Arting Hard Like An Artful Motherfucker: 25 Ways To Be A Bad-Ass Maker Who Makes Bad-Ass Stuff

Last week, here at ye olde bloggy grotto, Delilah S. Dawson came in and rocked your faces with 25 Writing Hacks From A Hack Writer. It’s an amazing (and epic) post — before the new year started, I was working on this post, below, kind of a ranty, yelly, gesticulating mess of a screed about HOW TO ART HARDER, and looking at it now, I think (hope?) it serves as a complement to Delilah’s hai-karate dose of practical writing wisdom.

It will feature a lot of inappropriate metaphors and crass vulgarity, to which someone out there will inevitably say: “You could say it without using so much nasty language, you know.”

I do know.

But that leads me to the first item on the list:

1. Repeat After Me: “Fuck It, I’m Doing It Anyway”

Throughout your MYSTERIOUS AND WONDERFUL AND OCCASIONALLY MISERABLE ART JOURNEY, you will meet many naysayers, and you will be given enough advice that, if you wrote all this advice upon many pieces of paper, you would singularly destroy a significant portion of the world’s forests. You can always keep your ears open. You can always take in every piece of advice, every warning, every admonishment, and you can regard it the way one regards a strange animal skull in the woods (“Was this a possum? A cat? A Bandersnatch?”). But when you know what you want to do, do it anyway. Even if it seems unwise. Someone will always tell you that art is a bad idea. They will tell you that book you want to write won’t sell. They will explain to you how you’d be a far better lawyer, doctor, barista, horse whisperer, or orgy custodian. They will say: “You shouldn’t do that.” And you will say: “Fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.”

2. Stop Giving So Much Of A Shit

Said it before, will say it again: you have to learn to care less. When all the pressures and stresses and anxieties and critics and haters and assfaces and shitbirds come knocking at your door looking to carve away their pound of mental flesh, you have to get out your purse, poke through it while making hmm and ahhh sounds, and then finally say: “Gosh, I’m sorry, I have no more fucks to give.” Then you pull out your cool 1980s-action-movie submachine gun and mow them all down. (Er, metaphorically! No actually shooting anyone.) The hills should be alive with the sound of you not giving two rat pubes to rub together. If we put too much pressure on ourselves, too much weight of expectation and consequence, then the creation of cool things becomes harder. If you build a mental wall, you have to climb it. That’s just extra work. So? Stop putting it between you and the things you want to make.

3. Make Stuff All The Fucking Time

What are you doing right now? Reading this? Get out of here. Go on! Shoo! Fuck off for five minutes and go create. Make something. Then fix it. Then destroy it. Then recreate it. No, no, I’m not saying you literally have to take every minute of every day to be furiously and frantically shitting out content — I just mean, look at yesterday, look at today, look at tomorrow and make sure that those days feature a whole fucking lot of doing art. You wanna be an artist? Artists work their nipples off. Seriously. No artist even has nipples — they’re just sanded off by the sheer waves of creation that buffet them. Rhat might not be true. But the point remains: you wanna create stuff, you gotta do a lot of it. You should be doing it more often than not doing it.

4. Stop Fetishizing The Future

One day, a hypothetical person says, I’m going to do the thing. Solve for X, and that ‘thing’ becomes — well, who knows? Travel the world. Quit your job. Rub your naked butt on the window at the Burger King where you used to work. But often, this is true of artists, writers, makers, creators. We say, one day, I’m going to write that book. Or paint that painting. Or learn how to draw comics or write poetry or sculpt a statue of you rubbing your naked butt on the window at the Burger King where you used to work. But one day will never come. Because the future is always the future. The future is always tomorrow, the next day, the next year — forever out of reach of your grabby hands. Stop praising the future for its opportunity and start seizing the power of the present. Fuck “one day.” You have this day. Do not squander it.

5. Carve Out Time — And Protect That Time

Art requires your time. It is demanding. When Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to learn to do a thing, it’s an arbitrary number, but the truth is there: you need time. And you need time beyond those 10,000 hours because once you figure out how to do what you’re doing you realize you haven’t really figured fuck-all and the only way out is through. You must carve out and claim time and secure these minutes and hours to make stuff. And you must protect this time with tooth and claw. Anybody comes and tries to take your time away — they get shanked with a letter opener. If this thing is a priority to you, then that means you must actively seize the time to do it and ensure that other things get in line behind it, not ahead.

