3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask

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I’m starting to find that the same dilemmas come up again and again when I talk with a group about online media and marketing.

These are dilemmas that I can’t solve. They boil down to three questions you have to ask yourself—and be able to answer honestly—to find a path that’s your own, not mine.

1. Are you creating primarily for yourself or primarily for an audience?

Almost all of my advice is based on the assumption that you want to entertain, inform, or increase your audience. Not everyone is concerned with this, nor should they be.

If you’re producing work for an audience, it means:

  • playing by at least some rules of the industry
  • caring what others think of your work
  • interacting with your audience and being available to them
  • doing things not for your art, but out of service to your audience
  • putting on a performance, or adopting some kind of persona
  • marketing and being visible

If you’re creating for yourself, it means:

  • the act is worthwhile regardless of who sees your work
  • fulfillment comes from your struggle with the practice, not from distribution or feedback

Of course, you may be creating for both yourself AND an audience. But some artists who believe they are producing work for an audience aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required to do so. Which means there’s another level to this.

Are you:

  • creating for an audience
  • creating for an audience that earns you money

Once money enters the equation, you have to start sacrificing more of what you want, and bend to the demands of the market. (Or find a generous patron or foundation!)

What is it that you truly want out of your creative endeavors? Do you really know?

2. How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part?

Let’s assume you do want an audience (of any size). It necessitates some kind of persona. Deciding not to have a persona (removing yourself from visibility, Pynchon style) is a persona.

You can’t imitate someone else’s persona. You can only be yourself. Some of us think famous people are (or ought to be) aloof and distant, so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.

After I give talks about digital marketing, relationship building, and social media, inevitably one person will come up and say, “I don’t want to be visible online. I just want people to read my stories.”

That’s a rather boring proposition in this day and age.

So you have to ask yourself—even if you’re shy or think you’re boring—what part of yourself are you going to share and put on display? It’s got to be something, so let’s make it interesting. Let’s really dive into the fiction of who you are OR aren’t. Make up something you can believe in, so others can believe in it, too. (That’s what we all want, most desperately. Meaning.)

3. What is your killer medium?

For me (personally), it’s not the book form. It’s the workshop or the conference keynote. It’s the ability to answer any question thrown at me. It’s my desire to be of service in a personalized way.

Speaking about writers specifically, the book is often assumed to be the most authoritative and important medium, but that’s only because we’ve all been led to believe that (through a culture that has created The Myth about the author as authority).

It’s a Myth, neither good nor bad. Just a belief system that, increasingly, we’re all moving away from.

Creative people too often pursue mediums that have been pushed on them by other people, and because it’s the well-worn path. Instead, follow the Apple motto: “Think different.”


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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Life Philosophy, Writing Advice.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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99 Comments on "3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask"

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Cindy Thrasher

Thank you for this.  I think I’ve been askng myself these same questions, but not in words…more in feelings.  And as we all know, “feelings,” while a bonafide language in many situations, are not enough upon which to base change or growth.  Wonderful (and much needed) post.

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Interesting… But isn’t the most important thing about social media authenticity and transparency? How does creating a persona lend itself to that? I suppose it must happen to some degree.

Jill Kemerer

I’ve been creating on online presence for years, but all of these questions come up for me repeatedly. With new social sites and new contacts, I ask myself what I’m most comfortable with sharing and what seems to resonate with others. The unexpected upside? I’m more comfortable being myself.

Gwen McClellan

yes. and also, the response is telling.

Lisa Rivero

Really good questions. Thanks, Jane. Your first one reminds me of work in creativity that shows that successful creative people have to have a mixture of being both rebellious and being able to play by the rules when necessary. Many people have trouble with one or the other. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of both.

Dixie Redmond

I just wrote about the kinds of art we create – it dovetails with this so I put a link to this in the comments.  Great writing!  I came here through someone’s tweet.

Dixie

bridgetstraub.com

Very interesting post. I think my books are my strongest medium but then again…

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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience? How much of yourself are you willing to share? What is your killer medium? Source: janefriedman.com […]

Susan Husk
I started writing for my family so that they would know our heritage, but the purpose morphed into the need to tell a compelling story to anyone who would listen. If there were a place to do so, I could as easily be satisfied verbally repeating the story as I am in trying to replicate it in print.  Sometimes the need to share with an audience is as altruistic as writing for yourself without anyone knowing it. Sometimes motive, personal investment, and means blur in varied measure. Thank you for defining the three considerations. It is often good to review… Read more »
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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience? How much of yourself are you willing to share? What is your killer medium? Source: janefriedman.com […]

