Can Your Craft Become Your Livelihood? A Conversation with Grant Ginder
That creative thing you love—writing, painting, designing, composing—that’s what you do for pleasure. To relax, unwind, escape. Many of us hold a belief that the thing we love to do and the thing we get paid to do can’t be one and the same. Unless, of course, you’re Lizzo or Stephen King.
But what if that assumption is wrong? What if there's a way to add a small revenue stream, or even make a full-time career, out of the creative thing you love?
Becoming a creative begins with creating.
I sat down with novelist Grant Ginder (author of The People We Hate at the Wedding and Honestly, We Meant Well) who boldly shares his advice on how he turned his writing hobby into a profession and how he believes you can follow his lead down any artistic path you choose.
What makes someone an artist?
When I asked Grant what makes someone an artist, he chuckled before confessing that even as a published author, he struggles to claim the title out loud.
"I think … so much of it is just a matter of taking ownership. [We tend to believe] you're not allowed to call yourself a painter unless you've sold paintings. But a painter is someone who paints. …I spend a lot of my day writing, and so I'm a writer. Getting anyone else to take you seriously is to take yourself seriously. And part of taking yourself seriously is calling yourself what you are."
Addressing the mindset of art as a hobby or creative pursuit only
Many of us carry a creative wish or talent inside of us. And yet so many believe that our art—the creating—is the thing we must do after the “real job” is done. Being creative happens separately from being a professional.
"My parents… encouraged me to follow those [writing] ambitions. And if I would've told them after I graduated college ‘I'm going to go be a writer’… they would have [said] ‘Maybe you won't be doing that.’
"When my first book came out, my parents had a celebration for me and my dad was giving a speech. He said ‘Grant said he was going to write a book and we didn't believe it!'"
Then, after Grant’s second book was published, his parents (supportively) expressed the same surprise.
"It was a mixed message. It’s not just your parents [sending you this message]—I think you have pressures from all sides; from school, from media, from just looking at the world around you. It’s like the only [artists] that matter are the ones who make a lot of money. I think it’s a very skewed way of looking at art."
Making the move from amateur to creative professional
It's all well and good to say that we should all support creative pursuits as a means to an income. But how do you actually get started on making it official? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that becoming a creative begins with creating.
"For me, the creating part was learning to set aside time, and to protect that time, to engage in this particular craft… I would write on the weekends a lot. [I had to learn] to say no to things… [because] this is the time that I've set aside to engage in this process, and I'm going to engage in this process now. Holding yourself to that and getting other people to recognize and take that seriously [is essential]."
He also speaks to the importance of consuming the art form you want to produce. For Grant, that’s the novel. But he acknowledges that it's probably the same for other creative arts like painting or music. The process involves analysis and self-reflection.
"You read a novel and you want to write one of these things. [What do you like about it? Why do you like that? And how is that writer doing that thing? And so, [you're] coming at it as… someone who's trying to train themselves in a particular craft. I think that's kind of step one in producing something [creative]."
Finding inspiration and motivation
Sometimes you don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike you. You have a job to do.
What about inspiration? Do you wait for it to strike or do you just have to start?
Grant believes the artist simply has to start.
"I don't believe that I have to wait for inspiration to strike. I actually think that this comes from my training as a speechwriter, and from writing under deadlines. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike you. You have a job to do."
He pointed to an idea he paraphrased from novelist Taffy Brodesser-Akner:
"You write a sentence. Just write that sentence. And it might be a really bad sentence, but the next one will probably be a little bit better."
"I'm also a fan of super messy first drafts. I think my writing is at its worst and my process is at its worst when I get way too precious. Am I in the mood? Is the light in the apartment just right? It's like, no, just roll up your sleeves and start."
Getting your creation out into the world
Once you’ve written or painted or composed the thing, is there a clear, step-by-step roadmap to getting it out into the world? Grants recommendations were refreshing. And relatable.
1. Do your research
"I used Google. When I wrote my first novel, I Googled ‘how many words are in a novel?
"I've always loved writing. I've always loved reading. And so, on breaks [from my speechwriting job], I would write. And, I kept that up. And then… when I reached that magic number [of novel words], I Googled ‘how to publish a novel.
"My path was like a Google Commercial."
Grant's googling led him to conclude that he needed to find a literary agent. And, of course, he then used Google to find out what a literary agent was.
"Your research is really important [in figuring out] what the next steps are and how to prepare yourself for those steps."
2. Be scrappy
"I started realizing I'd never really read the acknowledgments in the backs of books before. So I started reading the acknowledgments… and authors thank their agents. So if I really liked the book, I would read the acknowledgments and keep a list of who the agents were.
"When it was time for me to query agents… I reached out to those agents. Some of them didn’t respond, but some did. It takes a while. You get a lot of rejections. But I told myself that for every rejection, I was going to send it out to two more people. You just chip away."
I told myself that for every rejection, I was going to send it out to two more people. You just chip away.
3. Make connections
"I assume this would translate to other fields—developing a network of other writers, painters, musicians helping each other … to navigate the landscape."
Grant had no prior knowledge of the steps to take in getting a book published. He had no connections. He had only a book, a wish, and a decent internet connection. And this is how he would advise any creator to figure things out as they go.
How do you handle rejection?
Grant mentioned rejection. And I wasn’t letting him off the hook. How, I asked, do you deal with rejection?
"There is this incredible vulnerability in putting something out in the world. It's something that you've sat with for years. And it's just [been] you, engaging with [it]. Then all of a sudden it's in the hands of everyone and they're allowed to think whatever they want about it.
"I think you have to get to this state—and I'm not there yet—[but] I imagine [it’s] like the author's Nirvana… where I’ve made this thing that belonged to me while I was making it. And I am now putting it forth for interpretation… [but] texts are meant to be read and processed in a variety of different ways. And I think that… the more you can lean into that belief, the happier, and probably the better writer you can be."
Grant's advice to budding creatives
I wrapped our interview with this question: What’s the one piece of advice you wish you could give your younger self?
Here’s a (slightly paraphrased) summary of the pep talk Grant wished he'd received.
"Just sit down and do it. Trust the process. One sentence will lead to the next sentence, which will lead to the next. Don't worry so much. Just write the book you want to write."