6. Steal Space — And Guard That Space

Artists require territory. Whether it’s a kitchen table with a laptop on it, a walk-in closet where you keep your easel, or a muddy pit in the middle of your yard where you hide from the daystar in order to write poetry on stones with your own filth, you need space to do it. The artist puts up fences and says, THIS IS MINE. Put up metaphorical barbed wire. Guard it like a starveling wolf. I am fortunate enough now to have a writing shed, but I didn’t always — just the same, I always made sure I had space to sit down and do the work. That means a door that closes, or maybe it means noise-canceling headphones. Look at it this way: you can’t grow a garden without some dirt for planting. You’re growing a garden, so find a fucking patch of dirt and get to digging.

7. Spend Your IEP Wisely

If ART were an RPG, every character would have IEP: Intellectual Energy Points. We don’t all get the same number, but we all get some, and we spend them throughout the day. We spend them on important stuff (day job, conversations with loved ones, ninja school). We spend them on… ennh, less important stuff (social media arguments, finding new porn, yelling at clouds). Thing is, the generative act of creating art and shaping it takes IEP. It costs us. So, if you have too few (or none) to give, then your art is a wilting flower, a sad trombone, a melting snowman. This means, again, giving priority. Do the work first. Make stuff as early as you can. Though, here’s a min/maxing tip: in the ART RPG, your character can take a magic potion to regain IEP temporarily. This magic potion is called “coffee.” (Also worth reading: the spoon theory.)

8. Say Yes All The Time…

When you begin the path of ARTING HARD LIKE AN ARTFUL MOTHERFUCKER, you should learn to say yes with an almost automatic, thoughtless grace. I said yes to pretty much everything early on because, at that fumbling stage, being an artist of any kind is hard. You just wanna make stuff and you don’t know how or who will let you or who will pay you and so when someone is like, “I need you to write 1000 words about a goat fucking a pumpkin and I need it by 9AM Tuesday!” you’re like, yeah, yes, yes, just give me the work. Saying yes a lot early on allows you to rove and roam haphazardly toward the eventual goal of being your own self-sufficient maker-person, and at this stage you need to build the ladder out of any spare junk you can find.

9. …Until You Have To Say No All The Time

Eventually, though, you hit a point where you’ve made this crooked ladder out of whalebones and Russian dictionaries and frozen, goat-fucked pumpkins and then… you know, you need to stop doing all that crazy stuff. You need to stop saying yes and you need to start saying no. This is a hard transition — you don’t always know when it is and even when you’re not a desperate artist you remember being desperate. It’s like how my Depression-era grandmother would always steal things from restaurants: salt packets, napkins, every piece of bread she could pilfer, children from neighboring tables. It’s like, it wasn’t the Depression anymore, but she remembered it well, too well, so well that she was ready with every jelly tub or stolen fork. But beginning as an artist is like figuring out sex. You just kinda want to do it everywhere. Eventually, though: you settle down. You focus up. You start saying no more than you say yes.

10. Burn Your Parachute (But Know When To Jump)

I fucked my own exit strategy. I gave myself no meaningful way out. I said, I’m either going to be a writer, or I’m going to toil in obscurity and write anyway. I never gave myself a doorway out of the work that I wanted to do. I wanted to write, so I was always going to be a writer, and nothing was going to change that. Stubborn as a Viagra erection. I burned my own parachute — but at the same time, I knew (or tried to know) when to jump. I didn’t just disengage from all day jobbery and rip off all my clothes and leap into the shrieking maelstrom. I stayed in the plane for as long as I could. I practiced and made stuff and did the work and then, only then, did I figure out how to jump out of the plane without a parachute and, oh, not die. Which leads me to:

