Jeff has always been a creative person who likes to make things. As a kid, he drew his own Garfield fan comics with a friend.
Jeff’s dad taught him how to play guitar when he got older. He was in a number of bands that played really bad songs.
It was in high school that Jeff started to write stories for fun. He also acted in plays during his high school career.
Jeff gained more experience with writing as a writing tutor. After he graduated college, he toured with the band for a year. The most fun Jeff had during that year was writing weekly blog posts about the touring experience.
After a year, he quit the band and moved to Nashville, where he was hired as a copywriter by a nonprofit. He eventually became their director of marketing, and learned quite a bit about traditional and online marketing.
That’s when Jeff had the idea to use the brand-building strategies he learned at the nonprofit to build his own personal brand as a writer.
Today, goinswriter.com is Jeff’s ninth blog. The first eight blogs he wrote for failed. goinswriter.com succeeded because Jeff took the right steps and didn’t quit. Jeff’s successful blog allowed him and his wife to quit their day jobs and do this full-time.
Jeff’s Author Journey: Defining Moments and Small Steps Forward
Jeff’s success has been made up of both huge defining moments and small, consistent steps forward. When Jeff was 27 years old, his boss enrolled him in a coaching program for professional development. Early on in those meetings, someone asked him what his dream was.
Jeff had seen many of his friends quit their day jobs to pursue their dream—only to be back at a day job within six months. He didn’t think he had a dream. So he replied, “I don’t have a dream—I have a job, I have a family. I don’t need a dream.”
Jeff’s coaching buddy replied, “That’s funny. I get the sense that your dream is to be a writer.”
That resonated with Jeff and he said, “Yeah. I guess that is my dream, to be a writer someday. But that will never happen.”
Jeff’s coaching buddy pointed out, “Jeff, you don’t have to wait to be a writer. You just have to write.”
Jeff published a 500-word blog post the next day. Every day for a year, he published a blog post between 500 and 1,000 words long.
Throughout that year, when he met new people and they asked him what he did, he told them, “I’m a writer.”
This wasn’t a case of “faking it until he made it.” Jeff believed he was a writer. Then he took small consistent actions until he became a professional writer.
“People won’t take you seriously until you do.”
– Jeff Goins
Jeff developed a system for creating daily blog content that allowed him to write and edit a post before publishing it to his blog. Want to learn from his experience? There’s a link to his three-bucket content system in the links section of the show notes.
How to Deal with Fear
“Fear is what happens to us when we hesitate to do the things we know we need to do. Fear is what happens when we wait. ”
– Jeff Goins
When you act quickly, there’s no time for fear to creep in. Children have very little fear. Fear is something we learn as a result of watching the consequences of certain actions. We think, “Oh, if I do this I will get hurt.”
Because Jeff was producing daily content for his blog, he didn’t have much time to feel fear. He knew his content wasn’t necessarily that good. But this was his writing practice. He was just practicing in public.
Jeff knew that if he wrote on his blog long enough, some people might notice. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to practice his art to improve his skill.
There’s something interesting that happens when you put yourself into a daily practice: It doesn’t allow you a lot of time to feel afraid.
Most people feel fear and stop what they’re doing. When Jeff studied other successful people, he came to realize successful people also feel fear. The difference is successful people feel fear and yet still do what they’re afraid of.
“I began to see fear as a friendly reminder that I’m moving in the right direction.”
– Jeff Goins
From Blogger to Author
Six months after Jeff started regularly blogging, he was approached by a traditional publisher who asked him if he was planning to write a book.
He signed a deal for a small book contract. That gave Jeff the confidence to keep going. He also began to notice that readers of his blog were asking questions he couldn’t answer in a long blog post.
“I don’t think you write a nonfiction book because you want to. I think you write a nonfiction book because it’s the most succinct way of saying what you have to say.”
– Jeff Goins
A lot of people have a blog post go viral and think they should write a book. Jeff doesn’t agree. He thinks you should only write a book if you need the length of a book to express your idea.
If you’ve expressed all you need to express in a blog post, then move on to the next thing.
The Message of Real Artists Don’t Starve
Jeff writes books because:
- He’s serious about something.
- He has an experience with something.
- He has something unique to say about the topic.
Real Artists Don’t Starve puts forth the bold argument that if you’re starving as an artist, that is your choice. Starving is not a necessary byproduct of being an artist.
Jeff has met a lot of people doing great work and making a decent living who aren’t national celebrities. These people are thriving artists and creative entrepreneurs. They are making a living from their art and loving it.
Jeff lives in Nashville, and he kept meeting people who said that making a living as an artist is impossible. He wrote the book Real Artists Don’t Starve to introduce these two groups of people to each other.
“It is possible to do creative work, and make a full-time living off of that work, and now is the best time to do that. If you have a dream, a passion, a gift you want to share with the world, you have no excuse not to make a living from that, if that’s what you want to do.”
– Jeff Goins
How to Be a Thriving Artist
The first thing you have to do to become a thriving artist is educate yourself. There are many ways for artists to get paid for their work today. There are many artists who are making a living by selling their art.
