THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Jeff Goins: There are sort of two forms of marketing. One is just talking about the work that you do, you know? What do you do? “Oh, you know, I write books. I make this kind of music for these kinds of people and these sorts of settings.” And then the other piece is practicing in public, right? Doing your work in ways that people can stumble upon it and go, “What is this?” You know, especially for a visual artist where if I can see your work on display somewhere, that’s incredible.
Speaker 2: It’s the Inspiration Place podcast with artist Miriam Shulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place Podcast, an Art World Insider podcast for artists, by an artist, where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now, your host, Miriam Shulman.
Miriam Schulman: Well, hello there, Artpreneur! This is Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration, and you’re listening to Episode Number 255 of The Inspiration Place podcast. Today’s guest is the author of the best-selling book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, as well as four other titles. But in Real Artists Don’t Starve, he debunks the myth of the starving artist with rules for artists to thrive. His work has been featured in The Washington Post, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider, Time, and many others. Now, he’s the creative force behind the ghostwriting agency Fresh Complaint. Please welcome to The Inspiration Place, Jeff Goins. Well, hey there, Jeff. Welcome to the show!
Jeff Goins: Hi, Miriam. Good to be here. Thanks for having me. Nice to meet you.
Miriam Schulman: It’s nice to finally meet you as well. So, I read your book when I was putting together my own book proposal, and the person helping me with that (because we all need someone to help us with that)–we may be chatting about book proposals a little bit today. So, she said, “Well, that would be a good comp for you.”. I said, “Well, I better read it.” I loved it though. It was really good.
Jeff Goins: Yeah, it was fun to read through your book and be reminded of all of that research I was doing at that time when I was writing Real Artists Don’t Starve. But I’m so glad you wrote your book because when I wrote Real Artists, I felt sort of – I had lots of, especially visual artists, respond to that book and ask me lots of questions that I felt unqualified to answer. And I think your book more than adequately answers a lot of those questions.
Miriam Schulman: Well, that’s kind of like the point of the proposal. You say, “Here are like three books that did really well, and here’s how my book satisfies what those books didn’t.” Would you agree with that?
Jeff Goins: Yeah, for sure. I mean, yours had a lot of “how-to” and I didn’t go into that at all. And it was obviously from the perspective of somebody who had done it for many, many years. I thought it was extremely practical and helpful.
Miriam Schulman: Thank you, but we do want to talk about some of the things that I absolutely adored about your book. One of the things that I get pushed back when I am teaching people how to sell their art, and mostly the pushback comes from trolls on the internet who would never sign up for any of my things. They say things like, “Well, a real artist doesn’t care about making money.” Which is why I always like to pull up our friend Michelangelo. Are you saying it as “Michael” or “Michel”?
Jeff Goins: I vacillate. I want to sound intelligent and well-read and say “Michelangelo,” but I often slide into “Michelangelo” because of the Ninja Turtles.
Miriam Schulman: Yes. Yeah. And for those who don’t know Ninja Turtles, because you don’t have a small kid of that age, it’s like Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci–
Jeff Goins: Donatello
Miriam Schulman: Thank you. And did I leave someone out?
Jeff Goins: Leonardo.
Miriam Schulman: There we go. I think I said Da Vinci. Oh but his name is Leonardo.
Jeff Goins: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello – all Renaissance artists. Splinter was a wise and good rat.
Miriam Schulman: See, I’m not really familiar with the Ninja Turtles.
Jeff Goins: Oh, my.
Miriam Schulman: But it came up recently—go ahead sorry.
Jeff Goins: These are not, these are not little kid things. I grew up with Ninja Turtles. I mean, it’s, um… it was my era.
Miriam Schulman: Oh, see, you’re younger than me, I think. I’m like in my 50s. My kids. My kids watched it. Or maybe it was my brother.
Jeff Goins: Yeah, well, they came back a few years ago. They kind of rebooted the whole thing.
Miriam Schulman: Okay. So it came back on my radar because there is this, like, collective of people. This is way off-topic, but it’s okay. There’s this collective of people who have what they hope is a Raphael.
Jeff Goins: Uh huh.
Miriam Schulman: They don’t know. They think it may not be like the artist’s original, but if it is a Raphael, it’s worth $30 million. If it’s not, and it’s by one of his students. It’s only worth like $200,000, which sounds like a lot of money. But this group of people who bought the painting and then invested a lot of money to do all the research to try to find out or verify who this is and so on. They’ve already invested like half a million dollars.
