Craft and Connection (and David Bowie)

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I’ve been hearing a lot of advice from successful creators recently that I think may be chilling for you to hear. Like this from musician G.E. Smith:

“It doesn’t matter if you are talented. The most talented people probably don’t make it. [Success is based on] an endless series of coincidences and luck. And having the natural ability to be able to get along with people.”

That’s terrifying to hear, right? Well, today I want to dig into this topic:

  1. Craft comes first.
  2. But… who you are connected to matters if you want to find success.
  3. Then I share specific ways to connect with like-minded people that feels genuine to who you are.

Okay, let’s dig in:

Craft First

There is no question, that your craft comes first. Your ability to write what matters to you, and to do that well.

Your craft is your ability to create.

Your craft helps you develop your voice.

Your craft becomes a body of work.

Your craft provides a sense of personal fulfillment in the creative process.

Your craft helps others see and experience the world (and themselves) in new ways.

This always comes first.

But Having a Professional Network Matters Too

I read about this study that was conducted of early abstract artists, and the finding was interesting:

“While past studies have suggested that there is a link between creativity and fame, Ingram and Banerjee found, in contrast, that there was no such correlation for these artists. Rather, artists with a large and diverse network of contacts were most likely to be famous, regardless of how creative their art was.”

They created this visual to show how the artists in this time period were connected to each other:

Wow! For many writers, you may feel distant from anyone else who creates work like you do, and it may feel like yet another impossible step to find these people and then somehow tend to those relationships.

But this study from the art world is aligning with advice that some young musicians are sharing online about how to become successful:

Musician Rhett Shull (48,000 YouTube subscribers) says this:

“You gotta be around, you have to be in the scene. No one is going to hire you if nobody knows you exist… strike up conversations. Don’t be overeager. Just be around in the scene and develop relationships. Develop friendships.”

“You want to be the kind of person that someone wants to hang out with, that someone wants to have a relationship with. That is more important than your musicianship, your chops, your knowledge of theory, what kind of gear you have, your tone.”

Here Rabea Massaad (220,000 YouTube subscribers) gave this advice on finding success as a musician:

“Most importantly be a great live band and really nice people. You just gotta be just got to be a good person. You just gotta be cool.

“It’s the thing with the music business or any business or industry, it’s about people. If you’re a people person and you can just get along with somebody, find common ground, have a good old chat, then it’s more likely to turn into something else.”

I mentioned musician G.E Smith above. Over the years, he has played with Bob Dylan, Roger Waters and countless other famous people. He tells the story of how he first came to work with David Bowie:

“I met David at a party. The next day he was filming the video for the song “Fashion,” and he needed some weird looking people for the video. He saw me at a party, I had a crew cut, everybody else had long hair then. David saw me and he thought, “Now there is a weird looking guy.” He said to me, “What are you doing tomorrow? Come down, we are filming this video.” Later that night, someone told him I played guitar, so he said, “Bring your guitar!”

He later played with Bowie on the Tonight Show (here’s the clip, G.E. is on the far right.)

Imagine that, getting to play with David Bowie and the initial connection happened without him even knowing you played guitar. You just happened to be someone who looked interesting at a party.

Blending Craft and Human-Connection

Last week I mentioned that I define a writer’s platform based on two things:

  • Communication
  • Trust

This is your ability to effectively communicate with your ideal readers, and in the process, establish a trusting relationship.

What are practical ways to do this that feel authentic to who you are? Some ideas:

  • Develop a practice of creating and sharing. Honestly, this is the heart of my Blogging and Newsletters for Writers program that begins Monday — consistently sharing what lights you up as a writer and using that to connect with potential readers. I say this from experience of having my own newsletter and blog for around 14 years, sending out one post per week that entire time. But also from working with hundreds and hundreds of writers in this process. If you aren’t sharing with authenticity, then how are people going to know what you write and why? I encourage you to develop that practice.
  • Be nice and support others. Flip how you think about social media. Don’t think of it as a way for people to follow you. Instead, consider how you can use it exclusively to support other writers and celebrate their success. To support booksellers and libraries. To show up where your readers do with the same enthusiasm. To not try to be selling, but instead harken back to why you began to write in the first place: a deep love of certain kinds of stories. Don’t make it about you, make it about support those who share this passion too.
  • Just show up. Show up where readers show up. Where writers who write similar work as you show up. G.E. Smith didn’t go to that party courting David Bowie’s attention. G.E. just showed up, and that opened the door for a powerful connection to happen. Just show up and have conversations. That will teach you more about the marketplace you want to publish into, the authors your ideal readers love, and what engages those readers.
  • Ask for help. Don’t pretend that you can figure all of this out on your own if you just read enough how-to articles. Seek out others who can help you, not just by giving you information, but by truly collaborating with you. I’ve talked about this a lot in my blog and podcast recently for my mission to learn how to play the guitar. Everything changed when I hired a guitar coach. (Here and here.) I would also recommend this powerful book by Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.

I’m always curious to hear about the challenges you feel in this process. Please feel free to reach out to me and let me know.