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The Autonomous Creative
56 minutes | Oct 14, 2021
When to quit your day job (or when not to!), with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson
The only thing more challenging than using frenetic DIY self-publishing to springboard a career in children's books might be running a commercial salmon fishery on the Alaskan tundra from a cabin with no electricity, no toilet, and four kids. That's why I was so excited to talk to Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson, the illustrator-author-married-with-4-kids duo. Robbi illustrates, Matthew writes, and together they make picture books for kids and adults. Robbi and Matthew are a whirlwind of creative action, and their story is just a crazy tale of inventing a creative life that allows them to make the work that's 100% most aligned with who they are and what they value. They started on this path when Matthew got his "most withering rejection", which slammed the door on how they thought their lives would play out. They turned even this painful setback into an opportunity, so it's no surprise that their approach to life has opened the door to amazing lucky breaks. In this interview, we talk about the value of the right kind of day job, how to develop a unique and authentic brand, and why you should definitely NOT try to marry Robbi Behr. More from the episode... Robbi and Matthew joke about the rejection that inspired their creative partnership: "I applied to six graduate schools and I got seven letter of rejection. The University of Minnesota rejected me twice on consecutive Mondays." The two ways you can respond to life's challenges, according to Matthew: "You can have power of conviction behind a story and try everything you can to make that version of the story come true. Or you can pick a thread and follow the thread and let the thread itself be the driving force and see what story materializes." "We live a perfectly comfortable life while being full-time creatives and I just have this other thing on top of it that pays the bills." — Why Matthew still has a day job, despite their success making books. The chance encounter that led to Robbi and Matthew's first commercially published book and what it takes to make your own luck. How "leaping at the first possibility" led to Robbi and Matthew's biggest mistake, and what they could have done differently. Robbi and Matthew discuss developing their unique brand and why authenticity is so important: "I think if you're very deliberate and purposeful upfront about what you will and will not create and you stick to it, then you're more likely at the end where it starts to become more of a business or a profession or a money-generating mechanism for you and others to still be doing what you love." What are the benefits of commercial publishing, and why are Robbi and Matthew excited about returning to self-publishing one day? Robbi and Matthew consider their creative differences an asset. What makes their partnership productive and how do they resolve conflict? Alaskan salmon fishing: the forty-year tradition begun by Robbi's father that Matthew describes as "indescribably unpleasant and yet it's magical." A question about fate reveals how Robbi and Matthew met. More from our guests: Robbi is an illustrator/printmaker/commercial salmon fisherwoman with a BA from Williams College and an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Matthew is a writer/art director/blues harmonica player who has so far failed in every attempt to be swashbuckling. Robbi illustrates. Matthew writes. Together they make picture books for kids and adults. They’re also married. And they do all this with four kids. They’ve published books including Everywhere Wonder, The Real McCoys, Babies Ruin Everything, and more than 70+ self-published books before breaking into commercial press! Next up for this duo? They're converting a 24 foot school bus into a tiny home that they'll be living in with their four kids (and a puppy!) while they travel for a year and give away 50,000 free books to high-poverty schools! They're currently fundraising for this project, and you can learn more about it here. Plus, check out “The Daily Minute” — a series of daily videos exactly a minute long (there’s a timer and everything) that purport to be about their creative process, but often include marital antics, funny things that have happened to them, cameos by their kids, and lots of cheese balls on either Instagram or Facebook. Connect with Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson robbiandmatthew.com instagram @robbi.and.matthew twitter @drawingrobbi twitter @writingmatthew facebook.com/robbiandmatthew https://ie.gofundme.com/f/robbi-matthews-busload-of-books-tour Additional Links idiotsbooks.com bobbledybooks.com https://www.crowdcast.io/e/acpod-robbi-and-matthewThe Autonomous Creative is brought to you by Authentic Visibility: marketing for creatives who (think they) hate marketing. Learn more here!
59 minutes | Sep 30, 2021
How to finish writing your novel: don't write for free, with Alexander Chee
In this interview, Alexander and I talk a lot about money, and specifically, about how asking for money and negotiating for what you want and need is a key piece of building a healthy relationship with your work and career. We also talked about the myth of the solitary artist, and the reality: that community and relationships are key to not just success, but survival. Finally, Alexander is the source of an incredibly pivotal insight for me: that caring for your creative process IS self-care, and when you allow yourself the margin to take care of your work process, it benefits not only your body and mental health (and that of your family and loved ones) but the work itself. More from the episode... The importance of collective action in securing the rights of authors. The role of community in creative career-building. How is writing "a community project"? What is the "golden thread" and how does it help creators build relationships with their followers? The word "networking" sounds "weirdly clinical" to Alexander— why at some point he figured out that's what he was doing, and that it was a key to his success. What's a better way to look at this fraught term? Alexander breaks down why writers should always ask for more money: "Sometimes people are like, how come the Queen of the Night took you so long? And it's like, well, I did waste a lot of time writing essays for $150." What was in the folder writer Denis Johnson (Jesus's Son) labeled "answers"? Instead of running himself into the ground because he's eager to please, Alexander lays out his process to not overschedule himself. How earning with your work can help you make more work, in a literal as well as an emotional sense: "It won me ...a typewriter that I then used to write for a long time. And that typewriter became a talisman at a time that I needed a talisman. I wrote this typewriter into existence. I'm now using it to write more stories." "Don't be so grateful that you let yourself down." —What Alexander would tell his younger self if he could. Why it's so important to trust yourself and recognizing when self-doubt is holding you back from pursuing your creative goals. Alexander lays out several important pieces of advice to novice pro writers, including "There's no reason to think that just because you're an unknown writer you can't somehow get a decent fee for your work." More from our guest: Alexander Chee is the author of the novels Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel as well as many short stories and essays. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, an editor at large at VQR, and a critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times. He currently teaches creative nonfiction and fiction at Dartmouth College. Connect with Alexander Chee alexanderchee.net twitter @alexanderchee instagram @cheemobile facebook.com/alexanderchee https://alexanderchee.medium.com/ querent.substack.com Additional links authorsguild.org https://thesewaneereview.com/articles/the-autobiography-of-my-novel https://alexanderchee.medium.com/your-questions-answered-how-have-you-overcome-writers-block-fc5525bab1cb https://www.crowdcast.io/e/acpod-alexander-cheeThe Autonomous Creative is brought to you by Authentic Visibility: marketing for creatives who (think they) hate marketing. Learn more here!
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