11. Be Hungry For Work, Not For, Y’know, Food

The idea of the starving artist is an idea propagated by those who want you to make things for them for free. It’s a real-life trope, an idea that there’s something romantic and precious about starving for your art. It’s framed as a sacrifice: if you care enough about your art, you’ll do it anyway. It’s not about money, they say. It’s about the art. (As if those two things are somehow in opposition — which, uhh, they ain’t.) Well, don’t you love what you do enough to die for it? Aren’t you a soldier fighting in the trenches, in the mud and the blood, for your work? Sure you are. And soldiers still get paid, goddamnit. Soldiers still get three hots and a cot. Don’t go hungry for your art. We don’t make good art when we’re hungry for actual food — we make good art when we’re fed and when we can focus on the work more than we can focus on not dying. Have a dayjob for as long as you can. And when it’s time to marry those two old friends ART and COMMERCE, well –

12. Get Goddamn Fucking Paid Because Art Has Goddamn Fucking Value

Goddamnit. GODDAMNIT. Get paid, artmonkey. Put the thing you made on the table and be like, “I want money for it.” Not Twitter followers. Not a high-five. Not angel farts and chocolate coins. Actual filthy lucre. Yeah, yes, you can make art without getting paid (and more on that in a moment) — but art is not just a hobby and a habit. For many, it’s a career. That’s respectable. That’s not nothing. But the reason so many people look down on a creative career as a choice is that for so long, people in power have told you that art has only ephemeral, creative value. Oh, you do it because you love it, not for this gross money, yuck, ew — gosh, if you take money for your art, you’ve compromised, you’ve sold out, you’ve basically poisoned your own water glass. Commerce makes art impure, they’ll say. And to that, I say, SHENANIGANS. That is CLOWNPANTS. That is a FOUL TREBUCHET FLINGING SCORCHED DIAPERS OVER OUR CITY WALLS. The real tragedy is when artists start to get sucked into this lie — and soon they tell themselves and worse, other artists, that getting paid is somehow dirty pool. It’s not. Stop buying the lie. Stop spreading the myth. Art has value, so claim value for your art.

13. (But If You’re Gonna Be Exposed, Expose Yourself)

Yes, you can ART FOR FREE. Yes, you should art for free. But here’s a tip: when you do it, do it because you want to. Control it. Expose yourself, like I do at JC Penney’s every Tuesday. WAIT, no, I mean — uhh. Never mind. What I’m saying is: control your work. If you put it out there for free, let it be for a real reason, a measurable reason. Again, you’ll find lots of people promising you lots of things if you just make something for them for free. If they’re earning out? You should earn out. If they’re a friend, or if it’s for charity — or better yet, it’s part of an avenue or platform you actually control, then hey, let it all hang out. Not everything is about the money. Sometimes it is about the love. But when someone asks you to create something just for the exposure, well, remember — you can die from exposure LIKE THIS GUY WHO WAS PROBABLY A WRITER:

14. Love Your Bad Reviews

Listen. Listen. You’re an artist, an author, a maker-of-stuffs, and you get a bad review and your first impulse is to fire up the old ragemachine and respond very crankily to said reviewer about how they’re wrong and they don’t get it and huff-a-puff-a-poopy-doo. No, no, no, no, no. Embrace the bad reviews. Enjoy the criticism. Here’s why: they are an indicator of your reach. They are a whittling down of your audience. Your audience will not be Everyone On Earth, awesome as that might be. Some people will love your work. Some people will hate it. I’ve had bad reviews where I wanted to like, literally bite my computer, grr, chomp-chomp. But then I read some of the comments at the bottom of those reviews. Sure, some of the comments were extra-mean with a dollop of scalding snark-sauce, but I also saw comments that said, “You know, that actually sounds like a book I want to read.” Bad reviews are awesome. Good reviews are even awesomer, sure, but hey, it’s all part of the game. Just be happy you’re out there, doing what you do, gathering the battle scars that prove you’ve been in the arena. (Extra credit: Five Ways To Respond To Negative Reviews: A Helpful Guide!)