Jeff Goins: Totally. Of course. Yeah.
Miriam Schulman: So now it’s like “Ninja Turtle or Die” like they’re going for that. That came up in this scholarly article, it says it has to be a Ninja Turtle. So, like, okay.
Jeff Goins: Yeah. Wow. Funny.
Miriam Schulman: Okay, so let’s get back to your book for those who didn’t read it. Tell us about Michelangelo or Michael. Why he wasn’t exactly starving. And also, hell, he wasn’t exactly painting whatever he felt like or sculpting whatever he felt like.
Jeff Goins: Sure. Yeah, Michelangelo, um, was the wealthiest artist of the Renaissance. You know, I think we should start with there. When he died, he had almost the equivalent of a fortune that would be worth about $50 million today – five zero. Acccording to many of his biographers and scholars, before him, before he came along, artists were not starving. They were not bohemians. That was sort of a trope that came along later during the romantic era. Um, but they were like working-class people. They were artisans. They would make stuff and they would go sell that stuff in the marketplace. And even people like Leonardo da Vinci, who–his patrons were, you know, princes and queens and wealthy people, he himself was not particularly wealthy. He kind of struggled through a lot of his creative career. And part of that was because he was a bastard – he was an illegitimate son. And so he couldn’t hold land. He couldn’t. And if he couldn’t own land, you couldn’t really become wealthy – I mean, that was a signal of wealth, how much land you had was power, right? Um, and so Michelangelo comes along and, you know, there are lots of stories and mythologies around this, but his older brother joined the priesthood. Um, and so he was now like the oldest working son. And it was therefore incumbent upon him to make a living for the whole family – you know, this was the responsibility of the oldest son. And the story that the family told itself was that they came from nobility, that Michelangelo’s family, they had a surname – Buonarotti – and not everybody had a surname.
Leonardo didn’t have a surname. “Da Vinci” means from Vinci. That’s where he was from. Most people didn’t have last names. If you did, it was a sign of nobility. It was a sign that you came from noble blood. And so they had a last name. And so the family told itself, um, “We, you know, are a noble family. We’ve fallen on hard times. And it is now on you, Michelangelo, the oldest working son, to go earn back all this wealth.” And he didn’t necessarily want to do that. He wanted to be an artist. And at the time, artists were, you know, working class people, blue collar workers. And so when he decides to become a sculptor as a young teenager, he does it with this thing ingrained, you know, this splinter in his mind ingrained in the back of his head that says, “I’ve got to do this differently.” And when you follow, if you read any biography of Michelangelo or just kind of follow his career, everything he does, the choices that he makes and the opportunities that come his way, are radically different from what a lot of his peers are doing. And as a result, the long story short is he amasses incredible wealth. He invests that into property to sort of secure and establish himself as an aristocrat and becomes just that. And all the while, he does what a lot of wealthy people still do, is he minimizes his wealth. Right. So when he’s painting the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling to the Sistine Chapel, he writes in one of his letters or journals, he says, “You know, I’m a poor, starving servant of other people’s dreams.”
And he was paid $1 million to paint the Sistine Chapel. He just wasn’t telling the truth. And nobody really knew this until the 1990s when a historian named Rab Hatfield stumbled across some old bank accounts where he found the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in different bank accounts belonging to Michelangelo. And he starts digging. What he finds is research that was happening during World War II where another researcher was uncovering the same thing he was, which was that this artist had a lot more money than he said he did or that people thought he did. Rab Hatfield resurrects this research project from World War II that basically stopped because they were bombing Florence all the time. He completes the research project and he writes this big tome of a book that’s somewhere in one of these shelves called “The Wealth of Michelangelo,” half of which is just bank ledgers. He finds out that Michelangelo was not only the wealthiest artist of the Renaissance, but at that point the wealthiest artist who had ever lived in recorded history. And that’s cool and that’s interesting. We might call that an outlier. But what’s most interesting thing about it is after he came along, he broke the glass ceiling. Many artists during the Renaissance, including Raphael, who was his apprentice, became wealthy.
