Is Marketing Just Lying... with Benefits?

I’ve been acutely discouraged in the past by what seems like an inevitable disconnect (or even irreconcilable conflict) between making and selling. Creation of art requires vulnerability and truth, the release of ego in favour of often brutal self- or outward examination. Marketing, I have historically said, is about lying. But is it really, and is that all it is?

I have given myself a life where I can do nothing but enjoy myself all day, but face it with a psyche that actively stops me from doing what I enjoy. The mechanism of this resistance kicks in the moment I find the strength to “force” myself to sit in front of a blank word processor screen, or piano, or sketchbook. There’s an insistent voice in my head telling me to get up, to do anything else. Sometimes, it floods me with alternative projects I could pursue instead until I am so overwhelmed by open doors that I shut down everything and retreat into inaction. Conversely, I may find myself faced with an insistent inner voice telling me how tired I am and how impossible it is for me to concentrate even another second.

Today, I’m actively fighting this pattern by forcing myself to focus on the first thing I think to do. I imagine I should set a time imperative for pursuing it (in this case, writing this entry). My lifelong pattern has been feast and famine in all things including work. I marathon until I exhaust myself or complete the project, not necessarily neglecting sleep and food but isolating myself and pushing through without other activities. I don’t stop until I reach whatever end point I decided on in advance, whether that’s a first draft of a manuscript or a cut-off time.

In the present, I have more of an idea of the additional steps required not only to manifest the first draft of a creative work but to re-approach it to hone or edit it, to put it into a publicly/professionally accessible and attractive package, and then begin the process of selling or otherwise exploiting it.

Every stage can be overwhelming whether you’re a depressive or fully functioning. But the evolution has been that I no longer believe I am utterly incapable of creating and exploiting simultaneously. I used to be so daunted by the skills and knowledge I lacked to submit or market my work and build the necessary personal connections to succeed that I would entirely lose the ability to create anything while my mind was preoccupied with the business end of art. I’ve had entire years where I didn’t write a word because I was trying—without much success—to sell my work. It felt like I was using an entirely different part of my brain (that is biologically undeniable) and that it would always be impossible to switch back and forth between those parts. Like switching from night shifts to days, I was stuck on the idea that I’d need to suffer an extremely unproductive and lengthy period every time I wanted to return to writing or other creative work and the marketing of that work, and myself.

That in itself is a pretty brutal conception, and I’m learning more and more to counter it in my own mind and actions. Yes, there is some truth to the idea that art is about finding the truth and business is about throwing away the truth in favour of a sale. But I’ve begun, with the work I’m doing on my own self, to find a way to connect the two in a way that makes sense and is entirely actionable. One of my mental blocks—and one I probably will choose to leave intact—is an inability to proceed if I encounter flawed logic. The only time I’ve cried wholeheartedly through most of my adult years is when I’m faced with someone telling me something that I know is not true, and that can’t be true. The frustration is so palpable when I can’t communicate that I can break down.

Don’t worry; I’m getting better at walking away from misinformation whether it comes from the media or a loved one. I’m learning to understand the way this particular stumbling block can be overcome, and finding some joy in developing a foreign skillset.

And that’s really how I’ve had to look at business, at least so far. I have let my concept of “lying to sell” grow as well into an understanding that what both art and marketing come down to is a desire to communicate. My art reflects the way I understand the world and tries to position it so that others can consume and enjoy that perspective, and marketing it requires me to find an abbreviated way to convey what I’ve created that so that I can draw a consumer in before they lose interest.

I’ve never wanted to make art that no one wants to consume. In fact, I’ve had a long-standing belief that goes back to childhood that art isn’t really even finished until you share it. There’s a part of a picture or story or song that has to go out into the world and touch someone else before it’s real, at least for me. As if creative work is a radar signal, and I need to draw my picture of the world around me with the pings that return and the voids where no response comes, creating something and leaving it in a drawer defeats the entire purpose of making it in the first place.

These are the things I know intellectually, but the problem—or rather the process—still remains. I know how I want to spend my days, or at least I’ve been telling myself how for as long as I can remember having thoughts. But the struggle to make myself do what I actually believe I want to and fight the mental block that immediately sends me away from that pursuit, that is real and ongoing. More on that another time.

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