15. Laugh When You Fall Down

You’re going to fuck up. Your career will have peaks and valleys. Your art will sometimes be shit, sometimes be gold, and you won’t always know the difference. Throughout this ARTFUL LIFE, you will fall down and skin your knee and bust your lip. Laugh it off. Enjoy the failure. Learn from it. Sometimes you fall down, you get to see a new perspective — in the gutter, looking up at the stars. Or maybe there’s two ladybugs down there making sweet ladybug love. That’s nice. That’s real nice. You gotta fall. You gotta take the hits. You have to learn to enjoy it. A creative life is a little bit BDSM. Learn to love the sting of the whip.

16. Finish, But Never Be Finished

Finish your shit. But never be finished. A first draft needs a second draft. Any effort needs a second, and a third, and as many as it takes — and sometimes you scrap one thing to make another thing, and sometimes one thing is a success but what about the next, and the next, and the next after that? There never is a last. A hard-arting motherfucker doesn’t think about one thing. It’s about all the things. It’s not singular. It’s not even just a career. It’s a life. A whole life of creating and fixing and destroying and creating anew. It’s a cosmic cycle. One thing down: an eternity to go. That shouldn’t be scary. That shouldn’t be stressful. That should feel amazing. It never ends until your heart quits kicking and the grave makes its call.

17. Life Is Both Medium And Material

Art is not reiterative. It doesn’t feed itself in the same way you can’t just barf up food and eat it again (though my dog believes differently). Yes, you can fuel part of your ART-TASTIC ODYSSEY through creating things and looking at that which is made by others, but art also requires a life. It demands escape. The hobbit must leave his cozy little berm and go have a crazy adventure before he comes home to write. There must be a there before there’s a back again. A life must be lived. The hobbit has to go and run from dragons and drink with dwarves and get high on wizard drugs before streaking through Mordor (“One does not simply run naked through Mordor”). Life is fuel for what you make because art is a reflection of life. Even when it’s fantastic, impossible, insane — the art we make must still be grounded in the life we live.

18. Complacency Is The Mind-Killer

It’s always sad to see complacency settle into an artist and that artist’s creations — a samey-samey feeling, a smug feeling of comfort, a settled sense of easing back into the chair and doing it all over again. Nothing new. Everything old. Habit, pattern, a hamster in a wheel, a dog eating its own barf. Never be complacent. Look for ruts. Try to figure out when you’re in one.

19. Always Be Reaching

You get out of ruts by reaching. By aiming beyond your talent. This happens right at the beginning — when we first seek to create a thing, we do so and we know nothing, Jon Snow. We’re basically infants, toddlers, pawing with boogery fingers at a thing we do not understand and yet a thing we are compelled to grab anyway. We don’t know how pieces fit together but we try anyway and we fuck up and choke on a DUPLO block and it doesn’t matter because we do it anyway. But somewhere along the way, some of us stop that reaching. We stop trying new things. We stop trying to outpace our own talent. Fuck that. Always reach. Always look for the next level, the new thing, a level up, ding. Muscle grows when we tear muscle. So tear your artistic muscles.

20. Work Is The Fear-Killer

Afraid? Uncertain? Anxious? Of course you are. We all are. But you punt fear in the crotch by working. Work through fear. Work begets work begets skill begets talent. You build confidence by doing. Riding a bike for the first time is scary. Riding a bike for the seventh time, less so. The 70th time? Not at all. Art is not so plain as that — some fear will always be present, and doubt will forever be a goblin in your pocket. And some of that is good: it keeps you moving, keeps you making and working. But the way through is always to do, do, do.

21. Self-Promote Your Art With Art

The artist promotes. Nobody else is going to do it for you. The trick is to do it with as much art and aplomb as you bring to the work you are promoting. Self-promotion is not an angry badger you shake at people — BUY MY ART OR YOU GET THE BADGER. Self-promotion isn’t even external from the art you’re making. Self-promo is part of the art. Consider it as organic as you can. You made a thing and now you want to talk to people about the thing. Engage and connect and create. Self-promotion is itself an art.

22. Write With Your Filters Off

We put up lots of walls between us and the work we do. We think conservatively. This won’t work. That isn’t right. There’s a rule against that. Nobody has done this before. *blows a vuvuzela in your face* No! Wrong! Destroy those walls. Eliminate your filters. Art without them. Already the act of creating art is a mechanical separation from the idea in our head — don’t insert more roadblocks and locked doors and angry badgers. Create with blissful ignorance. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you’ll have to fix it in post. But rip away the filters with ruinous hands. Filters are NSFA — Not Safe For Art.

