Scarcity mindset

Photo by Adrien Olichon:

An author business plan sent me spiralling into an existential crisis. Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but it did have me questioning the point of my writing practice.

Let me back up a bit — I thought I’d practice what I preach in my day job and start drafting an author business plan for my writing work. I’m well aware that writing in itself is often not very profitable, and my usual medium of choice, poetry, is perhaps the least profitable of them all. That being said, I see the value in organization and goal setting, and the most successful authors I know have a clear and well-researched understanding of who their readers are, what their readers want, and how to reach those people, so I figured it was about time I sit down and start doing my own research.

I found a template online that I thought would be a good starting point, as it mirrored a lot of key points I’ve heard reiterated in various creative business plan workshops over the past year. In the Audience Research section there’s a point that asks you what differentiates your work and sets you apart from other writers in the world. Cue: spiral.

Perhaps I’m jaded, or perhaps I’m realistic, but I don’t think anything about my writing is unique. I don’t think anything about anyone’s writing is unique, or set apart, or in a class of its own. No matter how novel I think a poem or plot of mine is, I guarantee there are thousands of other writers from a similar age, gender, class, and race demographic that are writing incredibly similar poems and stories about motherhood and murder and niche historical fictionalization poems and so on. And if that’s the case, if no one is ever really contributing anything new, why create at all?

I sat on this thought for a few days, possible retorts to my own question pinballing around in my head. The answer, or at least an answer that would satisfy my building anxiety and halt the spiral, popped up yesterday evening when I attended a few different arts events in Regina.

At a stakeholder event for folks in the book publishing space, I had the chance to meet with many great local professionals, but in particular spent a lot of time chatting with someone who was both a publisher and a writer themself. They posed the same question the business plan template had in musing: in a market so saturated, why spend so much time toiling over the works they create? The answer became immediately apparent as they continued to speak of the excitement and pride of seeing one of their books showcased at an international book fair, and the anticipation of the next step and the next promotion project for upcoming titles. There is something hugely rewarding in putting a good project out in the world, and inching forward to the next step and milestone.

Later the same evening, I was fortunate to be in attendance at a private screening of a new local film. In the Q & A segment following the screening, that same kombucha-bubble feeling of pure joy and satisfaction at creating something new and good was clear. Despite the long hours over the span of a few years that went into development, production, and post, and the impediment of the pandemic, the sense of pride, happiness, and relief at completing a project about to enter the public creative world seemed to be worth it in the end.

When I think back about those scenarios of accomplishment — of a publisher seeing their book internationally showcased, of a cast and crew coming together to launch a film into the world, or even of seeing my own little poems make public appearances in lit mags and readings, I know I’ve found my answer to “Why bother?”. Why wouldn’t you want more good and great art in the world? Why wouldn’t you want more of that satisfaction, joy, and accomplishment?

There’s a lot of scarcity in this world, to say the least. Scarcity of necessities and resources, but also scarcity in superfluous things. Yes, I stress about what I’ll do when my discontinued ABH Master Palette by Mario eyeshadow palette runs out, or when cranberry gingerale is discontinued for the season each Christmas. But at least I never have to worry about running out of things to make, art to enjoy, or whether or not my favourite book genre will be returning next holiday season. Even if I never do anything shockingly new or novel, I’m still one of the many creators throwing good work and good intentions out in the world, ensuring good writing and good art will never be scarce.

So, spiral=complete. Question=answered. Back to the business plan.