/or challenging, and that I think you may appreciate:

Confessions of A Failed Female Coder – Caroline McCarthy tackles the topic of women in STEM (specifically in Computer Science) and provides some perspective on the infamous “Google memo” by James Damore. McCarthy’s insights on how education and learning style influence the way girls interact with STEM subjects gave my wife and I some good things to discuss regarding how we will raise and educate our daughter.

Las Vegas, Murder, and Gun Control – Rick Thomas wrestles with some of the political/cultural conversation around the latest mass shooting in the US. Most helpful for me was his breakdown of the 3 arguments used by cultural evangelists, in regards to guns.

You Weren’t Very Persuasive Today – Cody Libolt provides some good ideas on how to have productive and persuasive discussions with people with whom you disagree. In an age of people screaming past each other into the digital abyss, this post is worth some consideration.

Killing Television – Michael Marinaccio cites a few Pew Research results about the demographics of news consumption and media trust, as he considers the possible effect of a generational shift from visual news back to print news as a more trusted resource.

Why You Should Quit Reading Paper Books – I disagree with Andy Sparks’ premise entirely*, as do apparently ALL of the commenters (the answer to your problem, Andy, is a combination of marginalia, pocket notebooks, and highlighters), but I’ll admit he has some useful tips for how to capture and review ideas and quotes from your digital reading. So take that for what it’s worth, and leave the rest, I guess.

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There you go, gang. Some fun reading for the weekend.

If you’re on Medium, let me know! I’d love to check out your work. I’m on Medium, too, if you want to follow me there–though I haven’t produced much of anything in that forum. Yet.

Have you read any useful or challenging articles online lately? Post the link in the comments below!

 

 

*Much to the possible dismay of Mr. Sparks, I’m actually playing around with the idea of reading EXCLUSIVELY print books in 2018, and limiting myself to books I actually own as of January 1. I figure it’s a good way to battle my tsundoku tendencies.

#FridayFive: 5* Interesting Stories I’ve read recently on Medium.

So I have a confession to make: I use the “bookmark” function on Medium entirely too much.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Medium is a free public blogging platform in which anyone can submit articles. (And I mean anyone.) If you subscribe to certain people’s feeds or click that you are interested in certain topics, you can get a daily (or weekly, I imagine) digest email from the site with links to articles that might interest you. And you can even “bookmark” things you want to read later.

What happens when you bookmark a whole lot and don’t actually read that much? You get a backlog of articles that may number into the several hundred. Or so I’m told.

So I figured, at least for a few weeks, I was going to go through this backlog and pull stories to tell you about that I found interesting, informative, funny, and/or generally worth reading.

Disclaimer: I will try to warn you in advance, but in these posts I will link to articles with bad language from time to time. I’m going to trust that you and your conscience will make good choices, based on your convictions. If I link to the article, it’s because I think the content is worth reading, despite objectionable verbiage.

So here you go–5* stories I’ve read recently that I thought were worth sharing:

I Envy Your Fake Life — Stephen Altrogge talks about the confluence of social media and comparison. I appreciated his honesty, and the reminder of how God’s sovereignty speaks to our contentment.

The Only 3 Types of Writing People Actually Want to Read — Okay, so a lot of the stuff I read on Medium has to do with content creation, writing, publishing, etc. This piece by Ayodeji Awosika was a very useful and direct reminder about what people want to get out of online content (or really, any written content).

Read Like You’re on a Diet — Okay, this one hit a little close to home, as Cody Musser describes the glut of reading material online, the temptation to try to catch it all, and how overwhelming it can be. He’s also frank about how writers’ motives can cloud how good or useful content is. And he emphasizes the need for creating, not just consuming. Worth considering. (NB: language)

23 Ways to Immediately Get more Traffic to Your Blog — Okay, this post is SEO’d to the max. Unsurprising, since it’s Jeff Goins, who’s a pro at platforming. BUT it’s also got some good and useful ideas for boosting the number of eyes that land on your writing, so if you’re into such things, this is a good one to read.

Reading to Learn: Why You Shouldn’t Read Beginning-to-End and What You Should Do Instead — Michael Motta discusses what looks like a very effective method for reading non-fiction (especially textbooks) with an eye to better retention and comprehension. If you’re in school, this may especially be worth a look.

BONUS:

Jesus Took Away My Freedom of Speech… — Couldn’t wait until next time to include this one. Billy Schiel reminds us in this great article about the implications of being servants of Jesus Christ, including how it affects the way we speak (or blog or tweet). Don’t miss this one.

