When words have multiple meanings, it’s important that we embrace all of them. This year, I’m determined to do just that with my favorite word: scrappy. Which means I have a confession to make . . .
As a writer, I’ve always loved words with multiple meanings.
Many-shaded verbiage is ripe for exploitation, not just in fiction but in my life as a brand strategist, where I’m always looking to help clients find the perfect “double entendre” name for their enterprise.
Maybe that’s why I chose the word “scrappy” for my own artistic brand as The Scrappy Storyteller. Maybe it’s also why I’ve decided to own up to the side of “scrappy” I haven’t really been willing to explore before . . . no matter how unpopular my perspective may be.
(To say I’m not scared about this would be a really big lie. I’m not by nature a confrontational person. Yet I can no longer stay silent.)
This past year I have focused this blog on a meaning of scrappy we can all enjoy: “pieced together from disparate elements.” Between releasing serial fiction (stories in pieces) and art that uses lots of little bits to create a whole, I think I have more than anchored my brand in this lighter side of the term.
I have also used a second meaning of “scrappy,” roughly equivalent to “the art of making do.” I use whatever materials I have on hand, and when I don’t have what I need to make a project, I find a clever workaround. (This is the meaning of scrappy that’s most fully discussed in my artist bio.)
But there’s a third meaning of scrappy. One that I’ve been reluctant to speak about publicly.
You see, “scrappy” can also mean “full of fighting spirit.” Underdogs are famously scrappy. Who doesn’t love an underdog protagonist, going to battle for himself and those he loves? Fighting to her last breath, no matter how great the odds stacked against her?
An underdog doesn’t rely on anyone else to get the job done. He doesn’t trust his fate to outside forces. She takes matters into her own hands knowing that no one else really has her or her friends’ best interest at heart.
And that’s where things get messy.
Because to be a Scrappy Storyteller means that I am owning that I am an underdog. Let’s face it: no one in the publishing or fine art worlds thinks I am anything special. I have been told I have a ton of talent, and I have been singled out with invitations to create work for those worlds. But in my experience, such invitations always include a caveat. In order to accept them, I would have had to conform my art to outside standards.
In every case, I either refused to make those changes, or interpreted the feedback in a way that did not “tickle the fancy” of the person making the offer.
I have come to realize this kind of artistic resistance is simply who I am. To make artistic changes disharmonious with my vision would be, for me, to compromise the integrity of my expression. I personally cannot do that.
In the past, I have spoken about this as simply “my artistic choice.” In some ways it is. But it is also a reflection of a growing sense of truth within me: that in today’s world, creators are usually better off taking their work into the world themselves, without the aid of the “big dogs” in publishing, film, art or any other creative discipline.
To beg acceptance from an outside source is to debase and to limit one’s freedom of expression.
I now realize this is my artistic truth, however incompatible it might be with someone else’s.
I am an underdog through and through. And I will get scrappy—in every sense of the word—in order to get the job done.
Not only do I embrace this identity, I am darn proud of it, too.
So these days, when my fellow creative people ask me for advice about how to “get published” or “get seen,” I now tell them to stop trying to please anyone else and put their work out how they want. When they want. With the tenacity of a bulldog that won’t take “no” for an answer.
How could I do any less, given the climate in which we live?
In the past year, I’ve heard numerous stories from friends who have tried to go the other way (the more traditional route) with varying degrees of success.
Many spoke about the frustration and despair their felt, as they peddled their stories fruitlessly to publishers, their dreams of an audience and an impact gathering more dust with each passing day.
Others got offered book deals from agents and publishers, only to read the fine print and realize the deal utterly and totally screwed them over.
(I told you we were going to get real here.)
Still others courted deals with supposedly “prestigious publishers” who (if you look closely) had to do not-so-prestigious things in order just to be in business. (Let’s be honest: how much can they really do for you that you could not already do for yourself?)
And that doesn’t count the folks who landed an agent, only to find themselves doing exactly what they could have done without an agent, years ago: self-publish their work.
Or the folks who got a BIG deal with one of the few major imprints still in existence . . . only to realize they’d undersold their treasure and were now working like dogs to sell someone else’s property and line someone else’s pockets.
I have heard these stories. I have heard the despair. I have heard the frustration.
Until now, I have kept quiet on this blog.
This year, I’m calling bullsh*t.
(You can’t say you weren’t warned.)
Enough with the lies we’ve been sold for a generation about how artistic “success” is supposed to happen.
Enough with the fantasy that only when you have a team of “experts” behind you can you really make a difference.
Enough with the fear and depression that come from stuffing your work in drawers while you beg for an arbitrary crumb or two of outside approval.
Enough with pandering to an artistic system that has NEVER been designed to help creators thrive and share their work.
I have known for years that chasing these avenues leads to nothing but despair. I experienced that despair myself. But I have also experienced the empowerment, joy and connection that came to me artistically when I threw off these lies and started looking inward to forge my own creative path.
But even with all this knowledge and experience, I have still been afraid to stand up against “big dogs” and publicly call creators to strike out on their own.
Because I have been afraid of offending someone.
Yes, I am confessing to you here and now. I have been afraid of being labeled as judgmental, or deluded, or discouraging. I feared ostracism. I have (secretly) been afraid of ruining my “chances” just in case someone “big” should by some miracle express interest in my work.
I have been a total hypocrite, and it’s time to come clean.
I am a Scrappy Storyteller . . . and that means I choose to embrace every side of the word scrappy. Even the darker ones.
You heard it here first.
To be scrappy means to fight for my rights, guard the treasure I believe I have been given to share from my own creative stores, and stop at nothing on my quest to share my work, my way, with the people who need and want it.
The Darker Side of Scrappy sometimes means being offensive. Not on purpose, of course, but because one’s own truth by its very nature will rub against someone else’s, often in the “wrong” (ie: less comfortable) way.
That is just how it’s going be.
This year, I am committed to speaking out about the Darker Side of Scrappy like never before. I am committed to living it, too, in my work and in my life. And I am committed to celebrate it through my artistic buying habits.
Thank you for listening to my confession, and for joining me on this new journey to the Darker Side of Scrappy.
After all, I am not the only Scrappy Storyteller around here. You can be one, too. For most of us, how scrappy we get on our artistic journeys ultimately will determine how large of an audience and how much of an impact we make.
Truth matters, and it’s time enough that we told it.
Here’s to my very first step.