Last week I was bored as hell, uninspired, and spending a lot of time scrolling through Instagram. I’ve been fortunate enough to have curated a really dope group of family, friends, and fellow writers who are unbelievably entertaining. Let me set the scene…
Imagine me, on Instagram having an absolute blast. I have a perfectly chilled Arizona Diet Peach Iced Tea in one hand and my phone in a lazy scroll grip in the other. You know the one, four fingers behind and the thumb doing all the work? So, nirvana pretty much. All was going well until I tried to post on my own page. You know, share some of my things with the people. Add some of my insight to the high brow content of Instagram. But something went wrong. I was able to post the photo, but my caption was unable to upload. Then when I went back to my feed, I found I could no longer like or comment on posts.
I’m embarrassed to say that I… absolutely…panicked. I lost my shit. I’m not proud of it but it happened.
I reported the issue to the all-knowing but unseen Instagram Gods but here I am, almost a week later and still…no likes and no comments coming out of this camp. After my initial frustration wore off, it got me to thinking about something. When I started writing and was deciding whether to put out my books independently or query to agents until someone deems my writing worthy, I did a lot of research and when it came to publishing independently many of the articles harped on how it important it was to have your own email list of devoted readers and to have ownership over your stuff. Now, here I was almost a year later getting smacked in the face with how true that statement was.
We hear the horror stories. Someone’s idea, product, or creation is bought by someone with a ton of money who promises to make them rich and grant them huge exposure only to shut out the creator in the end and leave them filing for bankruptcy. (See TLC, Toni Braxton, and others). Much like those people I’m now bankrupt and will have to return to my full-time job – what is that you say? I never quit my day job and still work full time? How smart of me!! But seriously, with Instagram, every follower I have, every post I make, my ability to communicate en masse can be gone just that quickly. As an indie, as a person trying to build a business, it’s kind of scary isn’t it? I have a very modest (quaint? intimate? What else do you call something measly?) following but imagine someone with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers experiencing this same thing. It can be downright debilitating. Wouldn’t it be great is those followers were mine to communicate with outside of Instagram?
I realize that by relying so much on social media I’m not really holding to the reason why I decided to go independent in the first place. I’m still beholden to a platform that tells me what I can do, how much I can do it, and can rip that away from me without a moments notice. No bueno girl. No bueno.
Ownership having control over our own stuff is so important. Whether you’re looking to pursue your own business full time or as an additional means of income I think it’s good life advice to do something that is wholly your own. You lower your risk of being left assed out if your employer pulls the plug, it gives you an opportunity to earn more income, and it allows your creativity and contributions to be released into the community. Then why don’t more people own their own businesses? Aside from systemic issue that make starting some business financial unfeasible for some, people stray away from owning their stuff or being independent because it takes something really tough.
Work. Hard work. Late nights and early mornings. Doing the fun parts and the not so fun parts. Reaping all the rewards means taking all the risk. The buck starts and stops with you. But there are two types of people (probably more but I’m trying to make a point here)—there are two types of people. Those who are exhilarated by taking on everything and those that are exhausted by it.
The first time I got the inkling that I may have an entrepreneurial spirit was planning my wedding. At the present—my husband and I are semi-broke. Back then? We were broke broke. We were twenty-six years old and I was a single mom with a six-year-old. And we were broke. I was working part time, going to school to finish my degree full time, and blissfully engaged. He was living in his parent’s basement and working in a mattress factory. Glitzy riggghhhhtttt? But we were so in love (still are) and when he proposed I was hell bent on having the wedding I always wanted…on a corner store budget.
I spent hours pouring over our budget, gathering quotes from a head-splitting number of vendors, coordinating drop off and pick ups and insurance. Sketching designs, ordering supplies for too many (too f**cking many) DIY centerpieces, and programs, and invitations. I was Martha Goddamn Stewart people. Running a mini empire for this wedding. I was exhausted but I was also…exhilarated. It was nothing for me to stay up until 3 am to find the perfect venue at the exact right price. Or hunt down the specific silk flower I wanted. Or haggle prices for the limo. I delegated and organized like a mother**ker and it came out beautifully. Our wedding cost $12,000 and two people who made barely above minimum wage did it without going into debt. Not a single loan. Not a single thing put on a credit card. All cash (honeymoon included). My husband couldn’t believe it. I – a whole ME! – could not believe it. How did I do all this? I kept asking myself that after it was all said and done and the only thing that kept coming to mind was that I did it because….it was mine.
It was mine to create the vision that I wanted. It was mine to fail or succeed at. Seeing a vision in my head become an experience for me and my husband was beyond my wildest dreams. For twelve months while I was planning that wedding I was at the helm of a business with a budget, contractors, customers, and a mission and I loved it. While it was stressful at times I was not overwhelmed. I was organized and was able to make decisions and substitutions when I saw fit. I was able to let my creativity blossom. Everything that I was not able to do with my current or previous employers. My every move down to when I took my damn lunch break had to be approved by someone else. I don’t like that! I was compelled to create something of my own as so many people are. But I knew that I wanted to do it with freedom or not do it at all.
But in planning that wedding and in running my own writing career there are a couple of tough things I had to realize, and I think we all do. We must understand and accept that owning something, working to build it to scale will take time. It will be slow. What large platforms and companies dangle in front of us is their reach and their resources. They have an audience in hand for us. They have the clout and recognition behind their name. They can make it all happen and fast. But do they have vision? Do they share your vision? Or are they just in the business of owning things that other people create? If that’s their modus operandi, they often suck the soul, the very authenticity of whatever the thing is right out of it.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the slow process of independent, hand crafted, creative and visionary things. I like things that are poured over and looked at with the level of detail that only love of it’s true owner can bring. I like being a part of a curated audience who shares the same appreciation for a person, product, or creation. It is beautiful and I come alive just at the thought of being a part of that.
A lie that we must debunk to really step into our creative juice is…it’s not “Top of the Charts” or nothing. We have this stigma that if we’re not the Queen herself Beyonce, then we don’t deserve to pick up a mic. That if we are not Toni Morrison, we shouldn’t bother writing the first chapter. That if we’re not Denzel Washington we should pass on that role in that community play. But I’m here to tell you that there’s a whole lot of greatness and talent between the top of the charts and handful loyal fans/customers. There are countless artists and business owners who you won’t see in Forbes magazine, but they are making a difference in their community, creating for the people who love them, and feeding their families…WELL.
Whether its music, art, or books I think we need to support more people that are doing it for themselves, without big business backing, and turning out goods that are up to standard (which many are). Aside from you getting to consume something really amazing, that indie person or business owner is likely to appreciate your hard-earned dollar a lot more than any big conglomerate. And as for my fellow entrepreneurs and indie creatives…like the saying goes “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. And stars get PAID! and admired.
In the words of the late great Big Pun: Get your own! Your own, ya heard?