23. And Also, Your Pants

Because, really, pants are stupid. Pants are a tool of the oppressor. Fuck pants. Which was actually my nickname at the Rock Dove Ranch brothel outside Reno, Nevada. “HEY, CAPTAIN FUCKPANTS,” they’d say. “IT’S TIME TO MAKE LOVE FOR MONEY. NOW DRINK THIS PINK DRINK, PUT ON THIS CROTCHLESS ASTRONAUT COSTUME, AND GET IN THAT BEDROOM.” And I’d do it. Because I’m committed to my work. Anyway. So what happens when you remove thine pants?

24. Two Words: Epic Genitals

We think of artists as soft, gooey creatures. Wifty, wispy, bending in the wind. But art perseveres. Art is a hammer on an anvil. It’s carvings in walls, books that live inside history, images that mark our minds indelibly like a boot pressed into wet cement. You make things? You’re a bad ass. You have epic genitals. You are a creator. You urge unreal things into reality. You shit out gods and create fire from your mouth and spray ink and paint and unicorn blood from all your pores. Don’t think yourself weak. Don’t see making art — whether you write comic books or build whole goddamn buildings — as anything less than the generative, proliferant, tectonic act that it is.

25. Return To Center

Things will be difficult. Art is a rough road up a weird mountain. Life seems impermissible when it comes to living a live of making cool stuff. When things are hard? When you feel distracted, overwhelmed, pulled apart like soft, seedy bread — return to center. Go home to the worlds you create. Make things. Do the work. Create something new. A splash of blood on a canvas. A spatter of brain matter on the page. A bone chisel against a lump of stone. Be generative.

Art will not destroy you.

Art will save you.

* * *

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63 comments

  • As always, love your brain and your writing. This post is so timely…

    I saw an Oscar-nominated movie last night that reassured me my stuff is no where NEAR as crazy as some stuff that’s out there. I would’ve loved to have been in that pitch meeting.

    Freedom! I can art as hard as I wanna! Doing my happy bop!

  • Number one on this list is so important. Having someone tell me that what I’m about to do will be a failure is actually part of the process. It is a step along the way. It has happened with every project I’ve ever done that has ever won an award, raised a bunch of money, or experienced any kind of success whatsoever.

    You will be pleased at how quiet those voices become when you succeed. You will be surprised when those same individuals claim that your success was actually inevitable the entire time.

  • January 21, 2015 at 12:04 PM // Reply

    I think I’ll bookmark this to re-read when I’m feeling like calling the whole thing off. Probably should get “laugh when you fall down” tattooed on my forearm so I can read it a million times a day until I maybe sort of manage to do it once.

  • God I’m so guilty of the not getting paid for art one. I seriously faced that JUST this morning. It’s hard to stand up for yourself sometimes but we definitely need to do so. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Fucking A… so true and right on artful motherfucking Chuck. Thank you!! Thank you, thank you. Reaching over for my fucking yellow stickies and writing above my computer, “Be an Artful Motherfucker!” and all the reasons come flowing into my brain. Informative and transformative, very fucking artful of you Chuck.

  • Gotta love the people who think art should be done for free, like they think writing isn’t real work like working in a steel mill or a factory or an office. This thought, I think, is what leads to people thinking art has no value. Funny seeing as how the same people have paintings on a wall, sculptures on a table, and books on a shelve; all things they paid money for.

  • Last night I went on a quick food run and came within a foot of dying. A lady who clearly had her head directly inserted in her ass blew through a red light at about 55mph and if I hadn’t slammed on my brakes she’s have hit me, broadside, on my driver’s side door. People pulled up next to me after and yelled, “HOLY SHIT!” How they knew the condition of my underwear is anyone’s guess.

    I realized moments later how likely death would have been, and after a quick shiver at the thought that my kids could have been with me too, my next thought was, “I’d have never been able to finish my book.”

