4 Signs You Might Be a Starving Artist (and What to Do About It)

It has been almost two years since my book Real Artists Don’t Starve released, and I’m doing something fun for the two-year anniversary. I want to challenge you to not starve for your art.

Signs of a Starving Artist & Introducing the Please Don't Starve Challenge

I’m rolling out a seven-day experiment to help you make money off your creative work, whatever that might be:

  • Selling crafts on Etsy
  • Booking your first client
  • Pre-selling an online course

If you’ve ever thought, “Maybe I could do this for a living,” I want you to stop doing that and take this seriously. It’s time you started thriving, and that begins with changing your mind.

But maybe you don’t realize that you’re a Starving Artist.

Maybe it didn’t occur to you that the way you think about yourself and your work is actually holding you back.

Listen to this as a podcast episode here:

Signs of a Starving Artist

There are four signs that you might be a Starving Artist (maybe without even realizing it). If any of these sound familiar, pay attention, because these attitudes and habits will keep you stuck, preventing you from doing your most important work:

1. Starving Artists fantasize.

They dream. They tell themselves “Some day, my big break will come.” They spend their whole lives waiting for a time when the work will be easier, when they’ll finally be taken seriously, and get paid what they’re worth. But “some day” never comes, does it? That’s because it’s a fantasy.

2. Starving Artists blame.

Starving Artists blame others for their lack of opportunity, for their bad luck, for their problems. They don’t take responsibility for their situation, and as a result, they stay stuck in whatever rut they find themselves. Even their present circumstance is someone else’s problem and not something they’ve contributed to.

3. Starving Artists complain.

This may come in the form of criticism of others or even of themselves, but they tend to spend precious time and energy focusing on the negatives of life. There is never enough time, never enough opportunity, never enough money. This must be easier for others, they think, and so they discount the hard work it takes and assume others must have had some special opportunity they lacked.

This type of scarcity mentality often results in criticizing those who are more successful, calling them “sellouts” or merely assuming they just got lucky. And of course, they believe, there is only so much luck to go around. They focus on the negative aspects of their story—the obstacles, the limitations, the failure—and of course, what you focus on, you get more of.

4. Starving Artists stay stuck.

This is the biggest one. Starving Artists struggle because they talk more than they act. They go out for coffee with friends to talk about writing or art or business instead of actually doing the tough, mundane labor of researching a topic for a new book, mixing paint, or studying their market. Stuck in the cycle that prevents us all from moving forward—the cycle of talking about the work instead of doing it—they find it difficult to get moving, quite simply because they aren’t in motion. Inertia begets more inertia.

Signs of a Thriving Artist

So what’s the contrast to this rather gloomy outlook on life and work? Well, there is another perspective: that of the Thriving Artist. And sometimes, the change between starving and thriving is merely a matter of your point of view. Here are four signs of Thriving Artists:

1. Thriving Artists have a vision.

As Jeff Bezos once said of Amazon, “We are stubborn on vision, flexible on details.” Where the Starving Artist is stubborn about the wrong things—the details of how they’re going to share their art and get paid—the Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things. Namely, their vision of what they want to accomplish.

They can see what they want to do, they understand how to get there, and they make a plan to accomplish it. It may take months or even years, the road may be wrought with trials, but they’ll eventually get there, as long as they stay true to their vision.

2. Thriving Artists seek opportunities.

They don’t blame or fixate on what’s not working. They don’t make other people their problem. They work through the ninety-nine ways to fail to find the one way it just might work. They figure it out, seeking opportunities instead of excuses because whatever you’re looking for, you’re likely to find sooner or later.

3. Thriving Artists take ownership.

They understand that success and failure is 100% their responsibility. Yes, bad things happen; so do good things. But what you do with it is what matters most. No one understands this better than a Thriving Artist. At the end of the day, you are in charge of your whole career, and if something isn’t working, it is up to you fix it. Until you take full responsibility for your situation, it will not change. You may be able to minimize some of the risks of pain and failure and heartache by passing the buck, but you’ll also minimize the potential rewards of success and the joy that comes with doing what you set out to do.

4. Thriving Artists keep going.

Instead of staying stuck and bemoaning the fact that “it’s so hard,” they take the first step. They act, little by little, and that action turns into something more than just a step or two; it creates enough momentum that each step becomes easier than the last. They keep going when others throw in the towel.

So which are you:

  • the Starving Artist,
  • or the Thriving Artist?

The truth is we are both. You and I are thriving in some areas of our work and struggling in others. The trick is to become aware of the ways in which we are still thinking and acting like a Starving Artist and what that is holding us back. Only when we become aware can we turn our bad habits and negative mindsets around and into something positive and productive.

Please Don’t Starve Challenge

So if you want to stop starving and do something different, but you need help, I invite you to join me in this challenge. It’s completely free and just might change everything. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up via email here.
  2. Follow the instructions (I’ll send lessons over the week starting next Monday, May 27).
  3. Share what you’re learning.

That’s it!

We’ll cover the following in the lessons:

  • How to figure out what you should sell (and why you don’t need to know at first)
  • Why you don’t need a platform to sell your first product
  • What it takes to create an online store and sell something (a course, a book, your time) online for the very first time
  • How to make it up as you go without getting overwhelmed
  • And a whole lot more!

Are you in?

All you need is a willingness to try.

Click here to enter your email and to get instructions on what to do next.

Lessons