Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve – Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins

real artistsThis review first ran in the Oct. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timelines Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age

By Jeff Goins

Nelson Books


It’s never been easier to make a living off your creative talent.

But just don’t be too quick in quitting your day job.

John Grisham can show you how it’s done. He was a new father and a lawyer working 70-hour weeks. Writing was his hobby.

Grisham didn’t quit his Mississippi law practice. Instead, he woke up at 5 a.m. every day for three years to work on his debut novel A Time to Kill.

He repeated the routine with his second legal thriller.

“It wasn’t until he was two bestsellers into his writing career that he felt confident enough to leave his law practice and pursue writing full-time,” says Jeff Goins, entrepreneur and author of Real Artists Don’t Starve. “That’s the art of the small bet.”

Grisham’s early morning bets paid off. His books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, been translated into 40 languages and made into nine movies.

Goins says low-risk bets will get you the big win. “If you don’t have to go all in, don’t.”

It’s advice that’s confirmed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  They tracked 5,000 entrepreneurs over 14 years. The cautious entrepreneurs were more successful. The risk-takers who quit their day jobs were 33 per cent more likely to fail.

“Most significant change begins with a simple step, not a giant leap,” says Goins.  No one’s born an artist. We gradually become one through these simple steps and small bets.

It’s one of 12 rules for succeeding in what Goins calls our new creative renaissance.

There’s his rule of creative theft that encourages stealing from masters and peers. “Great artists do not try to be original,” says Goins. “Creativity is not about being original; it’s about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material.”

Under the rule of the patron, you need to find someone early on who will vouch for your work and open doors. “Before you can reach an audience of many, you must first reach an audience of one,” says Goins. “These people lend their resources and influence to help creative talents succeed, introducing them to opportunities they would not encounter otherwise.”

And there’s the rule of never working for free. Don’t do something for the exposure or the opportunity. “Exposure will not put food on the table,” says Goins. “Charging what you’re worth begins with the belief that you’re worth what you charge.”

Making money allows you to continue making your art. “That is the point – to keep making things. You don’t have to be rich to do that, but you can’t starve. That’s not how your best work is going to be made.”

Follow the 12 rules and you’re more likely to thrive rather than starve and struggle as an artist.

“We can, in fact, create work that matters and earn a living doing so. We can share our gift with the world without having to suffer for it. And the sooner we take advantage of this opportunity, the sooner we can get on with doing our work.”

So set your alarm clock and start making small predawn bets before heading off to your day job.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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