The One Book Every Creator Should Be Reading Right Now

This is not a book about writing or painting or sculpting or making music.

It is not a book about motivation or inspiration (well, it kind of is, but that’s not the main point).

It is a book about asking for help.

I’m reading it for the second time after having just finished it the first: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is a musician and entertainer. She used to be part of a band called The Dresden Dolls. I like some of their music.

But it doesn’t matter if you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard Amanda Palmer’s music.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of HER.

Read the book.

(It’s based on a TED talk. If you like the talk, you’ll like the book.)

The fear of asking

Amanda starts the book talking about how she needed money and had been offered help — but didn’t want to take it.

From her husband.

I WAY empathize.

Somehow at a very young age I internalized the idea that I must DO IT ALL MYSELF. I don’t know why.

Maybe it has something to do with being the eldest of three and daughter to a father who started his own company when I was thirteen.

Maybe it was that I didn’t trust any of the adults around me because they didn’t ask enough questions — and they didn’t like it when I asked the hard ones they didn’t want to answer.

Whatever it is, I suck at asking for help. It scares the ever-living crap out of me. I don’t even like to ask my parents for money.

Even when someone has already offered his help, I am reluctant to take it. My natural reaction is “no, thanks; no, thanks; no, thanks.”

“I GOT THIS.”

Why is asking for help so scary?

There are a couple of issues.

Usually people think it’s that someone might say no that’s scary. But I am far more afraid that people will say yes.

They might say yes, and I might not like them. Or what they do for me. They might say yes, and I’ll be obligated to them. I don’t want to be obligated.

I want to trade with you, and trade only. I want to know that when you’re giving something to me, you’re getting something in return. I never want to mooch off you.

I GOT THIS.

It’s especially hard when you’re starting out, and learning, and you aren’t sure you even have something that’s worth making. How do you ask people then?

You feel inadequate. You are not there yet.

But that’s when you need it most! Not necessarily money (although surely that helps), but other people’s encouragement and support. Their ideas and thoughts and enthusiasm. A connection with them. An understanding of which of the things you’re doing are worth something to them.

How do you get there if you never ask?

But here’s the thing — Amanda (Amanda, can I call you Amanda? Because calling you Palmer or Ms. Palmer or Ms. Anything just doesn’t seem right) talks about that, too.

She writes: “Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us. Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for. We have to truly believe in the validity of what we’re asking for — which can be incredibly hard work and requires a tightrope walk above the doom-valley of arrogance and entitlement.”

But what Amanda has found, that I’m suddenly finding, too, is that people like to help.

They are getting something when they help you —even if it’s just the chance to help you.

“Your acceptance of the gift IS the gift,” Amanda writes.

Trading vs. begging

There’s a difference between asking for help and begging, and Amanda addresses that, too.

There’s been a lot of backlash against artists trying to support themselves via sites like Kickstarter and Patreon.

People criticized Amanda Palmer for the more than $1 million she raised for her Theatre Is Evil album, so she broke down the expenses, bit by bit in one of the campaign emails.

One writer dismantled her Kickstarter because people had hounded her to tears for including living expenses as part of what she’d need to write a book in three months.

But anybody who backed that writer’s Kickstarter at a certain level was getting a book. Anybody who backed Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter at $25 was getting a CD.

Hell, I backed Amanda’s Kickstarter and didn’t even LISTEN to the CD; I had already gotten my money’s worth from the go-get-‘em motivational, inspirational email updates she sent over the course of the project’s life. I paid her $25 for her SPIRIT.

And to anybody who wants to fuss and fight over whether an artist should include her living expenses or make a profit, I say:

Ain’t nobody makin ya back her.

Amanda makes that point over and over again, throughout the book.

The askee is allowed to say no.

This is not begging. This is a TRADE.

Amanda asked, and I paid her $25 to INSPIRE me. Not even for her music, but for what she would say about how she made it.

It was worth it.

I would do it again, and again, and again.

And because of The Art of Asking, I can finally see what other people might get from helping me.

Street musicians in Barcelona

Street musicians in Barcelona

Because of Amanda’s words, I can finally see that I have other things to trade, besides the novels I’ve written — more immediate things that can help me to the place and time where I’ll be able to trade or sell those novels. Things like this blog, the e-books I’ve written or am writing, motivation and inspiration on the Facebook page, and even sillier things like a willingness to make videos in costume (coming soon!).

People like weird chit; what can I say? Do what you love, and offer it up, and who knows? It’s the only way to find your people, right?

It will always be a trade, value for value.

As the helper, YOU get to decide if what the artist is offering is something you want to spend your money or time or energy on. The artist is only letting you know it is out there and what kind of cool chit she could do if she had the resources. If she had you.

DEAR AMANDA, thank you for being so fucking brave. #ArtofAsking

I am taking the flower, and I am passing it on.

 

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