Creative Tithing: The old 80/20

I was nearing the end of a seven-week writing class held at the Smithsonian. The teacher was wrapping up both the evening and the course and was trying to leave us with some food for thought.

The advice ran a familiar gamut: write every day, read what you want to write, work through rejection. Then, the instructor veered into foreign territory.

“Tithe,” she said, paused, and said again, “You have to tithe.”

She went on to explain what should’ve been a simple–but for me what was at the time, a radical–concept: in order to get a little (or a lot) you have to give a little (and sometimes a lot, too).

All artists enter their craft hoping and believing, at some level, they will be a success. That belief sometimes promotes a self-centered, solipsistic view of the world. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out that the rest of the creative world is trying to do the same exact thing…and we could all help each other if we glanced up from our own road map once in a while.

You want that magazine to accept your short story? Buy a copy. Desperate for a 5-star rating and gushing review for your latest epub novel or short story? Write a couple reviews yourself. Sad that your local indie book store is going out of business? Buy something there, even if you could get it for $4.99 $1.99 on Amazon.

Recently, the concept has been put more crudely as the “80/20” rule: put 80 percent effort in to get 20 percent out. It’s a stark way of quantifying what should come naturally: that we should be supporting fellow artists, outlets, and industries by giving something back. I prefer the more archaic term tithe, as I think it implies more about the relationship of giving and receiving, of obligation and reward, than the industrial digital inputs of the 80/20 rule, but the gist is the same: if you want success, hold out your hand, not for a gift, but to help.

If you’re a writer or artist, consider doing the following:

  • Buy a copy of the journals, magazines, or the books of the publishers (especially small publishers) that YOU would like to see yourself in. If you can afford it, subscribe.
  • Tithing can be time, as well. If you belong to a writers organization, suck it up and run for office or participate on a board or panel. You’re busy? Guess what, we’re all busy. Don’t know what it takes? No one does. The important part is to breathe life into the organizations that keep your craft going.
  • Attend book signings, readings, and panels of fellow authors in your organization or just your local area. Introduce yourself, thank them for their work and time, offer your congratulations, buy their book and get them to sign it.
  • Share insights and tricks you’ve gleaned on your blog, in chat rooms, listservs, and in meetings.
  • Introduce others at events, work at making connections and bringing creative people together.

Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Art and Obligation, Craft, Deep Thoughts
One comment on “Creative Tithing: The old 80/20
  1. […] The onus with clubs is that they don’t run themselves. If all the members take, take, take, the club withers on the vine; monthly meetings begin to resemble a late night poker game, with all the members glancing at each other shifty-eyed as they wonder what they can walk away with and not contribute. Don’t let it get to that stage: volunteer to help out, run for office, contribute to the website, man a table at a book fair, whatever it takes to inject energy into the club. You’ll often find that other members are ready to match your contributions with their own. Real synergy results and a thriving writers club is a powerful thing. See my post on Creative Tithing: The Old 80/20 for more. […]

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