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On audiences, creation and being a great writer (and artist)
Thomas J. Bevan's Maxims on audiences, writing and art
Thomas J. Bevan originally posted the following thoughts as a Twitter thread. While the focus of these thoughts is about writers, I feel most of them apply equally to visual artists trying to make their way in today’s online landscape, so we’re republishing them here. We sincerely hope you find some valuable ideas you can apply to your own artistic endeavors.
By the way, if you are a writer and want to connected with like-minded souls, we suggest you consider joining the Soaring Twenties Social Club run by Mr. Bevan. It’s a sort of modern day, online bohemian café. Think of it as an online pub where one can get feedback on our works in progress, where we can talk about great books, cinema, music and how we are all digging our way out of the rat race via our creativity and wit. It’s a place where we can talk freely without algorithms, metrics or character counts. There will be only 300 members of STSC and as I write this there are less than 50 available spots left. OK, on to the article…
On audiences, creation and being a great writer
1. Better to write great work and have no audience than have an audience and no great work. And you only have a shot at getting both if you prioritise the work over the audience.
2. The quality of the work determines the quality of the audience. Chasing quantity for its own sake negatively affects the quality.
3. You’re building a body of work. An oeuvre. If the body of work isn’t growing and the quality of the work within it improving then you are failing by the only standard that matters.
4. Build the core audience and then slow expand from there, if at all. Better a bonsai tree than a monocrop.
5. Writing is a team sport- you need sounding-boards, editors, proofreaders and cheerleaders. If you don’t have those yet, you will attract them by ceaselessly putting out the best work you can without compromise.
6. If you read what everyone else reads, you’ll write what everyone else writes.
7. Good artists copy, great artist steal- but there’s a world of difference between being a master jewel thief and a petty burglar
8. Don’t publicly post anything online that you wouldn’t be willing to see published in a hardback in 10 years time.
9. You don’t get better at ‘creating content’, you just get more successful. Only art offers the possibility of future mastery.
10. Writers block happens when the well of ideas and inspiration runs dry. Or you are afraid. Always one of the two. You have to face the reality head on. Or quit.
11. Tight plotting enhances readability but diminishes re-readability.
12. Write with all out effort, intensity and emotional engagement. Then be idle with impunity.
13. Busywork is procrastination from the truths that stare-at-the-wall procrastination will bring.
14. All art is performance art. 30 minutes on stage beats 30 hours in the practice room. 30 minutes free drafting beats 30 hours of ‘studying’
15. Those who call themselves ‘aspiring writers’ mock deus ex machina plot devices while they wait for their work to be discovered.
16. In an attention economy, willfully ignoring the most attention seeking things is an act of rebellion. Doubly so if you ignore because you are too busy creating your own art.
17. Bring things from outside the internet to the internet. Reacting to events of the day or the latest thinkpiece is a ticket to mediocrity. Be the source not the citer.
18. Social media’s necessity for artists is a lie agreed upon.
19. Being a sharecropper for the algorithm is not a square deal. They need you more than you need them.
20. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a whole philosophy disguised as a writing tip.
21. The longer the accompanying description, the worse the piece of art.
22. Create, put your name to it, release it. The worse reputation you can have is for being known as someone who never staked their reputation on anything.
23. You don’t need permission, you don’t need credentials, you don’t need professional connections. Not any more. What’s stopping you is lack of belief in what you write or lack of belief in yourself as a writer.
24. Chasing today’s literary trend won’t work. It’s already too late. Be the trend. Be the copied not the copier.
25. The engine of every story is time, which is another way of saying death.
26. Character takes precedent over accomplishments. Your eulogy will be about who you were more than what you did.
27. Raise the standard. Engagement be damned. If the algorithm says zig but your heart, intuition, principles or artistic taste say zag then zag audaciously.
28. There is no competition in art. And even if there were then between the dreamers, the talkers, the hobbyists and the hacks, most of the ‘competition’ can be discounted immediately.
29. Art is a mechanism for the emergence of the self.
30. ‘The genius is the one most like himself’ ~ Monk
31. Be the mimetic role model your younger self needed, both in what you create and in the unwavering integrity with which you promote it.
32. Vices become crutches when they are broadcast as an identity. The internet has amplified this curse and artists are especially susceptible.
33. Art is a long term game. And everything long term favours endurance.
34. You have to read beyond the present age if you want to be read beyond the present age.
35. In a world of dilettantes, professionalism is king. In a world of hacks, authenticity is king.
36. Nothing has created more late bloomers than the myth of the prodigy.
37. Writing is telepathy. It’s emotional transference. How you feel as you write is how they’ll feel as they read. Every hack piece is the unfeeling keytapping of someone who is driven by the word count and other metrics.
38. Your morning routine is irrelevant. You know when you are making strides. You know when you are lying to yourself. Self help morning rituals are lying to yourself about lying to yourself.
39. Grammar apps are training wheels. Aim to outgrow them as soon as possible.
40. No one in the history of the world ever became a world class writer (or anything else for that matter) without becoming obsessed with it.
41. The internet allows you to independently create, release and distribute art in a way every pre-internet generation would’ve killed for. The trade off is that it vastly increases the likelihood you will burn out, sell out or give up too soon.
42. As with everything else in a rich get richer world, the sophisticated audience who can handle nuance and subtlety and have an intact attention span will separate themselves from those who binge low bandwidth ‘content’. Position accordingly.
43. AI art is by definition not human. Those who value and crave authentic human expression will separate themselves from the machine creations. The dead internet will get deader, the real internet will get realer.
44. Your art may not save the world, but it will save your life if you fully devote yourself to it.