I pre-ordered a copy of Jeff Goins Real Artists Don’t Starve last week and had a chance to sit down and read it when I was house sitting for a friend.
Before I begin my review let me just say this is not one of those “YOU CAN DO IT!” books where you feel exhilarated and motivated after you read it. This is one of those books that starts by pumping you up, then it hits you in the gut with your own failures by showing you all the times when you could have been successful with your art, but weren’t.
This makes book makes you reflect on all of the missed opportunities you had. It confronts you with your sloth and cowardice. That’s what it did to me. The worst part is that Jeff Goins doesn’t write to offend or accuse. He is a competent writer with an academic style, using historical narratives from many different artists to make his points. In many ways this book feels like a book of history.
The book strikes a cord.
Essentially, Real Artists Don’t Starve debunks the myth of the starving artist. The person who must suffer financially for their art because they have no audience to sell too, or the market is too crowded and depresses prices, or whatever reason society offers for why artists aren’t well off.
Jeff Goins breaks the book into three sections. Mindset, Market, and Money. Goins covers everything from defining patrons and finding mentors to giving you permission to steal liberally and knowing when to sell out.
This book is cogent, thoughtful, and intelligent.
Jeff Goins redefines what a mentor is and what a patron is, for our modern audience. He makes the elegant argument that genius happens in groups. After reading this book, you will be compelled to re-evaluate your art, but your approach to the business of your art.
See, too many people have accepted the lie that to be a great artist you need to sequester yourself in a cave with your art tools and slave away in obscurity. That the only way to mastery is to abandon the world, normative society, and your loved ones so you can dedicate yourself to your art.
At the same time, the renown artists crave for can only had if artist leave their cave. (And, Goins has a word for those artists who say “I don’t
crave that stuff. I make art for me.”) How can the world enjoy your work if you never tell us about it? How can you earn a living as an artist if you never know your worth?
The Lies about Art
All of the bad mojo, the misconceptions and outright lies about art and business of art are confronted here in a nice volume just over two hundred pages. I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found myself fist pumping in the air at times while sitting in shock during others. It is that good.
I really enjoyed all of the historical research Jeff Goins did for this book. He had anecdotal stories from artists as varied as Michelangelo to
Earnest Hemingway to Dr. Dre. He talked about Paris in the 1920s and Silicon Valley in the 1980s. He showed me the business sides of artists and struck a cord.
Right now there is no paperback copy. You can get it in hardback or as an e-book. If you consider yourself an artists, or know an artists, get this book. But be warned: Your conceptions about art will be challenged and you might find yourself re-evaluating some of your life choices. I know I did.
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Welcome to all those who have arrived from Writing from the Peak Website! I want to get into some nitty gritty about re-writes. So, let’s begin!
Let’s Be Honest About these Re-Writes
If you’re adding a romantic subplot, like I did. Or you’re polishing some language so that story or character arcs stand out, or you’re trying to make an impact with dialogue, then go be about your business. But there should be a light at the end of the tunnel. There should be a time when you can abandon this story and move on to the next one. Your job is not to create perfection, but to create art. This is why I push the critique group so much. Everyone needs a separate set of eyes to tell you if what you’re doing is good, or not. Those additional eyes will help make your story great.
What if you need a major overhaul? Ok. We can do that. But first ask yourself why. Is your world building off? Are their historical anachronisms in your story that are essential to the plot? Did you realize you told the story from the wrong point of view? (This happens, believe me!)
Is any part of your W.I.P. salvageable? Perhaps Act 1, or the last part of act 3? Maybe the midpoint, or the romantic subplot? Whatever can be salvaged should be kept and put into separate file folders. Then start your re-writes. As you do this, think about the plot beats. Think about the protagonist’s motivation and character arc. How can you put these on a pedestal and polish them so they shine in your story?
Remember, writing a novel takes grit. If you’ve come this far, you’ve got what it takes. I know how disheartening it can feel realizing you have to write another 80,000 words before your novel is done. I have been there. My first draft of The Gallowglass was 117,000 words. It took a year to write. It was also very bad. Oh, so very bad. When I re-wrote the novel, I couldn’t even save one paragraph. But I got through it. I now have a much better story. If I can do it, I know you can too.
The Nine Questions
Ask these questions about your work before, during and after you’ve written your first draft. The answers should change as your story progresses and you polish certain scenes.
1.) Is the protagonist’s motivation painfully obvious?
2.) Is the protagonist likeable? Do you want them to be?
3.) Do you have a theme? If so, is the theme obvious to your readers?
4.) Does your protagonist have a story arc? Is it clear and obvious?
5.) Do any of your supporting characters have a story arc? Are their arcs clear and obvious?
6.) Is your protagonist the cause of at least some of his own troubles? If not, why? If so, can he fix them?
7.) Is your protagonist able to reflect upon their decisions at the midpoint? If so, is she beginning to question her decisions?
8.) Is there a whiff of death in the second half of Act 2?
9.) Is there at least a partially satisfying conclusion for your reader? Do the good guys win? If not, is there something satisfying for your reader to grab ahold of at the end of your W.I.P.?
The Story Arc
In every film, opera, play and novel there are actually two stories going on. One is motivated by the plot. The overarching story that the protagonist and her friends are reacting too. The other story is about the protagonist’s inner journey. This is this is the character arc. Questions 1, 4, 6, 7, & 8 are about your protagonist’s character arc.
In the past, genre fiction like sci-fi or paranormal romance was heavy on plot, but light on character development. That time is quickly dying. All writers need to up their game and work on the character arc for their novel, regardless of the genre. It is very important that your readers see the protagonist grow, learn and change as the story progresses. And, you get bonus points for making your character arc and plot arc intersect! All the best novels have a character arc that intersects with the story arc.
There are times in the story, like in the beginning, when we learn what the hero really wants, and at the midpoint, when we see the hero realize maybe this isn’t what they want, that intersect with the story arc. If done well, they can be seamless and poignant. The character arc should be the focus of your re-writes. Look to make your protagonist’s personality stand out in the midst’s of the story arc.
I could go on about this, but local Colorado author Stant Litore wrote a book about this called Writing Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget: a Toolbox for Emerging Writers, on Amazon now for under $10. I highly recommend it.
Next month will talk about paths to publishing, getting an agent & if you want one, and the power of self-publishing.
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