Art and Commerce Need Not Be at Odds

Today’s guest post is by Albert Flynn DeSilver (@poetAlbert), author of Writing as a Path to Awakening.

On Dec. 4, Jane will be teaching a class in collaboration with Albert, Insights on the Business of Writing Nonfiction.


The apparent conflict between art and commerce is probably as old as commerce itself. Many writers tense up, glaze over, or even freak out when they think about “the business of writing.” Creative writing is, after all, creative. But here we are in a capitalist soup, love it or hate it, and you have to find your place herein. I choose to be an empowered creative, envisioning innovative ways to work within and transform the system.

So what does creativity have to do with business? A lot, it turns out. It’s just a different kind of creativity than you engage with when you write. Imagining dynamic characters, creating distant or exotic landscapes, and devising whimsical or harrowing scenarios uses another part of the brain than conjuring up a business idea or planning for your new product or service. But you are still imagining, still wondering, still dreaming.

I’ve had to remind myself of this as someone who started out as a poet. Poetry is the writing form probably most seen as antithetical to business. But as I’ve gotten older, the distinctions between creativity and business have started to soften and melt away. I am not only a poet but also, as a person who runs a private online writing school, very much a business person engaging in commerce.

Ditch the baggage

Commerce—now there’s a word that carries some baggage. The first dictionary definition I came across was “social intercourse: interchange of ideas, opinions, or sentiments.” Going back to the word’s Latin origin, commerce simply means “to trade together.” Is that so bad? Not at all, especially if we are trading together in positive ideas, in uplifting, inclusive, and inspiring curricula, and in content that makes the world a better place. Looking at commerce this way has helped shift my perception of the activities required to run a business.

As writers, we trade together with our audience—another word that may carry baggage for creative types because of its association with marketing. But for us as writers, audience simply means readers and listeners, and, since I am not in the writing game for myself, I want an audience. Unless you write only for yourself, your words and stories need other human beings to hear and receive them.

Connect to your purpose

Thinking about audience gets me thinking about purpose. I ask myself, “Why am I writing this, really?” Connecting to your purpose as a writer offers another bridge between creativity and commerce. I want my writing to have impact—preferably to inspire. I want to stimulate my readers to think differently about themselves and the world. I want my words to remind them of their inherent creative genius, their innate imaginative power to manifest real change. Why are you writing? To inform, instruct, engage, encourage, motivate? Whatever your intention, if you can touch repeatedly into the heart of your desire around writing and hunker down in that love of process (yes, even when it sucks) I think you’ve struck gold, and audience blooms forth as a natural extension.

These two aspects of your writerly self need not be at odds. See what happens when you put commerce and creativity side by side and encourage them to get along. Reimagine the business of writing as communication, engagement, connection, and participation and see how your creative impulse can live in harmony with the business of writing. 

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