BOOK REVIEW: Real Artists Don’t Starve, by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins is a successful blogger, podcaster, coach and author of five books including The Way of Art. In Real Artists Don’t Starve, he draws numerous examples from history and modern times to illustrate his points. You can read all about Jeff at his web site: Also, this book has its own site:

This book came to my attention due to a note from Nori Rose, the Bluebonnet Witch. Thanks, Nori! As a temporarily unpaid writer, I checked it out for free from the Austin Public Library. What a socialist institution if I ever heard of one! Free books that you take home, read and return? Outrageous! But I digress, as I’m wont to do. Here are some of my thoughts on his book.

Starving Artist Is a Myth: Instead, Thrive

Today was the beginning of the South by Southwest EDU (Education) Conference. A Dude is volunteering again so he can access gobs of gooey goodness like pre-release movies, panels, music shows, comedy, interactive workshops and much more. So it’s an appropriate time to review this book, which I just finished. You can read and view pictures of all my 2018 SXSW posts by typing “SXSW” in the search bar. And you should, because they’re pretty awesome. And going again this year will help me move farhter along my path of being a creative person.

Goins wastes no time dismantling this tired old trope — that to be creative you must sacrifice and struggle and yes, starve. By highlighting numerous examples, quotes and lessons throughout, the reader begins to see how history has misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned artists. The person he uses the most is Michelangelo. You’ll have to read the book to hear it all, but apparently the guy was a master of not just art but the business of art. We all can be THRIVING artists, says Goins, in this brave new world of the internet, globalism, and so on.

Some of the main themes he discusses are community, patrons, influences, and money. In each instance, the examples drive home the reality that mindset is key. I experienced this over the last year when getting advice about writing from novelist Walter Mosley, or when actor/director Tate Donovan asked me if I was a writer and even recently when I was asked to participate in a podcast by the founder of the O’Henry Pun-Off. Putting oneself out there into new and different realms is sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, but it’s always an opportunity. One can step up, side step, or step back. But at some point, one must decide what they want to do with their story, their urge to paint, or make music, and so on.

Content v. Style

The content of the book is deceptively simple, and that’s I think a tribute to a writing style that Goins uses that is both straightforward and disarming but also a bit to challenge the reader. When he tells a story, it makes his point. And while I was reading it at least, I felt like I was getting those points because the stories were all new to me and very illustrative. In fact, I found myself putting it down to think about what I’d just read, and how it might apply to me. Sometimes I re-read a section. But like many things, something may be simple enough to understand, but it’s not at all easy to implement. That may be somewhat because he’s already succeeded and I have not, in the sense of being published and getting paid to write.

If I have one critque of the book it is the flip side of this style: that it’s a bit too relaxed in some ways, and along with that, it lacks specific steps budding artists can take. Not that there aren’t suggestions, but they just feel a little vague. Based on his own personal experience, he’s grown into having a full-fledged business from applying the principles in Real Artists Don’t Starve. Some of us may need more details and more of a push to really “get it” so we can get going. But that’s for the “cookbook” or a “how-to” guide. (If you by some chance see this, Jeff, consider that!)

The author from
© 2019 Jeff Goins. All rights reserved.

One cool thing he does though, instead of footnotes, is that at the end he adds a chapter about his research. It has tons of sources he used and offers for further learning about the examples. So by the end of reading that, I not only had a greater appreciation for all the researching, interviewing and reading he did, I understand that he’s really distilled all of that information into an easy-to-read blueprint for artists to follow. Sure, it may be a bit general, like I said. But every artist is different so will apply the lessons differently based on their situation. And the inspiration he imbues the book with ought to inspire everyone.

Conclusion: Good Schtuff

I wish I could say more without having to write SPOILER ALERT, but I can’t really. I have alot to learn about book reviews. What I can say though is that not only did I feel uplifted by the possibilities he brings forth, but I feel like I’m already on the path. I have:

  • blogged or written in my book every single day since January 1, 2018
  • attended many monthly One Page Salons
  • begun going to monthly Writers League of Texas panels
  • read and engaged with blogs of others and take inspiration from them
  • attending my second SXSW to get and keep the creative juices flowing
  • starting to learn about the business of writing at some workshops
  • asked for advice from other writers, freelancers and more
  • recruited patrons who have already helped with my charty bicycling

I have alot more to learn and do before I’m at the point of publishing my book, or getting articles and so on out there into the world, and making a living off of my art. It’s a journey that I began many years ago, and allowed to be stifled. I may have to take a step back and fund my living expenses while continuing to pursue my interests. Or maybe I’ll figure out ways to break out of the starving artist myth, and start living the life of a thriving artist.

Until then, I wish you well on your creative journey. I encourage you to check out Jeff’s work if you think it might speak to you.

  • What are your thoughts on the Starving v. Thriving Artist?
  • How have you navigated the realms of commerce and creation?
  • Wanna write A Dude a big fat check so he can keep writing?

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