The next thing you have to do is realize this isn’t a path to becoming Taylor Swift. This is simply a path that helps you earn an income from your creative work.
Use the internet to find the people who need your art. You have to find your 1,000 true fans, as Kevin Kelly would say. That’s not a lot of people in the grand scheme of things, but it is enough people to build a platform that will support you financially as long as you nurture it.
If you can find 1,000 people who resonate with your message and need your art, you can make a living from that kind of exposure.
We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that you have to be famous, or that you need a big break in order to be a thriving, successful artist.
You can find the people who need your work and connect with them directly to exchange value with them.
How to Find Your True Fans
Jeff has a few tips on how to find those 1,000 true fans.
You have to think like a thriving artist. You have to see the value in your work so that you can market it effectively. You have to take your work seriously before anyone else will.
You have to cultivate that mindset. You have to begin to think in terms of what’s actually possible. You have to dream a little bit.
Michelangelo was the richest artist of his time. At the end of his life, he had the equivalent of $50 million to his name. Before Michelangelo, artists were working-class citizens. After Michelangelo broke the glass ceiling of what was possible for an artist, artists of the Renaissance became aristocrats or upper-crust people.
Michelangelo was told his entire life that his ancestors were noble. His family believed it, and when he became an artist, he proceeded from the assumption that he was of noble birth.
- He got the wealthiest patrons to commission his work.
- He charged 10 times what contemporary artists were charging for the same type of work.
- In short, he did everything differently and got a different result than artists who came before him.
The interesting thing about Michelangelo’s story is that he wasn’t actually descended from a noble line. He just believed that he was and proceeded from that assumption. His belief led him to act differently than his peers, which led to his amassing great wealth.
If you believe you’re going to starve and struggle, that will come true for you. Conversely, if you believe the world needs your work and you just need to find a way to make that happen, eventually you will find a way to succeed.
How do you get your work into the right people’s hands so they help you find more fans and spread your message?
The best way to do that is to find a modern-day patron. Find an influencer who has an audience that can help spread your message faster than you can by yourself.
Patrons didn’t just give money to artist in the Renaissance—they lent their influence to their artists. They became evangelists of their artist’s work.
When Lorenzo de Medici became Michelangelo’s patron, he commissioned many statues. But more importantly, Lorenzo invited Michelangelo into his house and introduced him to the connections that would support him for the rest of his life.
Michelangelo was building a network, which is really important if you’re going to support yourself using your creative work, and have your work spread.
This still holds true today: Hank Willis Thomas, a successful photographer, says all of his success came from five people he met in art school.
Never work for free. Always work for something of value. Don’t just work for the “opportunity.” Valuing your own work is how you teach others to value your work.
“We’re not just doing the work to get a paycheck. But getting paid is an important part of being a professional.”
– Jeff Goins
“We don’t make movies to make money. We make money so that we can make more movies.”
– Walt Disney
“The point of making money is so that you can do something in the world to help people, and make the world a better place.”
– Tom Corson Knowles
Money buys you time. If you’re focused on paying your bills this month and you need to write a book in the next three weeks to pay your bills, the book you write isn’t going to be as good as if you had three months to write it.
Money gives you the freedom to spend the time necessary to produce quality products. Money provides a little bit of security so that you can make the next thing that’s going to make a dent in the universe.
More on Mindset and Expectations
We have to be really honest about what’s driving us. Chasing status very rarely brings you the fulfillment you are searching for. Once you achieve the status you’re looking for, whether it’s to be a bestselling author, or get a certain number of people on your mailing list, or whatever, you might feel good for a moment.
After that moment passes, your mind will either come up with reasons to be unhappy about your success, like you don’t deserve it or you aren’t worthy, or you’ll decide that you want even more success.
And you’ll never get enough.
The challenge is that being content with whatever you have is boring! It isn’t bad to want things, to be ambitious and want to grow.
“As human beings, we think we want the summit. We think we want to be at the top of the mountain. What we really want is the climb. We want the experience of gradually moving towards a worthy goal.”
– Jeff Goins
The journey is the fulfilling part of the equation, not the destination.
On the other hand, if you have an endless journey without a destination, it can be exhausting. So it is good to have milestones and achievements to celebrate.
The important thing is to do work that fulfills you as you are doing it. If you enjoy the act of creating your art, you will create art forever. If you consistently create your art, eventually something you create will break through the noise and help you find fans.
“I love who I am when I’m working on a book, a project, something that fascinates me, something that I’m curious about, but also something that challenges me, that I haven’t quite figured out. And there’s all these questions, and I don’t know how it’s going to end. This is what makes it exciting.”
– Jeff Goins
One of the things we need to do as creative people is understand that we enjoy the process of making things, not necessarily the process of finishing things. We need to finish a project in order to get to the next project.
“As soon as I finish a book, it’s very important to me that I start another, regardless of how the first book does.”
– Jeff Goins
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins
https://www.hankwillisthomas.com/ – a successful photographer, and an example of a thriving artist in the 21st century. Hank says all of his success came from five people he met in art school.
1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly – an article about how to make a living with 1,000 true fans.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.