    Near death experiences. Wonderful catalysts for arting harder.

  • !!! Thanks as ever for your thoughts, rant-cheers, and instructions. :) I enjoyed/needed the whole post, but was particularly affirmed/motivated/REMINDED at points fifteen and on. Such great stuff.

  • Don’t know if you are aware of this (off subject), but you are #90 on The Write Life’s 100 best blogs for writers. (Not in order of importance.) I sent your blog as a suggestion when they asked, and hope I had a teeny tiny part to spreading your word. Not sure what I think about this “The Write Life” as they seem to be charging for stuff (not always bad) but just wanted to let you know. Congrats!

  • I noticed a typo in #3, see if you can spot it: “Rhat might not be true.”

    “Rhat” could be a kick-ass name… but for what? A hacker? A Ratt cover band (too twee?) Acronym for a terrorist robot swarm?

  • Just when I think I’m starting to make progress, along comes another kick in the posterior demonstrating just why I’m not making enough. Stop being so bloody entertaining and sucking up my writing time.

  • Thank you for the article. Some days, writing is the only thing that makes sense to me. On other days, it is the avocation that breathes life into my heart, mind and soul…and helps me succeed in my vocation.

  • This made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off the toilet. “…you have to get out your purse, poke through it while making hmm and ahhh sounds, and then finally say: “Gosh, I’m sorry, I have no more fucks to give.”

  • Thank you once again Chuck, for reminding me that I have to be less of a squishy bunny and polish my balls of steel. (Hmmm. That second one’s a bit disturbing now I read it back, but at least *I* know what I mean…)

    I needed this today. :)

  • January 22, 2015 at 12:39 PM // Reply

    New reader here, love the truth alms, your pedagogic mission, the sublime transmission of these humanist forms.

  • This was so incredibly timely and appropriate for my specific situation- even to the degree that I was not, in fact, wearing pants while I read the post. What are the odds of that?!

    Well, actually in my case they’re pretty good, because I have ADD and this is a regular thing. However, I usually feel pretty bad upon discovering myself to be pantless in the middle of the afternoon (in fact, I just wrote a piece *yesterday* about how lame I am for sometimes forgetting to put on pants), but #23/24 have reframed things in a most helpful manner.

    So for that, as well as nicely eviscerating many of my other bogus impediments, thank you!

    Now FUCK PANTS, I’m GETTING BACK TO WORK!

  • I never write with pants on. Pants interrupt the flow, uncomfortably cinch my middle and make my toes go numb. No one can write with numb toes. That’s just fact.

  • Art will not destroy you.
    Art will save you.

    Truer words and all that!

    You know, I actually really enjoy the nasty language and ludicrous metaphors. They make me giggle out loud at work and make me snort my coffee and then people look at me weird, and I can say “Never mind, you had to be there,” and I get to internally laugh at them for not being part of this epic circle of awesome….
    Did I say work? Uh…. I’d never dream of reading your blog at my day-job, cough cough HACK…

  • I love your kick-ass way of inspiring me. Now give me another push. I am preparing my novel for publication. I am in the book proposal mode and stressing over that. Any suggestions?

  • Great fucking advice, goddamn it. I am in total motherfucking agreement.

    Faulkner on work:

    “Until it’s done it ain’t done and when it’s done it is.”

    Fuck yeah.

    It is amazing what my brain tries to trick me into thinking.

    “Moherfucker, you can’t do this.”

    “This is total shit, asshole!”

    “What a waste of a goddamn blood supply YOU are, fucknuts!”

    I mean, I love when that guy shows up when I’m doing revision. He is the tough critic who won’t let me get away with flaccid prose. I even have a name for him: Bastarr Sonovavitch. He blogs, so people think he’s real.

    BECAUSE HE FUCKING IS.

    But yeah, man. Push through. Write when you don’t feel it. Fake it til you make it. Etc etc.

    It’s not like shitting.

    Good thing, because you can indeed force yourself to shit. Unfortunately, the best result you can get will be…well, a pile of shit.

    The worst result will be a bowlful of blood and you shoving your torn hemorrhoid back up your asshole with your thumb. Trust me,

    I know.

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