L. C. Sterling
The contemporary conundrum: we’re supposed to be crafting works of art … but we must be commercial; we’re supposed to emulate, and surpass, the greatest authors … but we’re also supposed to do that while “listening to what the audience wants.” I must write for myself first, but writing, by definition, means that one wants to be read.  At least if one is writing a novel, as I am, and not a journal. In the brave new world of “what’s your brand? (barf)” one apparently has an easier time being published writing YA crap vs. “literary fiction.” Writer as marketer?… Read more »
Tom Bentley
Thanks Jane—you’ve touched on a few things I’ve been wrestling with. I both write feature pieces and do business copywriting, and my site shows both elements. Sometimes the feature or personal-essay style pieces can move into the edgy—my latest blog post is about being taken on an unexpected ride to a Juarez whorehouse years ago—so that I sometimes worry that my business clients might be puzzled or alarmed. But I’ve decided that my persona behind the article writer is indicative of a certain language style or flavor that can be an enhancement (or irrelevant) to some business writings today, and… Read more »
Gwen McClellan
I was writing health related posts on blog and prof FB page, when I began to realize that the delight I experienced, and the sheer volume of response to my photographs and vignettes about nature and where I walked this morning, were astounding, while the interest in what I truly want people to want to learn (!) about how to address and prevent health conditions, was of far less interest overall. So I changed the name of the page and am just enjoying writing and posting photography of life and nature and my meanderings and contemplations, which are very well… Read more »
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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience? How much of yourself are you willing to share? What is your killer medium? Source: janefriedman.com […]

F. David A. Miller
Isn’t anyone who writes anything that is available to the public at least in part writing for someone else?   And of course, I do believe you are adjusting your message for the specific audience that will eventually read it. In the analogue world if we were to write a letter to one person and then to another the tone, humor, method (hand written versus typed), and perhaps the grammar would change for the specific individual it was being sent to. Pre-internet I would hand write my daughter letters that were distinct from those being sent to business associates and… Read more »
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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience? How much of yourself are you willing to share? What is your killer medium? Source: janefriedman.com […]

Barbara

Wow. These are insightful questions, and cut through to the heart of the challenge of doing creative work. I especially appreciate that you have to know the answer to the first question before you approach the other two. Thanks for the reminder, which came at a perfect time for me.

Maria Powers Mia

This is a very interesting take on it all. Re-tweeted Deb Bowman’s tweet. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

Nick Rolynd
I think about these questions a lot. I’m just starting to make myself an internet presence in the writing sphere, and I’ve been wondering how to best get myself out there. I know very well there are rules I’ll have to bend my writing to in order to get a foot in the door of traditional publishing, but I’ve been actively ignoring their existence for a while. For some people, I think it’s actually best to address these questions later rather than sooner. I feel that if you attempt to force yourself into the mold of any of the “standard… Read more »
Irving Podolsky
Another informative and thought provoking post, Jane. Cutting to the chase, I write for myself and an audience. If I’m not excited about what is coming through me, there will be nothing exciting to be read by others. I have to be discovering the content as I write it, to create a discovery for the reader. I am both writer and reader when I author a narrative, and if I can connect to my true self in the process, I can better connect to others. But that’s only half the process. The other half is getting my stuff noticed, getting… Read more »
Joe Bunting

I do some ghostwriting for people whose “killer medium” is not the book. They are excellent public speakers but terrible writers.

They need “the book” to have that mythical authority you’re talking about, but it’s just something to check off the list before they get to do more of their life’s work.

In the age of ghostwriting and self-publishing, I don’t think anyone has an excuse not to have a book. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to change the world with it.

Jeff Goins

Love this. We don’t yet know what social media does to us long-term. What we can be sure of this — the medium certain is NOT neutral.

Nina Badzin

Jane, this hits home for me right now–especially #3. I’ve always assumed a novel should be my main goal, but I’m finding myself so much more at home, ME, and “successful” (in the most modest ways, but at least in SOME way) with short stories and essays. I also enjoy writing those whereas the novel feels a lot more forced. Not sure what to do with that knowledge. I don’t know what kind of career I can build on short stories and essays . . . Not that I’m in it for the money.

Nina Badzin

What I mean by “I’m not in it for the money” is not that I’m above that . . . it means most of my writing has been for free at this point (lit mags, guests posts blogs, my blog, etc.)

Peter

take the less worn path so long as the arbiters of what is successful,  or otherwise – i.e the gatekeepers – sanction it. please explain if this is otherwise

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[…] culture’s emphasis on being “real” or “genuine” at any/all costs.) A commenter on this short and thought-provoking post called authenticity and transparency “the most […]

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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Are you creating primarily for yourself or for an audience? How much of yourself are you willing to share? What is your killer medium? Source: janefriedman.com […]

Juanita Wilson

I especially liked this: “so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.” I remember doing this when I was first figuring out how to be in a corporate-type environment – what seems like a lifetime ago. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing til I read this. Thanks, Jane.

Bianca

Hi Jane, I’m very new to writing a book & all; however, I’m wanting to ask a “bookwriting 101” question. Before sending copies to publishers, should one get a copy right, of their book? Also, Thank You, for all of your input and time.

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[…] you are a creative person, this post is helpful to decide 3 important questions about the purpose, the audience, and the medium of your […]

thehousesparrow

Nice article!  A friend and I actually began writing for our own entertainment–we would play a game of collaborative writing with one another.  When we looked back on what we saved, we realized we had book material, so we began writing seriously. In doing that, we realize we have to edit and rewrite things, so they make sense for other people.  There’s definitely a difference in who you’re writing for!