They became aristocrats because they saw somebody else do it. And then they thought, “Well, maybe I could do that too.” So I wrote “Real Artists Don’t Starve” because I live in Nashville, a very musical city, and I have a background in music as well. I meet lots of writers and musicians who basically say the same thing that you’re saying, Miriam, which is, “If I’m going to be a real artist, I shouldn’t care about money.” And here we have the story of one of the greatest fine artists of all time who was the richest of his time. We have an example that many people followed afterward where you don’t have to give up your aesthetic virtues, your taste, your style, and your sense of purity as an artist for money or success. These two can go hand in hand. Over the past couple of decades, I keep meeting lots of people – thriving artists, art\preneurs – who have married money with art in ways that the two are not necessarily competing with each other. So I use that story to simply point to somebody who is radically successful, who inspired the success of many other people to say, “Look, look at all these people doing it now today.” This isn’t just a 500-year-old story. It’s happening now more than ever. And it was just a kind of fun thing to uncover.
Miriam Schulman: No, I love it. It is a really good book. And then I don’t think you talk about this in your book, but also going back 500 years. So the other pushback here, besides “real artists don’t care about the money,” is that real artists don’t have to sell. You just have to make good art, right? To me, that’s always laughable because, I mean, just look around. The best marketer always wins because we all know people who are not quite as good writers or not quite as good artists who are uber successful, and people who are very talented who aren’t doing so well. The example that I like to give also from 500 years ago is Rubens. He’s a Dutch artist, and he was also a diplomat, so he was very aware of what was going to be happening in Europe. He anticipated that his paintings wouldn’t be able to leave the Netherlands, so he made engravings and had them sent to all the crown princes of Europe. Basically, flyers. He was marketing. That’s how he got his commissions. And why we know about Rubens today is that he had the wealthiest families throughout Europe commissioning him to create art. And that was all about marketing.
Jeff Goins: Yeah. Yeah. What’s so interesting about Michelangelo was he was a student of human sociology. Like, he understood how the game worked. And so when he wanted to be a sculptor, he goes to Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of the best-known artists and said to be one of the most fashionable artists of his time. And he goes to Ghirlandaio and he says, “I want you to apprentice me.” And this was school. You know, this sort of predates the university system. So if you wanted to get into a trade, you typically had to go find a master craftsperson and get them to teach you. And typically rich families, wealthy families, paid artists and artisans to apprentice their children. And not everybody got to do it, right? It was very much a story of privilege and luck. And so Michelangelo goes to Ghirlandaio, and he does this kind of brazenly. His family’s broke, he’s got to make some money. And so he goes to Ghirlandaio and he says, “You’re going to apprentice me.” And Ghirlandaio goes, “No, no, no. Like, you missed it.” He’s about 13, 14 years old at the time, depending on the reports. And if you wanted to go get an apprenticeship, 11-12 years old was kind of the cutoff because you basically did this from 12 to 18 and then you went off on your own as a journeyman.
And then, hopefully, if you were good enough, you entered the guild and became a master artist. So he goes to Ghirlandaio and says, “I want to become an apprentice and learn how to sculpt and paint and become an artist.” The response was, “You’re too late.” He says, “No, no, no, I’m not done yet. I want to be an artist. You’re going to apprentice me, and I’m not going to pay you like everybody else is doing. You’re going to pay me to learn from you.” The story goes that Ghirlandaio was so taken aback that he said, “Okay, kid, let’s go,” and he brought him into his studio. Very quickly, he saw that Michelangelo shone. He was special. What’s interesting about that is if you think about it, was Michelangelo especially skilled? Maybe, who’s to say? It’s a 500-year-old story. But if you have a dozen or so boys in your studio doing work for you, all of which, their relatively wealthy parents have paid you to teach them, you’ve got a bunch of kids who are young boys, about ten years old, running around making fart jokes and doing the whole thing. Then you’ve got one kid that you’re paying to be there. You might give special attention to that one.
Miriam Schulman: It makes me think about—Well now, I live in New York City, but for about 25 years I lived in a very well-to-do suburb outside of New York City. So the parents who would, like, pay for their kids to have internships, which always cracks me up. It’s like the same sort of thing. And you know, these kids who, like, they got they paid to work so they can put college resume.
Jeff Goins: Right. Yeah, it’s, you know, like that big scandal years ago where everybody’s paying to get their kids into these Ivy League schools. Um, there’s a certain sense of entitlement. There’s a certain sense of like, “I’m just here because my parents want me to be here and get a good career.” And then you’ve got one kid—
Miriam Schulman: Yeah, but this sort of thing, I know, but there’s this sort of thing happening that totally flies under the radar because they’re not paying the school to let them in, but they’re paying all kinds of other money to get the results that get them into the school. Like the privilege, like the SAT tutoring that’s in the tens of thousands of dollars, internships that are—Anyway, totally different topic, but yeah, that’s hilarious. So he actually, you know, “I’m working for you, so you should pay me.”
