This was my friend Danny’s question to me years ago when I was struggling to balance my identity as both an artist and a consultant. To find clients, it seemed necessary to put my most commercially valuable experience out there front and center. Coding, project management, Photoshop and digital marketing were far more likely to pay the rent than experiments in situationist-inspired speculative fiction. If I could only get enough attention for the work I was not excited about, then I could start doing the work I was excited about. Or so went my faulty reasoning.
A few years later, I was having one of the kinds of conversations I want to be having. I was talking to a new friend, Garnette, at a writers’ residency. He was pressing me on certain things that I felt were holding me back as a writer. The constant need to sell my more commercial skills came up again. But I also spoke of the tiny market for creative writing and how this scarcity crept in to the writing process, even when my instinct was to be more experimental. Though almost no one is making a living off writing, it is hard not to keep in mind conventions about acceptable styles, word counts and book formats. Garnette’s advice was twofold. One: write the book you want to write. And two: writers succeed as part of a conversation. The conversation is the goal. Publishing, relationships, opportunities all flow out from the conversations you engage with. The most important question to answer is, “what conversation do you want to be a part of?”