You’re a writer, a change-maker, someone who influences culture — not a boring old corporate brand. You roll your eyes when it comes time to talk about working on your personal brand.
I get it; It goes against your anarchist, artist nature.
A few years ago after nearly two decades as an entrepreneur, I came back to my love: Writing.
About a year into my time at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, a classmate and I attended an all-day marketing for writers seminar. Somewhere around the second or third presenter, I was totally overwhelmed. I thought the hardest work I’d do as a writer would be the writing. I had no idea just how much the publishing industry had tightened its belt, and how much promotion was now in writer’s hands.
I wanted to create art, not be a one-woman marketing show.
The van Gogh effect
Writers are often overwhelmed or even repulsed by the idea of self-promotion and having a personal brand. Heck, a lot of us don’t even know what that really means. We’ve been conditioned to think it means buying into a commercial system rigged to churn out saleable wears, but not true art.
Vincent van Gogh is often brought up as the poster child of this ideology. He’s the ultimate artist martyr. He eschewed commercial pursuits and is widely accepted as a true artist.
I wonder though, isn’t it possible to have both?
In her bestselling book, You’re a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero says, “Your gifts, talents and desires were given to you because you are meant to thrive and share your youness with the world as only you can.”
The ability to create true art and have a successful career do not have to be mutually exclusive ideals.
One of the ways we’ve painted ourselves into a corner is evident in our cultural obsession with celebrity. Wildly successful writers are held up high while we admire and think, I’m not outgoing like that, or I don’t have that talent, or I don’t have those connections. In each of those comparisons we doom ourselves to mediocrity or even obscurity. Success seems impossible or random.
We forget that there is so much room in the chasm between starving artist and mega-bestseller.
Meanwhile our society is starved for authentic connection, which is key to a successful personal brand.
Think about the last time a book, article, podcast or TV show moved you. Chances are there was something genuine about it that grabbed ahold of you.
I believe the most artistically contrarian thing you can do nowadays is to be totally rooted in exactly who you are.
Stop waiting to be chosen
There’s virtue in writing for writing’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, but most of us still need to make a living.
The writing world is one of the few industries built on a precedent where people are expected to work for years on a project in the hopes that someone will buy and promote it.
As our industry changes now there’s a massive opportunity, if we shift our mindsets.
Imagine if we started treating ourselves like the valuable brands we actually are, looking at our work not as just art, but as valuable assets. We might just create better ways to make a living while preserving the quality of our art.
Instead of waiting for someone to choose us, it’s time to buy in to our own value and build our own audience.
It may take some mental reprogramming to effectively switch from the legacy we’ve been taught. Like me, you may have been told to shut up, sit down, or fall in line or that you’d never make it as an artist.
It’s time to let that all go. If we as writers don’t understand what value or beauty we bring to the world, no one else will.
More than ever, we need truth tellers and artistic leaders who can give us the insights into humanity and culture that just isn’t present in mass-produced pop culture.
Crafting your personal brand is not selling out. It is about getting clear and buying in to who you truly are. Amid the increasing cacophony of messages, we must not only have a strong voice, but one that comes from being deeply rooted in who we are.
Start being your own advocate
Six months after van Gogh’s death, his brother’s widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger inherited his huge collection of paintings, drawings and letters. Understanding the intrinsic value of his work, she made it her mission to promote it by telling his life’s story through the art and letters he’d left behind.
Imagine if she had thrown his paintings out, or sold them just to earn some quick money for her and her son. Instead, she gifted the world with an irreplaceable artist’s work.
I wonder how many times the world has missed out on important art because it followed the artist to the grave, simply because they didn’t have an advocate like Jo.
The world needs your voice and it’s time to become your own advocate.
Take a few minutes and grab a notebook or open a blank Word doc.
Think about what you really want. Give yourself permission to imagine a life and a career unbound by old ideologies.
What makes you feel most alive? Do some stream of consciousness writing; let whatever comes to mind flow without judgment.
Next, write down five characteristics that make your creative work unique and valuable. If you need help, ask some friends to tell you why they love your work.
If you ground yourself in what’s possible rather than shackling yourself to a set of outmoded beliefs, you may begin to see opportunities you were once blind to.
Our personal brand exists whether you are consciously creating it or not.
Go ahead and be an anarchist, but understand why your version of anarchy is so valuable. And position yourself in a way that those who will appreciate it can find you.