A few people emailed me, asking whether I was OK, alive, and breathing.
You can’t blame them: after all, I used to publish on this newsletter daily. And nowadays, my publishing schedule looks more like “publish every sometimes.”
I get it. And I am incredibly thankful for your support and concern.
So here’s a short answer: I am OK, alive, and breathing :)
Also – this newsletter (and community) is called ‘The Honest Creative’ for a reason.
I value feelings above thoughts—honesty above efficiency. And transparency above marketing. I believe that the creator’s job is to say what’s on their mind – what’s actually there – regardless of how comfortable that may be.
After all, there are few more honest things than art. Heeding to my own values, I feel like I owe you an explanation for what’s happening to me right now.
First things first: I am alright. Thank you for asking.
Second. After writing diligently on Medium every day for the past 365+ days, I’ve realized one important thing.
I’ve overgrown it.
Not Medium per se, but the style of writing ‘clickbaity’ (even though I like to believe my articles were never clickbaity) articles.
Here’s the thing. I know that if I write “10 Things To Make Yourself Rich” type of articles regularly, I will make a lot of money. This February, I had ~ 1,000 subscribers (compared to 7,000 now), and I wrote ten articles about the lessons learned from my heroes. They were good articles, and they became a book. And I’ve made a lot of money from that. I could keep on creating those and, potentially, keep making a good income from it – but that’s not why I write.
You see, writing for me – and I believe that’s how it should be for most creatives – is a vocation. And by vocation, I mean it’s the work you love unconditionally. I want to give it my all. And I will never ask anything in return. If I make money – that’s good. But if not – that’s OK too.
Liz Gilbert approached her writing in a similar fashion. She told it, “I promise to never ask you for anything. I will support us both.”
Almost the same way you talk to a child or someone you love.
I don’t blame people who view writing as a job. There are (real) stories of people who have quit their jobs to start writing on Medium. There are copywriters. Journalists. For them, it’s just that – a job. And when something is a job, you approach it like a job. You don’t have to like it. It’s enough that it pays the bills.
Personally, this fall, I made a conscious decision not to turn writing into a job. I have my freelance gigs to cover that side of my life. But I’ve realized – with a bit of regret – that even though I had the best intentions (and I believed wholeheartedly everything I wrote) for the past year, I got too obsessed with the metrics.
The audience. The claps. The comments. The number of articles that get published in publications. The number of subscribers on this newsletter.
I treated it as a content marketing gig more than a vocation.
And, as a result, I got burned out, tired, and unmotivated.
When you’re a growing writer – or any creative – your work is like a a growing plant. You don’t expect an orchard to bear fruit in the first year. You give it time. You plant seeds. You nourish it. You wait.
And you do the best you can to make the orchard blossom.
The only way to write, I’ve realized, is to write honestly. Otherwise, you’re manipulating people to get something in return.
Few people know but F. Scott Fitzgerald used to have a scheme of writing journalistic stories that the newspapers liked and paid him to support his flamboyant lifestyle.
When Hemingway – who was a close friend to Scott in Paris – heard about it, he was astounded. In the Moveable Feast he recalls telling Fitzgerald, “Write in the most direct way possible. Write the book you really want to write.”
As writers, creators, we owe it to ourselves and our audience to be as forthright as we possibly can. Nothing matters unless we are.
Unfortunately, Medium’s payout scheme is based on reading time, which favors length for its own sake. This is why you see writers going around the bush, writing a lot – sometimes, publishing 3-4 times per day – or writing a lot in terms of the article length. In both cases, you’re trying to find a “hack”, to trick the system to get more attention, views, money.
Comprehending all of this, I couldn’t keep on writing the way I was. I called this my “writing phase” – in which I transition from one level to another, as if rising a skyscraper on a staircase.
Another thing that you learn after going through volumes of work – which I don’t claim to have done yet, but I am in the process – is that you only really start creating anything decent 3-4 years in the job.
Neil Gaiman said once, “Assume you have one million words inside of you that are rubbish – get them all out,” he was talking about this. Initially, you have a lot of pretention, bullshit, arrogance, bad ideas inside. The only way to get rid of them is to go through the friction of putting them on the page. And clicking ‘submit’.
You also know you’ve grown as a creator when you approach your work seriously. If at first, you published every stupid idea you might have had, by the time your skill improved, your inner critic had grown too.
Which is to say, you publish less. But better.
Bringing this loooong email to a close, let me just say (again) that I am OK. There’s just a certain evolution happening inside me, as a writer, as a creative, as a human being. I can feel it.
I will keep writing, but it will be from a different place – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. I hope it won’t affect my work, but will make it only more worth subscribing to.
Finally, let me remind you of a simple, yet powerful truth about any creative work.
There are no rules. Don’t act as if there were.