At my freshman orientation at UCSB, they told us the best way to approach sexual consent is to seek “the enthusiastic yes.”
The most important word there is “enthusiastic” because it’s possible to get a yes from coercion or persistence, but that can harm the other person and cause trouble for you later.
And sex, like lawn games, is only as fun as the energy each person brings to it.
The enthusiastic yes is an idea is so good we should start applying it to our art as well.
You can beg and scrape and plead to get people to look at your work. You can maybe even get them to pay for it. However, you’ll almost never create any true fans this way.
The common comparison here is the used car salesman, but you have to realize that he’s playing a very different game than you are. The used car salesman doesn’t have to worry about building relationships, because people only come to him to bargain hunt, and he doesn’t have to worry about integrity, because nobody expects much from a used car.
In the arts, relationships are everything, and integrity matters.
By the time potential fans come to you, they already have dozens of entertainment options that feel like home to them. They can already name movies, books, TV, games, or music that have changed their lives. If you want them to take a gamble on you, you need to show them that you can make them feel as good or better than those things make them feel.
Plus, the artist is always part of the art. The more someone absorbs your work, the more curious they become about the person behind it. Theorists be damned—art comes from people and people know it!
To be clear: the integrity I’m talking about here comes in many different forms. Hunter S. Thompson had this kind of integrity. Carrie Fisher had this kind of integrity. Prince had this kind of integrity.
I’m talking about the integrity of showing up as who you actually are—of letting your audience see the where the art really comes from. This is also the integrity of telling the truth (which is not necessarily the same as telling what happened, because we are storytellers after all).
All this leads back to that most important goal: the enthusiastic yes.
The enthusiastic yes starts out as something like this:
“Wow, that sounds fascinating! I’ll give it a try.”
…which is only possible when you yourself are fascinated, and when you leave enough room in your pitch for the other person to insert themselves.
Later, the enthusiastic yes sounds like this:
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve made. The second you publish something, I always make sure to get a copy. When will your next thing be out?”
You can build a career out of the enthusiastic yes, if you want to.
If you do, you should apply the principle at every level. Seek the enthusiastic yes not just from your audience, but also from editors, agents, wholesalers, librarians, influencers, publishers, and anyone else in the business of spreading art.
This takes discipline. When there’s money involved, it’s tempting and easy to settle for “sure, okay” or “yes, but…” You might even find the half-interested party is offering you a larger sum than the enthusiastic party. The first option might give you cash. The second option might give you a career.
So seek the enthusiastic yes—in sex, art, and everything else.