“If you write to market you’re a hack and a prostitute.” (The myth of passion vs profit)

In this video I discuss Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and his newer book “Nobody wants to read your shit.” I agree with Steven on so many things, and our actually method of creative production, as he reveals in the second book, is:

1) Universal story-telling basics (plotting and story architecture)
2) Creativity as a gift to be shared (writing for readers rather than “writerly self-indulgence”
3) Overcoming resistance

However, since most authors and creativity have ONLY read the War of Art, and because Steven writes that considering the market is “prostitution” and if you think about earning a living with your writing “you’re a hack” most authors SKIP the crucial first two steps.

Even worse, when full-time authors who are actually, successfully, making a living with a writing, give them an easy and simple process to write books that sell, they think it’s “selling out” or failing somehow (even though it’s easy to write books that sell on purpose and make tons of money, as Steven admits in the War of Art, it’s also “sacrilegious” and “blasphemy.”

Of course, this is why most authors refuse to study story architecture or consider the market, follow their muse, publish shit nobody wants to read and feel like failed and frustrated artists (and consequently need to read Steven’s 2nd book to figure out what went wrong).

In other words, Steven has all the right pieces, but the order is inverted, and his blanket condemnation of writing to market is not only self-contradictory, but essentially harmful to all creatives (who should be focused on creating work that actually matters – if nobody gives a shit about your work, it doesn’t matter how inspired you were or how much passion you have for your project. If it doesn’t matter to anyone else, it’s not art.)

ALSO – sidenote, writing to market means you will intend to get better and improve the quality of every book you finish, because you have specific goals and measures; that means it will get easier and faster to write BETTER books, rather than just guessing and improvising and starting from scratch every time.

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  1. Derek Murphy
    April 24, 2018

    Someone asked a question but I can't find chat comments after a life video… I think it was "I've finished my manuscript – now what?"

    A) You can find an agent or publisher to do everything for you, or pay a lot of money to a vanity press. The first is a good idea, but difficult if you don't have a platform already; the second is not a great idea because you'll overpay for inferior book design.

    B) You can self-publish, which just means: hiring someone to format the book and make an ebook and print cover, then upload to Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace. It's that easy (though you may have limitations depending on which country you're from.) After that, success and sales will mostly depend on how many people are looking for what your book offers, and how many of those people can you get your book in front of.

  2. Jon Evans
    April 24, 2018

    Well said. It really winds me up when writers get on their high horse and almost deliberately it seems, flip the idea of writing to market on its head because they get some kind of perverse thrill out of it. I think some of them feel, like Pressfield presumably does, that they're better artists if they don't consider their readers while they're writing. Then they'll put out a book that is successful and claim that as proof that they're right. Of course what they've actually done, is written a book to market but without realising they've done it. Maybe they think they've created a new market of people who are just recognising their creative genius, I don't know. I think it's far more likely they've hit an existing market of people who are hungry for the tropes in their book. If you're creating art in the expectation that no-one else will appreciate it, it is just possible that what you're creating is the exact opposite of great art – like Plan 9 from Outer Space.

  3. oracleofaltoona
    April 24, 2018

    Really like your approach to creative writing. You take a middle approach which, IMO, is very common sense and productive. Thank you very much for the interesting discussion of this topic of art v commerce, or art v selling out. You need all the elements : craft, knowing what readers want, and pure inspiration.

    edited to add: However I have heard that some authors or other artists say that they do create for themselves, and would be paralyzed if they thought about pleasing others . . .so I think there is some individuality involved in the different approaches also.

  4. Regina Saint Claire
    April 24, 2018

    Good video. I agree it's a false dichotomy between art and commerce. My favorite authors do both well.

  5. Trey Wilson
    April 25, 2018

    I honestly don't understand the mentality of authors who scoff at writing commercial books.

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