The Paradox of Loving What You Do
A funny paradox: We love to love what we do. Yet, we sometimes fear that if we learn too much about how what we do works, the love will vanish. As if increased behind-the-scenes know-how spoils the innocent magic. And if we become conscious of how what we do affects others, then we fear becoming manipulative.
Yet, can you imagine magician David Copperfield or filmmaker Wes Anderson being able to enchant us if they did not love what they do and aspire to learn how what they do affects their audience and do the work necessary to make the magic happen?
We know how art we love captivates us. And yet we’re not always willing to admit that we can learn without becoming cynical and that we can become adept and craft-conscious in our art and business art without becoming manipulative.
I see numerous aspiring artists and aspiring business artists tripped up and stuck in this paradox. Otherwise talented artists, coaches, and freelancers also get hung up on their own baggage labeled “marketing” and “branding.” (For the record, been there.) With the near-sold-out Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program about to get under way, I’m wondering more about what trips us up in the challenging process of art-making and artisan business-making.
(By the way, I’d appreciate your perspective in the comments below because your perspective broadens mine.)
For the Love of It
A while back, I worked with a client who loved to write her salacious true stories – Fifty Shades of Nonfiction Grey, in essence – and share them with her writing peers who also love to “pour it out” on the page.
Nothing wrong, per se, with writing to process and expose the 50 ways you had sex. In fact, Steve Almond offers a sound account of why writing workshops are on the rise while therapy is in decline. In my darkest storms, I’ve turned to journaling and dream cataloging as lighthouse activities.
But here’s where the client and I got tripped up. Whenever I mentioned craft or rewriting to design an experience for her readers, she took this as talk about “writing to get published,” which equated with something inauthentic, manipulative.
What she loved was the ecstasy of the emotional outpouring. And her peers applauded her for her vulnerability and rawness. Where did I go awry? I wondered.
Around the same time, a second client aspired to develop a blog where she could share her writings with her modest-sized audience. Yet, she similarly bristled when I tried to help her brand her blog in a way that might engage and attract more of the people she wanted to engage. This is what she asked for, yet once we tried it didn’t feel authentic to her.
The first client wouldn’t embrace that most writing is rewriting for an experience beyond the writer’s own gratification, and the second client would not embrace that branding can be a creative, authentic process.
On one hand, maybe both clients wished to remain amateurs in the purest sense of the word. “Amateur” from “amore” as in “one who loves process for the sake of process.” Amateurs love the fun of what they do. No harm there.
And anyone who moves from amateur to apprentice to artist to maestro would be wise to take with them their amateur’s heart – and beginner’s mind.
Amateurs play obsessively for long hours at what they do. But they often resist direction, guidance, any hint of critique for fear the fun will be spoiled. This amateur bubble is part of The Apprenticeship Gap.
Yet I’m also confident I went awry a few times in how I framed our work together.
The Missing Frame
The missing reframe came up recently with another client. This client is a brilliant PhD practitioner with a manuscript well on its way, an excellent scene editor on her team, and an intriguing account of her lived experience.
We’ve worked for a couple of months to shape that account into a Story for a memoir and publisher-ready proposal. Before our third meeting, I had pored over another 50 or 60 pages and had rewritten her proposal overview to help frame the core Story and its singular elegant idea.
Yet, during our meeting I would hear – and mirror back to the client – her words about “trying to force a story for the marketplace” and forcing a story to fit “a linear hero’s journey.” Her frames and words, not mine.
And, finally, what I thought had been obvious I apparently spelled out in a way that got through.
We explored the core purpose of Story and how it differs from a Personal Account.
A Personal Account is written mostly for the writer’s own therapeutic, meaning-making needs. Parts of it might ring as “authentic” and “raw” to people who like to read other people’s diaries and journals.
Story, on the other hand, is shaped with the aim to captivate, reward, and move an audience. To give them an experience worth having.
That process can be incredibly therapeutic for the writer, but that’s not the main aim.
The client lit up. She finally got it, she said. All of the hard work we were doing had a purpose that meant something to her – to deliver a rewarding experience to her patch of the planet, the readers she may never meet but who will be served and moved by her hard work. The people who will be so moved they can’t wait to tell others about it. The aim wasn’t just to make a lot of money by trying to manipulate consumers in the marketplace.
And the same is true for business artists who get that we live in a very different kind of economy – a whole different way of exchange and commerce – than that we grew up in.
The aim is for changed looks on people’s faces. A changed way of thinking. A changed way of feeling more alive. For a moment, a taste of self-transcendence.
Elevation Not Manipulation
We do have to be careful not to put the market before our creative or humane intentions or else our brand, book, or business will lose its center. The Tao of Authentic Marketing for Creatives can be helpful here.
An artist remains devoted to the craft sometimes even at the expense of the market.
A business artist and a business artisan remain devoted to ideals of enchanting and elevating their patch of the planet sometimes at the expense of common sense.
Does this make sense to you? Are there exceptions? I really would appreciate your perspective in the comments below.
But crafting a captivating book, brand, performance, talk, or presentation is not about manipulation. Learning the craft of writing, the craft of artisanal branding, or the craft of platform-building is about designing experiences that reward and move an audience – customers, readers, viewers, consumers.
Pam Slim said it in terms I’ve expressed in other (wordier) ways: It’s not about you.
It’s about engagement, enchantment, elevation – all of which are greater than you.
There it is: The aim to create and to brand is to elevate, not manipulate.
Delight & Perverse Pleasure is Not Fun – or, Create Like a Motherfu%$er
Hours upon hours of work to enchant and elevate a stranger for a few minutes or a few hours? That’s what artists, business artists, and business artisans do. Doing so requires courage – wit, grit, heart, and support – to stand up for the story you, your book, your brand must tell.
And it means we’re called to muster the courage to create like a Motherfu$5er as I heard Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestseller Wild, say recently in Woodstock.
It means, as artists and business artists – or apprentice artists and apprentice business artists – we sweat the deliberate practice. What is deliberate practice? It’s not Morning Pages. Research by K. Anders Ericsson from 1993 onwards and those who have followed him point out that this kind of practice is
performed in solitude
guided with feedback by a mentor,
and, well, not fun.
Not fun? The practice is sort of grueling. But for artists and business artists, there’s a sort of perverse pleasure in the practice. There’s a delight in the details, in the physical, sensory experience of our media and in the intellectual stimulation.
There’s a perverse pleasure in devoting time and space to mixing the medicine that only you (and your team) can deliver to your patch of the planet in your signature way. Mad scientists, all of us. Now that is a perversity I can indulge in.
On the business artist’s quest, too, she can look back at her work even a year ago and see how far she’s come. An inevitable self-admiration arises.
And every once in a while, there’s just utter astonishment that she is engaged in work she still loves, in work she still aspires to improve in beyond her comfort zone, and in work that does, in fact, elevate her patch of the planet.
This is more than fun.
And that’s a wonder.