An English major and a Marketing guru walk into a bar … ✎ By Wayne K. Spear
Maybe cult is over-stating it. I’ll let you decide.
In 1985 I was a college freshman, majoring in English Lit.
Many of us in this cult aspired to being novelists, poets, and playwrights.
We were learning that great writing is difficult and dense and allusive and multi-layered—for the trained eye only, not for the masses who don’t “get it.” Great writing is for posterity, not for money or markets.
We did what we were taught to do. We wrote the way the great writers of the past wrote, to get the attention of other people in the cult.
Skip ahead three decades, and a small portion my generation have had moderate success as artists. Most struggle.
Some have day jobs. Others are broke. Their marriages have fallen apart. Some are homeless.
The worst thing is that the people in the cult don’t even support one another. They tear one another down, terrified of being left alone at the bottom of a hole.
We all have choices to make.
When things aren’t working out, you can try something different. You can find better friends and seek out support. You can decide to reinvent yourself.
Or, you can say “It’s fate” and turn to alcohol and cynicism and self-loathing and resignation and what Thoreau called a life of quiet desperation. In the cult, these are all very popular options.
I don’t judge anyone, because I know how tempting it is to decide you’re a failure when nothing is working, and that there’s nothing to be done.
When your life is invested in the ideas, and ideals, of the cult, things get twisted. You hate yourself for being “a failure,” but perversely failure becomes a sign that you’re doing it right.
In the cult, it’s called “being misunderstood.”
So how did I get out?
It was a slow, long process.
First, I admitted that I had been indoctrinated. I’m not saying that my education was worthless, only that it had put some ideas into my mind that were not helpful.
Next, I accepted the fact that what I was doing wasn’t working, and that I needed help. I sought out people who had the life and career I wanted, and I paid them to teach me everything they knew.
I scanned the Internet for free material to help me chart a new course.
I discovered something incredible. The people giving me practical guidance had themselves escaped the cult.
One of them was Clint Arthur, a fellow who studied under Frank McCourt and aspired to write a novel as beautiful as Angela’s Ashes. Clint was driving a cab in LA. He was miserable. So he burnt his screenplays and started over.
Another is a fellow named Jon Morrow. Check out his amazing story here.
They’d not only escaped, they’d created beautiful, brilliant new lives, based on helping others. And (bonus) they were making tons of money doing something they loved.
I wanted out, too.
So I spent a year thinking about new ways I could use my skills to communicate, connect, and make a difference.
I realized I needed to study business and marketing, the two dirtiest words in the cult, because most of what I’d learned about writing in university was wrong, or, at best, useless.
Whether you are a journalist, a blogger, a novelist, or a poet, your education is likely not preparing you for the reality of what you are going to find. Sure, you know it’s tough out there. But how much help is that?
Maybe you’re the Voice of Your Generation, in which case you’ve won the lottery and nothing I say applies to you.
The other 99% of us, however, need to find another way to make a difference. Books on writing are going to be of limited help. Maybe they’ll inspire you—and that’s good and fine.
So you’re inspired. Now what?
Find something you love. Then, figure out why it matters to your audience. Write with honesty and passion. Have a business plan and a marketing strategy. Learn about product funnels and content marketing and branding and networking. Don’t accept poverty and suffering as the natural, inevitable conditions of your craft. Treat it like a business. If what you’re doing isn’t getting the result you want, be flexible. Adapt and try again.
Remember: you are conducting an experiment. There are no limits or rules.
Escape the cult.