The Problems of “S” Words: On Self-Promotion and Starving For Your Art

While this statement can be true on so many levels, I’m talking today about “S” words in writing.  The sound of one hand clapping can either be silent or a slap across the face.  In one case, nothing is done so nothing gets done and in the other, you have someone’s undivided attention.

We have a natural reluctance to self-promote.  My usual reaction to self-promotion is a little bit of nausea.  And it’s taken me a long time to realize that self-promotion isn’t walking around with the words “Greatest Swordsman in Japan” written on your back.  This issue has been around in the martial arts the past few centuries too:  how do you keep your art “pure,” unsullied by ugly self-promotion.

I have a problem with the term “starving for your art.”  It’s another idea based on “keeping things pure” and it’s misleading.  I keep thinking it was coined by people who liked the myth of making art than actually, you know, making art.  You do suffer for your art.  You sacrifice for your art.  You don’t self-immolate yourself by starving for your art.  I had a friend who once prayed for hardships in order to make him more like the saints and came to suffer so much that he realized asking for extra suffering doesn’t get you anywhere except down.  It doesn’t make you a better person and it doesn’t make your art any better.  Life has enough suffering on its own.  Asceticism isn’t really the answer.

The purity question is a funny thing.  According to the above, pure art should be self-destructive and silent.  Neither is helpful.  Emily Dickinson wasn’t a shut-in, but active in her community.  Poetry is only fully poetry when it is shared, and she shared it with those she wanted to.  But even if the myths were true, would that make her the purer poet as opposed to Whitman who had the audacity pack up a self-published book and mail it off to Emerson?  I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but if no one knows you’re there, you don’t get anything.

This is a lesson from life.  You can do a bang-up job at work.  You can be the best at what you do.  But it doesn’t mean you’re going to get that promotion.  In fact, it can actually mean you will NEVER get promoted.  Doing something well doesn’t mean that you can do something more.  You have to not only constantly work to expand your skills and boundaries, but other people have to know that you have growing capabilities.  As a writer, you’ve got a ton of competition, and so what?  If you want people to read you, then start making some noise.  You can do it and still be dignified.  At the very least, you are sharing something with the world.

The case for self-promotion rests upon the reality that no one will be out there looking for something they don’t know about.  Sure, a lot of it is luck.  Being in the right place at the right time, but if you’re stationary or if you’re a ghost leaving no traces in your wake, your luck is small.  Luck has a pretty big active component.  People with a lot of good luck also seem to be people who are out there, trying things out, seeing and being seen.  It doesn’t mean that they are being unseemly.  In most cases, they are just going about their business.  But they are out there.  Talking.  Interacting.  Being people.

So what’s the point of all this?  Go out there.  Don’t be an ass, but do stuff.  Try stuff out.  Talk to people.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read recently come from the two books on marketing that Finishing Line recommended at their acceptance of The Minstrel of Belmont, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers and The Frugal Book Promoter: you’re not selling your book; you’re selling you.  Be you, but be visible and be dignified.

And pre-order The Minstrel of Belmont at Finishing Line Press.  My wife thinks it’s awesome.


This entry was posted in General, Minstrel of Belmont, Poetry, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Problems of “S” Words: On Self-Promotion and Starving For Your Art

  1. robert okaji says:

    I’ve discovered that hard work isn’t enough. Spending hours writing is fine, but once you’ve written a piece, what then? The answer for me has been to communicate, to participate. And opportunities have consequently arisen.

  2. I heard a voice here that I haven’t heard before! You surprised me and I hope you’re surprising yourself.

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