Jeff Goins: Right. So if you think about marketing, marketing at its core essence is you talking about yourself in the work that you represent. And so he goes and brazenly says, “I’m so good that you’re going to pay me to learn from you.” And Ghirlandaio does it. Then he pays special attention to him and lets him stay late, work on special projects, and get access to Ghirlandaio’s drawings that he copies. And so he gets this privileged access to material that the other apprentices don’t get. And as a result, he gets better faster. And so a few years later, one of the Medicis, Lorenzo de Medici, who’s basically the Prince of Florence at the time, he’s the wealthiest guy there. He comes to Ghirlandaio’s shop and says, “I’m looking for two artists that I can bring into the palace and live with me. We’re basically going to bankroll these artists. We’re going to raise them in our house, and they’re going to train under the apprentice of Donatello, who was the great master sculptor of the era. Who do you got?” And he says, “I got this other guy. And then I got this kid named Michelangelo.” Like he stood out. Michelangelo basically has what you could argue are a series of lucky breaks. Or you could watch his personality. He was not the easiest guy to get along with. He was very brazen. He ran his mouth all the time. But as a result, he gets all these special opportunities because he talks a little bit of shit. And my favorite story is when he and Leonardo da Vinci, who’s the old guy, right? So Michelangelo is in his late 20s, early 30s.
And he and Leonardo are bickering, as artists do. Leonardo is a painter, and Michelangelo is known as a sculptor at that time. He thinks that sculpting is the greatest art because you’re working with the Earth. Leonardo disagrees, saying, “No, no, no, you can’t sculpt the sky. Painting is the superior form because you can create anything.” Someone overhears their argument and suggests, “Let’s put it to a test. Let’s have a contest.” Michelangelo says, “Painting is easy. I could do that.” As a Renaissance artist, he’s well-versed in all forms. They have a public contest where they paint two murals – one by Leonardo and the other by Michelangelo – and the public votes on them. Leonardo wins the competition, and Michelangelo loses. However, he’s now known to the world as a painter, not a sculptor, and he’s angry about it. He says, “I don’t want to do this. I want to do one thing.” Nevertheless, his life is a series of stumbling upon architecture and different art forms, which he masters. His great painting and mural had a great public display, but he lost to Leonardo, the Pope calls him because of his display and offers him the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Miriam Schulman: But he didn’t even want to do it, right?
Jeff Goins: He didn’t even want to do it. And he becomes one of the, you know, history’s greatest painters as well.
Miriam Schulman: But he did it with a wink, wink, nudge nudge where it’s like, okay, I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it my way. There’s like always a point of view on that ceiling.
Jeff Goins: And every single commission and I mean, all of his commissions were from very wealthy people. Um, and, and they’re all princes and popes. And a lot of these are the people that he grew up with in the Medici household. Right. Um, they’re the, they’re the Medici children who end up one of them becomes pope. One of them, you know, marries the king of France. You know, like all of these things happen and he has this network of influential connections that in some ways was luck and in other ways was strategy is a very strategic individual. And we think about marketing. A more recent example that I like is. Is Pablo Picasso, who’s, you know, an interesting, complicated figure, of course. And, you know, Michelangelo had $50 million to his name when he died. Picasso had half a billion. And one of Picasso’s first pieces was a menu that he painted for this cafe in Barcelona that he basically did for free, which is, you know, it’s always kind of an interesting, challenging thing for artists. He did it on purpose for free. He volunteered to paint the menu.
You know, in a lot of places in Europe, they don’t have like paper menus there on the wall. Right. And he paints this menu. And what he’s doing very intentionally and very strategically, because he was a master marketer, is he’s putting his work on display in front of the public where all of the intellectuals are gathering and they’re going to start talking about him. He did the same thing with Gertrude Stein when he moved to Paris. And you see, I think artists market themselves in ways that should be kind of subversive and kind of interesting. And what’s so funny to me about creative individuals is they go, I don’t want to market, I don’t want to sell. I just want to create. And they’re incredibly creative with their work and incredibly boring with what they define as marketing. You know, I think marketing for an artist is putting your work in strategic places where more people can find it, talk about it, and therefore you can get more commissions, clients, customers, whatever you want to call them.