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There you go: the first “Medium” edition of the #FridayFive. If you are already on Medium and are so inclined, you can follow me there. No, I don’t have much content up at this point, but I will be rectifying that in the next few weeks–both with cross-posts from this blog and some Medium-exclusive content as well. Looking forward to that!

Have a great weekend, do something fun, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day if you’re a believer, and I’ll be back next week (hopefully).

#300aDay: The most important part of comedy.

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Timing.

That’s another reason why 300 words a day is a crazy task to undertake: who knows what may come up that needs attending to? Lots of things happen unexpectedly that can throw off your mojo. Readers expect consistency, and if you post at all times of the day or night, you start to alienate your audience. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

Subject change: Today, we had a minor vehicle issue come up–well, it turned out to be minor, anyway. Our 12-year-old minivan was having trouble shifting gears, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the cost of transmission repair, you can imagine how nerve-racking this was at first. Thankfully, the issue seems to have been resolved with some basic maintenance that I had been putting off. I find that to be a tendency of mine: putting off the daily maintenance of things until they become a crisis. I wonder if there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

When the van began falling out of gear repeatedly, I was on my way to work, with my wife in the passenger seat. (#SharedVehicleLife) After I took her back home and got ready to go to the auto repair shop, my wife grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray about this.” This is one of the things I am so grateful for, regarding my wife: she’s a woman of faith and a woman of prayer. I confess that, in times of crisis, my attitude is more pragmatic, more focused on what’s right in front of me. It occurs to me later to pray about things. My wife, on the other hand, is faithful to stop me and remind me that, oh yeah, God is sovereign over all things. Maybe we should pray for wisdom and provision.

My hope is that, as I grow in spiritual maturity, I’ll be quicker to say “Let’s pray” than to say, “I’ll figure something out.” Thankfully, God has given me a wise and faithful wife to help me in that process.

300 Words a Day: Too crazy to attempt?

An idea I’ve heard about over and over in the realm of writing/productivity/creativity is having a daily writing goal: a benchmark that you commit to, no matter what, in order to build a habit, get the creative juices flowing, get the Muse to start showing up–whatever metaphor you prefer.

Of course, that idea has always intrigued me. I struggle with consistency in several areas of life. If I could pick a superpower (and flight wasn’t an option), I would pick the power of consistently doing all the things I commit to doing. That’s right, folks; here comes Self-Control Man, to save the day!

Seriously, though. The BIG THING I would like to change about myself is that I want to commit to a course of action and stick to it–whether that’s eating better, exercising regularly, spending consistent time reading the Bible and praying, or, yes, writing a minimum amount of words every single day.

The number doesn’t have to be huge, either. I just read a Thomas Kidd newsletter (do you get Thomas Kidd’s email newsletters? They’re really good!) from last fall, in which he talks about having a thousand-word-a-day goal. That’s…really intimidating, to be honest. A thousand words a day?!? I don’t know if I could do half that. Or even a third of that.

But then, that got me thinking: could I do 300 words a day? That’s not very ambitious, right? Three hundred words. Typically, my blog posts are 500-800, so 300 words seems like it would be a breeze.

On the other hand, my wife is about to have a baby. My world is about to be turned sideways on its axis as we welcome a baby girl (who is already 5 days late–takes after her daddy, unfortunately). So committing to 300 words a day seems like I’m taking too much on at once–right?

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll consider it some more tomorrow.

Let’s Try That Again: Day 1 of Month 2.

[I wrote this entire post last night, only to delete it accidentally, because I was using a tablet instead of my laptop and I switched apps without thinking. So here’s my best approximation of last night’s post.]

One month ago, I wrote about how I was going to treat the first day of the month like a new year, and start working on a new habit of daily Bible reading. How did that work out?

It went pretty well…for about 2 weeks.

Sometime around my birthday celebration, it all kind of fell apart. I stopped reading the Word regularly. I stopped tracking my food intake (resulting in my gaining back the little bit of weight I had lost in the previous month). I stopped working on my 2016 reading list. I just let up for some reason. My normal schedule was disrupted by parties and travel and family activities, and rather than leaning into the daily habits I had been developing, I fell back into bad patterns.

So now, here we are, a month later, and I’m sorry to say that my adherence on last month’s goal was about 50%, if not a tad less. That’s just sad. So you know what that means… Happy New Year! I’m starting over. But not just starting over–I’m adding a new element. (I know, it’s crazy. Just roll with it.)

Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo for a few weeks (hmm–starting to see a pattern) before realizing it wasn’t quite the right time for me. I got about 15,000 words of a novel written, with notes and random scraps of text to carry through the rest of the book and into the next two. Over the last year, the story has been pressing into my consciousness at various times, and I’ve been keeping a record of ideas and insights that have resulted. It’s a project I am determined to get back to, because I think it will be worth doing.

While I’m not going to go full-NaNo this year, I have decided to add something writing-related to Month 2 of this “new-year” approach.  For the month of November, in addition to continuing to increase my Bible intake, I will try to write 300 words a day of something. You will sometimes see the results of this on the blog (like this post!), and other times these words will only be for my own purposes–writing prompts to sharpen my skills, poetry for my wife, incremental work on my novel. 300 words a day–a modest amount. Nothing to go crazy over. But if I do that, at the end of November, I’ll have produced at least 9,000 more words of creative content, which will be a good thing for me, no matter what.

So, welcome to Month 2. I’m looking forward to keeping you up to date on my progress.

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Your Turn: Are you working on any new habits? Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? How can I encourage you or help you in that?

 

#ArtOfWorkBook: “The hard is what makes it great.”

[This is Part 3 of a series of posts inspired by Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work. Until March 23rd at 11:59PM, the book can be pre-ordered for only $6.99, the cost of shipping, and it comes with a ton of online bonuses. That’s only 3 days away, people–get on it!!! Check it out at www.artofworkbook.com.]

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“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

–Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) in A League of Their Own

Chapter 3 of The Art of Work is probably one of my favorites. In it, Jeff talks about the “myth of talent” and the importance of painful practice. He suggests that it’s practice, not talent, that makes the difference in an endeavor, and that even those who have natural ability owe it to themselves to push themselves past the point of what comes easy in order to discover what they’re really capable of achieving.

He writes:

In an era of human history in which we prize comfort above nearly every other virtue, we have overlooked an important truth: comfort never leads to excellence. What it takes to become great at your craft is practice, but not just any kind of practice—the kind that hurts, that stretches and grows you.

A question I wrestle with from time to time is, Am I really a writer? Don’t writers…write? There are different views on this question of legitimacy. Some would argue (pretty convincingly) that if you’re not driven, if you don’t have a compelling need to write, then you need to quit kidding yourself and move on to something else. I see the logic here—writing is challenging and lonely work. There’s no instant feedback and recognition. It’s an act of faith that what you’re doing means something, is worth something. If you’re not willing to sacrifice the time and sleep and energy to create, you may be more enamored by the thought of being a writer than the actual writing.

The counter proposal is that sometimes writers need time away from writing in order to figure out what is worth saying at all. The longer this season lasts, however, the more important it is to take a hard look at what you love and what you don’t. Your passions are often revealed in how you spend your time, money, and energy (unless these resources are tied up in other necessary things, and you’re living under constant frustration—that’s a different conversation).

More from Jeff Goins:

I don’t know where this idea that your calling is supposed to be easy comes from. Rarely do easy and greatness go together. The art of doing hard things requires an uncommon level of dedication. You have to love the work to be able to persevere through those difficult times, those painful moments when you would probably rather quit. How do you do that without an uncanny amount of passion? It’s not possible. You must love the work. Not until you find something you can do to the point of exhaustion, to the extent that you almost hate it but can return to it tomorrow, have you found something worth pursuing.

I can admit: this is how I’ve felt about church ministry from time to time. As I’ve expressed recently, there have been moments in the last year when I was ready to throw up my hands and say, “This clearly isn’t my calling.” But the love and the Lord have kept me going.

And I think I can say the same for writing, to some extent. I’m not as prolific as some of you, dear readers, but I’m working on it. I keep blogging. I keep writing poetry. I can’t seem to quit this, because it won’t let go of me. I’m still getting bursts of inspiration for stories to tell, and I’m scribbling down all those notes until I can start fleshing them out.

So I’m just going to keep moving my fingers and making the clickety-clack sound, and hopefully you’ll keep reading what I share, and one day, I’ll hold up something made of physical paper and ink and say, “Mine.”

Until then, I need to keep practicing and keep posting. Thanks for taking the ride with me.

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Your Turn: Have you ever reached the point of painful practice, when you both hate and love the thing you’re passionate about doing? How did you break through that temptation to pull back and stop?