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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask. This post was brewing in me for a period of months. Huge discussion in the comments. […]

Arley Cole

Really great post. Right now I have a wip that is causing me to consider a new audience and their expectations balanced with my own driving desire to write. This was a great post for me to read right now. Thanks!!

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[…] What is your motivation for trying to get published? A little self-reflection might be in order before you chase after an agent or publisher. Read my post 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask. […]

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[…] hashtag unto herself and my host for Writing on the Ether each Thursday at her site — wrote a cool post that raised this issue. She wrote: You have to ask yourself—even if you’re shy or think […]

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The Tantalizing Ten: February’s Finest | Literary Crux | Official Site of T.L. Skylara

[…] Jane Friedman: 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask Excerpt: How much of yourself are you going to share? And which […]

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[…] 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask | Jane Friedman (Advice, SelfAware, Creativity, Writing) […]

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BlogoStarYeahToTheWhat
Jane, phenomenal material you’ve created here. I have a question I really hope you’ll have time to address directly. I am a business guy in a position of responsibility where my reputation matters. I have a very popular pseudonym-signed blog which affords me high level of anonymity, however, it is indeed a factual daily account of my wacky life which, if people knew it were me in the blog, I think might be turned off in business. Even if a book were published based on the blog and even if it were successful, I’d still rely on my business income.… Read more »
Spicemeister

I’m in the process of writing my first book. Having spent 35 years in “the media,” I helped start Clear Channel Communications, directed Ron Howard, discussed Orson Wells and the making of “Citizen Kane” with John Housman, baseball with Hank Aaron..survived a plane crash, had polio as a youth and so much more. It has given me enough material for two books. I plan to target Baby Boomers. Can anyone give me advice on how to get a book published? Thank you!

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[…] Check out this link from from writer Jane Friedman – https://janefriedman.com/2011/10/14/3-questions/ […]

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[…] couple years ago Jane Friedman posted 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask on her blog and I feel it is still valuable information […]

John Henry Sheridan
Thanks for this insightful article. I am glad that you chose to challenge us rather than give us “easy” how-to answers. While I can’t seem to shake the notion that I want to publish my own books, I also have a deep awareness of our changing world. I also have noticed (from working with young people) how little they actually refer to books. I remember being unexcited at the ratio of people who buy books compared to the population. So anyway, the points that lit me up were: 1) think differently – I’m trying, thanks for the reminder. 2) create… Read more »
John Henry Sheridan
Thanks for this insightful article. I am glad that you chose to challenge us rather than give us “easy” how-to answers. While I can’t seem to shake the notion that I want to publish my own books, I also have a deep awareness of our changing world. I also have noticed (from working with young people) how little they actually refer to books. I remember being unexcited at the ratio of people who buy books compared to the population. So anyway, the points that lit me up were: 1) think differently – I’m trying, thanks for the reminder. 2) create… Read more »
Aplustradomus .

THis has helped me alot..Sheesh..Alot to think..

Tján
Good information, The part about what part of you do you want to be seen i especially like; although I dont believe all of it is true to me. I do art for arts sake and for others as well and although perhap costumers and I dont always see eye to eye their is always a big piece of me left in my art. As for the rules, screw the rules! Nothing amazing has ever been built because of rules, but because someone dared to break them. Like Steve Jobs once said, everything we see was built by people who… Read more »
Langner

I have complete my third book and it is in afrikaans. I want it to go to a publisher but where can I find one in my place. Pretoria. I love to put it in the shops my books but where I start. This one I complete I want to give to ppl to read. It is my dream to let the ppl read my books. Can you help me please. My name is Langner. My email is Langnerrasty@gmail.com

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Genny Poling

Love this! Finally some real “brass tax” answers. Makes it easier if I really know what’s coming. Thanks 🙂

Luther E. Banks III

Thank you, I appreciate this article. I’m now in the beginning stage of my journey. With my first book; I hope to relive the pinnacle of happiest memories, and with closing my book, ending a chapter of a bitter-sweet love story. Anyone it reaches out to, will just be a bonus of reflection. Again, thank you. – LEB III

Gloria White

Yes… This topic is very important to ask yourself. For myself, I would love it be more online, but I am not THAT computer savvy, and finances put a damper on things as well. But I can only try my best with what I have and see where it takes me.

Apongnwu Fopenawoh

nice encouragement. I believe that everyone is creative in someone. some people are either lazy to find what they can do with their minds, or they just don’t believe that anything good can come out of them. but you are very correct. I love to be ccreative, more in writing, which brings out a message. if you are reading this, you are special, and be a fantasy in your speciality!

Vali Cupiditas

I have struggled so hard over the last decade to clarify these questions! I still do 😉
I’ve dabbled in several different art forms always for the love. But I really have a job I hate too. So then the idea of making my living as an artist came alive in me. A much more challenging proposition than I had thought! Thanks for the Q&A.

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