I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think a lot of people…
…especially people born in the 1980s and 1990s, who had this sort of neoliberal ideology drilled into them at every single step of education and employment…
…may have the impression that creative success operates according to a meritocracy, meaning that the quality of the work you create will speak for itself.
As someone with a PhD in Comparative Literature, and as someone with a decent number of creative friends who watches creative economies play out in real time on social media, I just don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I think success is primarily based on three factors:
Or, to be more specific:
(1) Having wealthy parents
(2) Belonging to a strong and supportive network
(3) Being at exactly the right place at exactly the right time
You can’t control money or luck; and, for the most part, you can’t really control your network of connections either. Still, much more than inherited wealth and serendipity, you can take the initiative to support your friends and ask your friends to support you in turn. If anyone is successful outside of a literal PR campaign, it’s because of their friends. This isn’t just about mutual aid; it’s also about generating an aura of belonging to an interesting and special group that other people want to join, if only by association.
As I wrote in my previous post, it can be exhausting to be around people who are constantly hustling, and it can be a headache to be the person trying to hustle, but creative success happens because it’s organized. You have to ask people for help and support, especially at the beginning of your career, and you have to be willing to give it in turn. I think this actually benefits introverted people, as it’s the group that will collectively perform the bulk of the necessary emotional labor, while at the same time providing greater rewards to each individual for investing their limited emotional energy.
To be honest, I think the same principle should apply even to nonprofessional work like fanfiction. Like, I may not have the time and energy to read your 150k-word fanfic novel about a game I’ve never played or a show I’ve never watched, and I may not be interested in reading the porn you wrote about characters I don’t ship or that I’m not familiar with, but I will still leave kudos on AO3 because I want to support you and your work.
I used to do this all the time – meaning that I would leave kudos on my friends’ work when they posted stories for fandoms I didn’t know anything about or characters and ships that I wasn’t interested in – but I stopped because I received very little support in return. It takes all of fifteen seconds to click on a story and leave kudos, but a lot of people in fandom just aren’t willing to do this for some reason. I mean, we’re all familiar with stories that have hundreds and thousands of kudos, but the vast majority of stories on AO3 barely have any kudos at all, even when they’re written by authors with an established following.
And that’s a damn shame, because the emerging writers who contribute to fandom as they discover and refine their voices deserve so much more support and positive feedback than they’re receiving.
I guess the moral of the story is that successful creative people are people who not only support their friends, but ask their friends to support them in turn. This can be awkward, especially for shy and introverted writers, but it’s definitely worth it!