You Can Make a Living Being Creative

Real Artists Don't Starve interview with Jeff Goins

I recently read an advance copy of Jeff Goins' new book, Real Artists Don't Starve. Goins is a Franklin, Tennessee based best-selling author of five books. He also teaches online courses for writers. I reached out to Jeff for an interview because his book is an important read for people who strive to make a living from their passions. Read on for some goodies at the bottom of this post.

My Interview with Jeff Goins

Dave: What is the difference between real artists and ones who are not?

Jeff: I think a real artist is one who gets to keep doing the work. An artist is not someone who painted a picture or wrote a book once. An artist is someone who does the work. So if you want to be a real artist, you have to have money to sing and write and design and dream up big ideas for the world, and if you are going to do that, then you can’t starve. Starving artists don’t create. They starve.

D: It’s impossible to deny that we are all creatives. Many people simply haven’t tapped into their art yet. How can they discover this underlying talent?

J: I think you are not born an artist. You become one. When I wrote my book, I personally interviewed hundreds of working creatives, and very few of them told me that art was something they wanted to do as a child. It was either something they wanted to do at point and then lost the zeal for it--usually due to a teacher or parent telling them they couldn’t make any money doing that--or it was a passion they discovered later in life. Regardless, I think becoming an artist is a choice. How do you find your hidden art? You decide to find it. You open yourself to the possibility that it’s okay to change career paths and learn new skills and look for opportunities to do just that. The best advice I ever received as a writer was when I asked author Steven Pressfield when I could start calling myself a writer and he said, “You are when you say you are.”

D: Do you think we need to starve a little in order to appreciate art more?

J: Nope. There is no correlation between how badly you suffer and how much you appreciate art. Michelangelo was the richest artist of the Renaissance and arguably one of the greatest artists of all time. He did not have to starve for his art in order for it to be great. Van Gogh, who is often seen as the stereotypical starving artist, was paid a modest wage for his entire career as an artist by his brother Theo who was an art dealer and Vincent’s personal patron.

D: In your book, you talk about the importance of collaboration. Can you share some tips on finding and connecting with people or a community to collaborate with?

J: There’s a few principles at work here. First is what I call the Rule of the Patron, which says that if you want to reach a lot of people with your art, you need to find the gatekeepers and tastemakers in your industry or niche who have the influence. These are the people everyone is listening to, not necessarily publishers and record companies but often bloggers and podcasters and people on Instagram. Second, we need to join the local scene and connect with peers who are doing similar work. And third, we need to collaborate with those people so that we can each promote each other’s work and grow together. That old adage about a rising tide raising all ships is actually true. The best way I’ve found to do this is to just show up, connect with people who are at your level, and see how you can help them.

D: If a person is already producing their art but are struggling to make ends meet, what steps can they do to pay the bills and continue art.

J: The golden rule here is just charge something. So many creatives are doing their work for free in hopes of it leading to an opportunity. The problem is if you do this too much and for too long, you’re going to go broke. Charging for our work brings dignity to the work and creates a more meaningful and valuable connection between the creator and customer. Now, you don’t have to “sell out” to sell your work. My advice is to start charging something, even if it’s a few dollars, so that you set a precedent that your work is worth something. Over time, you can raise those prices as your abilities and confidence increase. But whatever you do, stop giving away the farm.

D: At what point in your career did you discover your art? How did you proceed with making it your profession successfully?

J: I think I am continually rediscovering it. I’ve always been creative but never really considered art a realistic vocation. The moment I realized I could make a living off my writing, I suppose, was when after a couple years of blogging, I started receiving emails from subscribers asking if they could buy something from me. It turns out, when you practice in public like this, you can grow an audience that is ready and willing to pay you. At that point, it’s not about making people pay you it’s about letting them.

Becoming an artist is a choice. If you choose this lifestyle you must be paid for your work. Networking is key in becoming a successful artist. Find a community to connect with to support one another. As Jeff said, a rising tide lifts all ships, which coincidentally is also in our manifesto. 

Jeff included some bonuses for early readers of his new book. I'm an affiliate partner, so I earn a small commission if you decide to purchase his book. I never recommend anything I don't love or use myself, so you should grab a copy. The bonuses are only available until June 6.  

Bonus Goodies

Bonus #1: The Real Artists Don’t Starve Online Course ($100). In this 12-part video course, Jeff teaches how to make a living off your art, elaborating on the principles in the book and sharing his own knowledge and experience.

Bonus #2: All the Expert Interview Transcripts. Learn from the hundreds of experts and Thriving Artists Jeff interviewed during the research of this book.

Bonus #3: Exclusive Community Access. Get special access to a private Facebook group where Jeff will answer your questions regularly and you can connect with others reading the book.

Head over to grab a copy of his book and the bonuses now.