Thoughts On Being Creative For A Living

As some of you may or may not have noticed, I have recently delved deeper into the world of photography as a way to further develop as a creative person in general, to learn a new skill in particular, and to diversify my revenue streams (assuming I get to that point). As with almost everything I have taught myself over the past six years or so, I turned to YouTube for tutorials.

That’s when I found Peter McKinnon’s channel for photographers and cinematographers. Boom, right in the sweet spot. The guy is a treasure trove of information, and I’ve learned a lot from his videos already. But this isn’t about him per se, or even about photography. This is about a particular video he put out titled Something Every Artist Needs To Hear. Check it out below:

His commentary really hit home with me. I know exactly what he’s talking about. I’ve had the same thoughts and felt the same emotions. It’s not easy venturing into a creative space; it’s even more difficult if you try to make a living doing it. As Peter mentioned in the video, it’s hard to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. You will take criticism, you will have people that attack your character, and you will have people who make wild assumptions that snowball into… yeah.

I’ve had more and more friends, acquaintances, and random internet connections reach out lately asking for advice on writing and other creative stuff. My general thoughts are that you have to be fearless in the beginning, persistent in the middle, and humble once you reach the height of your success. Oh, and never stop learning, never stop trying to be better at your craft then the day before or the year before.

I’m still in the ‘be persistent’ stage myself, but am lucky to know a few guys and gals who have made it to the ‘be humble’ stage. They are a true inspiration for climbing this mountain and making it to the top.

Everyone starts somewhere though. It’s going to suck in the beginning. Not only will you be highly critical of your own work (as every artist is), but you’ll have people who pick everything you do apart and aren’t shy about reminding you of every mistake (you’ll make them, and a lot of them) you’ve ever made. It comes with the job. Try to handle it gracefully, but most importantly push through it and continue working.

Money might get tight when you make the transition to full time artist. It’ll be embarrassing, it might cause fights with your spouse or family, and you might not be able to live very comfortably. Hell, you might even have to hide your car in random parking lots so that the re-po man can’t find it (2014 suuuuuuucked!). But you have to push through that, you have to believer that you will make it to the other side and once again (or maybe for the first time in your life) live comfortably while plying your trade.

I’m probably babbling at this point, but fuck it, that’s why this is a blog on my own website.

A lot of artists, especially writers, are also introverts. You have to be comfortable marketing yourself and your work though. That’s part of “putting yourself out there.” If you grew up in a humble blue-collar family like I did, it’s going to feel very narcissistic, very grand stand-y (if that makes sense). But you have to do it. If you don’t think your work is good enough to tell other people about, then why would anyone else think it’s good enough? You have to be excited about every creation, even if you know it was a learning experience or that you are capable of better. And you have to take it in stride when people accuse you of self-promotion, selling out, or in the case of many military veterans¾ abandoning the “quiet/silent professional” ethos.

If you’re patient and work hard, the opportunities will come. There is no sure-fire path towards success as a creative person. I’ve had opportunities present themselves because of contacts I made years prior, risks I took that didn’t make sense at the time, or work that I did a long time ago. You never know who will see it, who will appreciate it, or who will reach out. You just have to trust that it will all pay off eventually.

I recently had such an opportunity arise. It’s not the kind of opportunity that will result in a lot of money made, but rather the kind that indicates I’ve been on the right path even though I’ve questioned it many times. It’s an opportunity that very few ever receive in this particular field, but for me it’s validation of the highest order. That means everything when you’ve been grinding for years trying to get somewhere.

Anyway, that’s probably enough for one blog post. Go out and take a risk, chase your dream, and make mistakes. I hope it pays off for you some day. I hope the journey is all worth it! 

Marty Skovlund, Jr.