Miriam Schulman: 100%. I mean, one of the examples that I share in my book, Artpreneur, was I was doing portraits and when I finished a portrait, I would say to–usually it was a mother commissioning me, sometimes a dad–but I’d say, okay, so and they’d say, Well, can I pick it up? I said, You know what? I’ll, I’ll meet you at pick up and then we can put it directly into your car. So why did I do that? Because we’re at the playground with other moms. Totally painting. And that’s how I got commissions.
Jeff Goins: Yeah. Being seen doing your work is the best marketing an artist can offer. You know, flyers, pamphlets, Facebook ads, maybe. But, like, the best thing that you can do is do more of your work but do it in publicly visible ways. That’s all marketing is.
Miriam Schulman: Yeah. I mean I never had a problem with marketing because I didn’t see it as sleazy or salesy. I always saw it as just sharing with people what I do. And I believed in what I did so much that I’ve always felt people missed out. If they didn’t appreciate it, well–I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Why you don’t want one of these. This is like, this is really good stuff over here. Like, it’s like having a pool party. Water’s warm. You got some cold beers. Come on in.
Jeff Goins: Yeah, think of it. There’s sort of two forms of marketing. One is just talking about the work that you do, you know? What do you do? Oh, you know, I write books. I make this kind of music for these kinds of people and these sorts of settings. And then the other piece is practicing in public, right? Doing your work in ways that people can sort of stumble upon it and go, “What is this?” You know, especially for a visual artist where like if I can see your work on display somewhere, that’s incredible. Gertrude Stein was one of the earliest patrons of Picasso, and her home in Paris was full of these paintings. And once a week, she would have a salon, and she’d have all these intellectuals come over — people like, you know, Hemingway and James Joyce — and all these people come over to her house and talk and smoke and drink and look at the art on the wall.
One of the things that I think artists maybe miss out on — and I don’t know if this is this way for you, but it seems this way from my perspective — which is, there’s lots of ways for you to find patrons, clients, customers, whatever. And you don’t always or even necessarily want to go directly to them. If you can build a really solid base, a network of peers, of people who are doing things sort of like what you’re doing, but they’re not necessarily direct competitors, and you can get people to champion your work, now all of a sudden, you don’t have one person running around saying, “Here’s what I do, here’s what I do. Would you like to pay me?” You have lots of other people talking about you. And I learned pretty early on as a writer, it’s better to have somebody else talk about me than me talk about myself because it’s just more authoritative that way.
Miriam Schulman: Yeah, I mean, like, I can give examples for what I did, and just for my listeners who are wondering how does this work? So for me, as a portrait artist, my portraits became the ambassadors. So when I was initially getting portraits, I strategically hung the painting of my son at the time. He was like, I forget, he was four years old in a Batman costume, which he wore every single day. So I painted Batman costume, and I hung it up in the foyer. So when the playdates came over, they saw it. They’re like, “Oh, this is cool. Seth has a painting. Mom you gotta see this.” So when Mom came to pick up their kid. They’re like, “Look what Seth’s mom did.”
So, and then I told you about the playground. But then what happens is these portraits go off into, you know, Johnny’s home now, and now Johnny’s showing it to his friends and his mother. The mother paid a lot of money to have the portrait done. She’s showing it off to her friends too. So that is like the great ecosystem that can happen.
Jeff Goins: Yeah, you got to do one good piece, basically. Get it in front of the right person and then replicate it over and over again.
Miriam Schulman: And then, if you’re not a portrait artist, really the key is getting, what I like to call, getting it into the micro-celebrity or the “it” girl of your town. Like it doesn’t have to be collected by Oprah, but every town has that popular PTA mom or that person. And once you’re in their hands, it’s like everybody wants what she’s got.
Jeff Goins: I read a book years ago that was sort of a piece of research for this book. Um, what was it called? It was called–Can’t Remember but he calls these people “tastemakers” and, you know, in New York City, LA, Paris, you know, there was a time where the tastemaker was, you know, someone like Kanye West, some big deal kind of person that everybody was looking to. And if they wore these shoes or did this thing, everybody did it, no matter how weird or off-color it seemed. Now, I mean, that’s happening micro cosmically, you know, it’s happening on Instagram. It’s happening in your neighborhood. Everybody can be a tastemaker of something. And it’s just kind of the nature of people. We sort of kind of huddle around certain mini pseudo-celebrities that know something that we don’t. It’s like going back to high school or middle school. There’s the one kid who seems to not care, and we go, “That kid’s cool,” and we’re going to do what he or she does or say what they say because, um, yeah, you know, it’s like we all want to follow somebody.
