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."

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8 401(k) Investing Tips to Maximize Your 401(k)

woman with laptop and clipboard

The best kind of 401(k) plan is one that is used. The employer-sponsored retirement plan is typically easy to open and fund (with pre-tax dollars often deducted straight from your paycheck), and offers tax benefits vs. saving and investing in a brokerage account. Understanding the nuances of this all-important savings vehicle may help catapult investors […]

The post 8 401(k) Investing Tips to Maximize Your 401(k) appeared first on SoFi.

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How to Make Tough Decisions as a Couple

Marnie and Tom live in a nice suburb in the Midwest with their two young children. Marnie’s mother, Elaine, lives about an hour away.

When the kids were babies, Marnie's mother used to drive to Marnie and Tom's every day to see her grandkids and help out. But lately, Marnie's mother's health has been declining, so she can’t drive over anymore.

One day Marnie gets an idea: What if she and Tom sell their house and move closer to her mother? Then the kids would be able to see their grandmother more often. Plus, Marnie would be able to keep a closer eye on her mother in case her health gets worse. Seems like a perfect solution.

There’s only one problem—Tom doesn’t want to move. Tom likes the neighborhood they’re in. He thinks he and Marnie paid too much for their house, but other than that he’s very comfortable.

Tom says no.

Tough decisions and zero-sum situations

Faced with big decisions like this, a couple will ordinarily try to compromise. But in this case, there’s really no half-way. Economists call this kind of thing a zero-sum situation. Someone’s going to win, and someone’s going to lose.

For over thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so.

Some classic zero-sum problems for couples involve whether or not to move—often for one partner’s career—and whether or not to have another child. But there are lots of others.    

For thirty years, I’ve watched couples struggle with zero-sum problems. Some more successfully, and some less so. Today, we’re going to talk about what works, and what doesn’t, when you’re faced with one of these situations.

Three ways not to make tough decisions as a couple

 First, let’s talk first about what doesn’t work. There are three main approaches that don’t work. Unfortunately, most couples try all three:

Mistake #1 – Trying to convince your partner they'll be better off

The first mistake is to try to convince your partner that they’ll be much happier if they do things your way. In Marnie’s case, this might involve demonstrating to Tom all the wonderful things about the neighborhood she'd like to move to. Wouldn't Tom be better off there? 

No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way.

 Here’s the problem: No one likes to be told they’ll be happier if they just do things your way. It's better to assume each person has good reasons for feeling the way they do. And that those reasons aren’t likely to change. In couples therapy, we call this "staying in your own lane."

Mistake #2 – Suggesting there's something wrong with your parnter for disagreeing

The second thing that doesn’t work is to suggest there’s something wrong with your partner. Otherwise, they'd see it your way. If only they were less anxious, less obsessive-compulsive, less oppositional, less stuck in their ways, or less damaged by unresolved childhood trauma. Then they’d surely agree with you!

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work.

A lot of people get sent to my office for therapy by their spouses for just this reason. Believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t work. It usually just leads to a lot of bad feeling.

Mistake #3 – Appealing to your partner's love

The third thing that doesn’t work is to appeal to your partner’s love and insist that if they really love you as much as they say they do, they’ll give you what you want. Almost every couple tries this.

Marnie is no exception.

“Tom,” she says, one night as they're getting ready for bed, “Don’t you see how I can’t sleep at night worrying about my mother? I can't stop thinking about how she’s missing out on so much of our kids’ lives. Can’t you see what this is doing to me? Don’t you love me?”

 “The answer’s still no,” says Tom. “And it has nothing to do with whether I love you or not.”

I'd be inclined to agree. Just because you love someone, that doesn't mean you're responsible for giving them everything they want. 

A better way to make tough decisions as a couple

The good news is there’s a much better method. There are three steps involved.

Step One:  Let’s make a deal

In business, this would be a no-brainer, right?  You’d never ask someone to give you something you want for free. Instead, you’d find out what their price is.  

In marriage, it’s the same thing. The main question is: What’s going to motivate the other person to do a deal?

Let’s see what happens when Marnie tries this approach.

One night in bed, just before they turn off the lights, Marnie turns over to face Tom.

“Tom, what can I give you to make you agree to move?” she asks.

Tom is silent.

“A promise to never complain ever again about you watching TV?”

Tom smiles. “It’s going to cost a lot more than that,” he says.

Marnie thinks some more. “How about if I agree to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family?”

Tom shakes his head. But now Marnie has the idea. She’s not asking for favors anymore. She just wants to do this deal.         

“I'll do all the cooking and cleanup three times a week,” she says. "And we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family."  

Tom raises an eyebrow. Now he knows she's serious. "Let me think about it,” he says, and turns off the light.

Time for Step Two.

Step Two:  The $64,000 Question

The following night, Tom is sitting at his laptop paying bills. Suddenly it hits him. “Marnie,” he says, “I think I see a way to do this. If we’re going to move, let’s get a smaller house and start saving money again. What do you think?”    Marnie’s actually been hoping for a bigger house. It’s painful to hear that this is what Tom wants. But hey, now he’s named his price. That means he’s in the game.

To me, this looks promising. Marnie gets something she wants very much. And she pays for it, fair and square. Same thing on Tom’s side.

Marnie thinks for a minute.  

“Let’s see what we can find,” she says.

Step Three: The Price is Right

Now comes the fun part.

The following Sunday, Marnie and Tom drop the kids off with her mother and start house-hunting in earnest. After a few weekends, they find a house they both like well enough. It breaks Marnie’s heart to be downsizing, but it was the only way to make things work. And it helps that once they find a place Tom likes, Marnie gets him to agree to new cabinets and closets.

Decision making builds strong relationships

 A good deal will have both of your dreams in it. That’s important, because it means you’re both fully in. You never know how a move like this is going to work out. If it goes well, you both share the satisfaction. If not, you share the blame.

A good deal will have both of your dreams in it.

One sign of a good deal is that in the end, neither of you got everything you wanted. The final result didn’t look exactly like what either of you originally had in mind.

But hey, isn’t that the case with anything creative? Eventually you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

Sometimes life brings you to a fork in the road, where no compromise is possible. When that happens, assume you’ll need to do some serious deal-making—as if your relationship depended on it. Which in fact, it will.

Eventually, you have to face reality. And in a couple’s relationship, reality often takes the form of the person next to you in bed.

As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

In the long run, how you settle the issue may matter more than which fork you take.

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Stop Saving for retirement. Start Investing for Retirement Instead.

Here’s why saving money will never get you to retirement — and here’s what you should be doing instead.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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