There once was a student with big ideas and no friends. He desperately craved the respect and admiration of his peers, but nobody paid any attention to him or what he had to say. Whenever he would share his research and art, it was ignored.
Like in the example of oxygen masks and airplane safety, you should always focus on yourself before you focus on everyone else. The way to make yourself more successful with others is to first make yourself an interesting person.
The artists who try to (figuratively) apply oxygen masks to others before applying their own often hurt others. You will hurt others if you try to shove uninteresting shit down their throats. (Maybe not physically hurt them, but you will definitely not cultivate a positive image for yourself.)
Nobody likes that person who begs you for “likes” on Facebook; or those people who message you asking “follow me back?” on Twitter. Or my personal favorite: the people who demands you share their articles. Because it needs to be seen. (Psh, as if…I’m flagging that shit as spam now. Obviously it wasn’t that good or I would have shared it.)
We need to find interests that we are passionate about and produce—ideally—high-quality content that exudes those passions in some constructive way. If you can figure out a way to do that you will make money.
Innuendos aside, I think this advice by Austin Kleon is spot on. This “fill in the gap” mentality is what we should strive for as artists.
It might be unrealistic to think: “I’m great. And I love professional basketball. I am going to start writing about professional basketball and become the authority on everything and anything relating to the NBA.”
That is a great goal, but it is very lofty and ambitious to think that you can simply become the writing authority over the entire National Basketball Association—especially if you are not a former player, coach, or best friends with the Chief Editor at Sports Illustrated.
Your goal is not impossible, but the odds of becoming the authority on the NBA are pretty slim-to-none from the get-go. You will need to find ways to be creative if you want to succeed.
Or maybe start by watching all of the Professional basketball games in the Euroleague and start writing about that to establish an authority for yourself. Maybe you will discover some young unknown superstar that will take the NBA by storm and you—being the first to discover him—will reap the benefits. Who knows what might happen if you put yourself out there?
Take a further step back in time and find out who made your mentors who they are/were? Who were their biggest influences? This works for any field. For example, let’s tackle something simple like….reading books.
Let’s say your three favorite authors are John Irving, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Let’s say you have read all of their books, and you are now ready for more. What do you do? (I’m already impressed by you thanks to this imaginary situation. You’ve read all of Stephen King’s books?!)
For example, did you know that J.K. Rowling’s favorite living author is Roddy Doyle? I didn’t either until that last sentence. But you bet your ass I’m going to go buy one of his books right now!
John Irving’s favorite books are no secret. They can be found here. And Stephen King regularly tweets about the books he enjoys.
Once you have done your homework thoroughly, it will be time to take your first steps out into the world as an interesting person. Those first few steps will be treacherous and tough. But if you stick it out, it will be worth it.
With writing, at least, I have found that you can usually create your own credentials. If you can write with authority, and your language is clean, your facts are accurate, and your audience is engaged, you might just make it in this business.