Miriam Schulman: Yeah. Okay. So I want to hear a little bit more about your work, Jeff. Now, so you’re helping people with book proposals and maybe writing the books too, or tell us more about that. If people don’t wanna struggle the way I did, I tell–I say that writing a book was like giving birth to an elephant. And, you know, elephants are pregnant a very long time.
Jeff Goins: [inaudible] a couple of years or something, right? Um, yeah, I write books and help other people write books. That’s the simplest way to say it. I’ve written five books myself, and several years ago, um, I was between books and a publisher reached out to me and said, “Hey, we’re looking for a new author. Do you know anybody that has a large audience and is looking to work with a traditional publisher?” And I thought of my friend Grant, who teaches people how to be public speakers. And, I said, “Hey, do you want to, you know, like publisher reach out to me? I thought of you. I think they’d be interested in you. I’m happy to make an introduction.” He said, “Well, I’ll do it if you write it, you know.” And he was sort of joking because at this time I was just writing my own books, doing my own thing. And I said, “Okay, you know?” And he was like, “Okay.” And we wrote a book together. It was called “The Successful Speaker.” And I kind of stumbled into ghostwriting. And the problem is, you know, as you know, working with clients, if you do something well once for somebody else, they’re going to tell somebody about it. And that’s what happened. And Grant told a friend and they told a friend. And I started kind of having this little side hustle. More people came along and I started investing more time and energy into it. And I really like this.
I like helping people bring their ideas into the world in a really hands-on way. So in 2020, I kind of began transitioning from selling online courses, which I’d done for a long time, to focusing on basically a boutique creative agency called Fresh Complaint. We work with thought leaders to help them turn their big ideas into best-selling books. And so we do that kind of two ways. One is we help authors plan the book so we can do just a book proposal, or we can do the whole thing. We can write the book, help them publish it, all of it. But really, it’s, um, I work with a handful of clients a year, and I want to work on something that’s interesting that challenges the status quo in some way. All mostly nonfiction books or like businessy kind of books. We just worked on a business fable that was fun. And the idea Fresh Complaint is that’s what a book should be. It should be a new riff on an old idea. It should be a complaint, a fight that you want to pick, something that you want to shake up a little bit because books need to change things, you know, like an artist’s relationship with money and business, for example. And if they’re not doing that, like, I’m not interested. But if somebody has something that they want to say and they’re willing to be a little bit risky, a little bit daring, and they’re willing to ruffle a few feathers, you know, I’m game.
Miriam Schulman: And that’s why we’re not worried about ChatGPT. Am I right?
Jeff Goins: I’m not worried about that. Everybody asks me about that, you know? [inaudible] I’m not worried about.
Miriam Schulman: I’m not worried cause it doesn’t have a point of view. You know, you need to have a point of view. You need to pick a fight with what came before. And here we are dealing with an AI that, first of all, they’re using data that’s three years old and they can’t even tell you if a hotdog is better than a hamburger.
Jeff Goins: Technology doesn’t scare me. You know, eBooks didn’t scare me. Print is bigger than ever. And if the day comes where a computer or a bot can write a book as well as a human can, that’s great. That’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. I’ll write one better, you know, like if robots can gain a certain level of awareness and we might say consciousness that competes with human beings, why do we think that the hardware and software that we have running is somehow inferior? Like human beings can grow too. They can compete with machines, they can do better, or we’ll just do something else. It just doesn’t scare me. And I’m not particularly married to books. I love books. My home is full of mostly books, and they’re how I make my livelihood. And a book is just a technology. People forget that it is a form of technology. It carries ideas, stories, thoughts, arguments. But it is a technology. It has not existed forever, and it may not exist forever. And that’s cool. But what really changes people, the world, everything, is stories and ideas, and those will never go away. And if you learn how to tell a good story or come up with a fresh perspective on an old topic, you’re not going to be obsolete. That’s all writing is. Writing is just a muscle that forces you to think better and more clearly because you have to articulate it down on paper. And so, I’m a fan of writing. I’m okay with robots, and it doesn’t scare me one bit.
Miriam Schulman: Did you see the movie, Megan?
Jeff Goins: I haven’t seen it. [inaudible] Is it about this?
Miriam Schulman: You know, it’s—I thought it was a horror movie. It is not a horror movie.
Jeff Goins: It looks like a horror movie.
Miriam Schulman: Family Guy is definitely more graphic than this. I’ve seen James Bond movies more violent than this movie. It’s really a commentary on the ethics of AI. It’s kind of like 2001 A Space Odyssey. You know, the robot gets sentient. It’s like, if you like creepy, it’s creepy thriller. But yeah, it’s not a horror movie.
Jeff Goins: None of this stuff scares me. Maybe it should. I haven’t used ChatGPT. I don’t want to. Like, writing for me is a spiritual practice, you know? And people are like, “Hey, you should use this.” Yeah, I mean, maybe I’m not opposed to it, but, um, I’m not particularly interested in outsourcing everything that I do. If somebody was like, “Hey, a computer will meditate for you,” it’s like, “Well, no, I like doing that.” I like going and sitting on my porch and drinking a cup of coffee and breathing and calming down and watching the birds and having a break. I’m going to keep doing that, even if computers do it better or I could take a pill or something. The process of working with this, you know, giant piece of flesh and consciousness and whatever it is to be human, working with that to make something that’s never been made before, that’s a wonderful thing. You know, I don’t ever want to give that up because it’s for me.
Miriam Schulman: And don’t you feel or, at least this is how I felt, that the biggest development of the book in the process for me was, first of all, the idea and then the editing. That is really where most of the real work happened—was in the editing process. Do you agree with that?
Jeff Goins: Yeah. I mean. My wife is an editor. She helped me with the book. She’s sitting right there watching me.
Miriam Schulman: I’m waving to her, I don’t know if she can see me. I can’t see her.
Jeff Goins: I think I have learned a lot about editing from her and through her, and we’ve collaborated on a number of projects together. And the best definition that I have for editing is making a book work. The writer has the idea, you know, and some stories and some writing and whatever. Um, and a good editor helps a writer know when the book is done. Because for most authors – because I work with authors every day now. I’m their collaborator. I’m their book coach. I am their ghostwriter. You know, lots of different hats that I wear, but they have some authority. They have an idea, they have some brilliant thing, and they don’t know where it starts or where it ends. Usually, when you want to write a book, you could have lived this as you did. You know, you could have lived this for 25 years or whatever. And still, when you sit down to write a book, you’re like, “Where do I start and where do I end?” And a good editor actually helps you kind of wrap some containment around that. And I think the most helpful thing that an editor does is they tell you when the book is done because in your head, it’s not done.
You could say more, you could do more. And I don’t think a book, has to say everything that you could possibly say about a subject. I mean, that would be impossible, of course. A book is an artifact of an idea that you had at one point in history and decided to go. Okay, this is—this is what this means. You know, my favorite quote on the creative process is by Leonardo da Vinci. And he says that art is never finished, only abandoned. And there’s a lot in that, right? Like you can abandon it too early and it never comes into existence, or you can never abandon it and therefore never create it because you’re holding on to it the whole time. Or you can sort of artfully abandon this thing, going, knowing that it’s not complete, but it’s done enough to be out in the world. And the point of the book, the most beautiful thing about a book for me is it’s not like I want you to read the book and tell me what you thought. It’s like, “Here’s my book. Let’s talk about it. Let’s let this start a conversation.”
Miriam Schulman: I love that. So that almost actually exact same thing you’re describing happened to me at the end. So for those who don’t know, I got like the first pass. The second pass, the third pass. And the third pass, I wrote to the editor who was in charge of giving me like, “Where is it?” And like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to give it to you. Here it is. And can you have it back in two days?”
Jeff Goins: Totally. That’s always how it happens.
Miriam Schulman: And I was like, “No, I don’t have time to read it. Can I give it to you next week?” And they’re like, “No, no, no, it’s going to print.” And then I said to myself, You know what? I could sabotage this whole thing at the end. Or I can just say, Here it is, it’s done. So maybe I, like crossed off two sentences that I decided didn’t belong in the book. I say, Here you go. [inaudible]
Jeff Goins: Well, from their perspective, you’re done. You know, at that point, you were just looking at it to make sure nothing broke in the process. From your perspective, you’re going, “Oh, shit, this is it. This is, you know, at least six months from when I finished the first draft, and it may be years since I started it. And I kind of want to change everything about this now.” And I have a good friend who’s a bestselling novelist, sold 11 million copies of his books, and he will walk into a bookstore, and he’ll still see his books on the bookshelves. I mean, he’s a mega-bestselling author, and it takes every ounce of energy in him to not tear them off the shelves because he is embarrassed and ashamed of these books. They’re novels. They’re not even like memoirs or like ideas. But for him, they are, they’re the embodiment of what he thought and felt and believed at the time that he wrote it. And the only belief, the only thought that keeps him from tearing the books off the shelf is the idea that these are my journals, right? A book, in a way, is even a piece of art is a journal entry of an artist saying, “This is what I thought and felt and believed at the time, and I could not do this again.” Bob Dylan said, “I don’t know who wrote Blowing in the Wind. I couldn’t go back and do that again. That was about who I was, where I was, what I thought, who I was with at that time. And I can’t even come close to replicating it.”
And I think, you know, as I make more things and help people make more things, I really do see art as this thing that’s happening in the ether somewhere, right? It’s a feeling, it’s a thought, it’s a word, it’s a melody. And we’re just trying to grab pieces of it and bring it into the material world. And that process is frustrating and sometimes a little disappointing. Cormac McCarthy said every time he finishes a novel, he grieves because he has to let go of all the things that he thought this book would be, and it’s not. It’s kind of sad, beautiful, and it makes sense for Cormac McCarthy. But art is not the thing that you create. This is my own philosophy of art. Art is not the thing that you create. It is the process by which you create it, which is why I don’t care if a computer can do it as well as me. I’m still going to do this because it reminds me that I’m still alive, I’m still here, I’ve still got something to contribute, and it allows me to befriend the grieving part of the process where I have to release a thing into the world that isn’t yet done but deserves to be abandoned.
Miriam Schulman: It’s like raising children.
Jeff Goins: Totally. Yeah. And you know this better than I do. Like, by the time they get to a certain age, you’re like. I really would have done this differently knowing what I know now. You know, can we have another shot at this?
Miriam Schulman: Yeah. My mother-in-law used to say the parents’ job is to make your children independent which is really what we just said.
Okay, so if you want to learn more about Jeff’s book proposal process or ghostwriting, or anything else, go to freshcomplaint.com. And if you want to check out his book, my book, or any of the other books that I’ve read, you can go to shulmanart.com/bookclub. I’ve linked up lots of books over there that I read and loved. Jeff, do you have any last words for our listeners before we call this podcast complete?
Jeff Goins: There was a line that I used a lot in Real Artists Don’t Starve. And it probably embodies our shared philosophy on art and business. You’re doing a good job. You did this in the book, and you do this on the podcast as well, of highlighting people who are doing it, not 500-year-old dead dudes from Europe, but men and women and people of color and all kinds of people doing weird, interesting stuff, thriving, making a living off of their creative work. Which was not really a thing for a long time. My grandfather was a playwright, an author, a pianist, a brilliant artist, and he could not get published. And I could write a piece of trash on Microsoft Word tonight and upload it to Amazon tomorrow, and it would be a book in a week. Like the opportunities for creative professionals to get their work out into the world and make money off of it, unprecedented. And so, I believe, I know that being a starving artist today is not a necessary condition of doing creative work. It’s a choice. And you can choose, like many people do, to follow a different path, believe a different story.
The interesting thing about Michelangelo was that he grew up believing that he came from wealth. Right? I said that at the very beginning – noble blood, surname Buonaroti. “You come from nobility.” It wasn’t true because we found out hundreds of years later. Historians cannot find any record of the Buonaroti family being connected to nobility at all. Why did they have a surname? I don’t know. Like, you know, blacksmith or something, you know? They don’t know. But they cannot connect that family to any nobility whatsoever. And yet Michelangelo grew up believing this story that “I came from wealth. Therefore, I have to be wealthy as an artist,” and it affected every decision he made as an artist from the patrons he took to the commissions he accepted to the artists that he apprenticed under. And it was just a story. It wasn’t even true. And that’s the magic of a story – your life is the product of whatever story you’re believing. And if the story you’re believing is leading you to starve and struggle as an artist, you can choose to believe a different story. And whatever story you believe ends up coming true.
Miriam Schulman: That’s so beautiful. All right, my friends, so thank you so much for being with me here today. We’ve also included links to all these places in the show notes at SchulmanArt.com/255. Okay, so until next time you can find me same place, same time. Until then, stay inspired.
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