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Never Give Up Your Dreams of Being a Successful Self-Published Writer

Artist and author Natalie Buske Thomas shares her inspiring story of how she never gave up on her painting, despite discouraging criticism along the way. Her story is a great analogy to the lot of the indie writer and an uplifting addition to the discussion about dealing with adverse book reviews.

Indie author and artist Natalie Buske ThomasWhen I was a little girl I would draw pictures and people would gather around to watch me. My family said that I inherited my father’s artistic talent. But when I went to elementary school, my art teacher thought otherwise. She said, “There’s no special way you have to do it”. My heart sang! I had permission to do the project as I wished, and I did. I was confused and heartbroken then, when she held my art project up for the entire class to see. “Don’t do yours like Natalie has done.”

I was a shy child and I was humiliated into silence. Every week I’d try again, and most of the time I got the same unfortunate result: my teacher was disgusted. It didn’t take long before I believed that no one “important” would ever like what I did. In high school, I finally had a wonderful nurturing art teacher and my confidence soared. I learned new skills and I took more and more art classes. I entered the school’s career art program. I also painted theater sets for the drama department. I went to college feeling as if I could major in art.

Discouraging Setbacks

I thought wrong. My college professors were as disappointed with me as my elementary school teacher had been. What made the experience worse was that each professor encouraged student critiques. The professors’ personal bias about my work colored the sessions, as one student after another strived to critique my work in a more verbose way than the student before had done, in a competition to condemn my work in the most arrogant and harsh language they could conjure up. After a semester of soul-trashing and mob-critiquing, one of my professors looked me in the eyes and said that people like me are not artists.

I quit. I never painted another picture again. That is, I never painted again until my husband surprised me with a beautiful freestanding easel for Christmas. I was speechless, and conflicted. It had been at least twenty years since I’d done any real art. Sure, I’d dabbled. I painted nursery themes on the kids’ walls and I taught a few art classes here and there, but I hadn’t done anything serious enough to justify having a professional artist’s easel. There were wheels on it! It was expensive. What was my husband thinking?

But the look on his face! He had even put a bright red bow on it. How could I disappoint him? Surely I could paint one painting. I tried oil paints for the first time in my life and I loved it! I painted one painting after another. Then I saw an advertisement for a call to artists. I decided to enter one of my paintings. I was accepted! It didn’t pay anything, but my hopes were high. However, several years passed and I couldn’t sell my paintings, not even at a garage sale. As people walked past my original oil paintings without even a passing glance, I felt silly for even trying. I threw my paintings in the trash bin when the garage sale was over.

Family Support

My son dug my paintings back out of the trash and hung them on the wall in our house. I promised never to throw my paintings away again. But my career as an artist was obviously going nowhere. Unless I didn’t mind painting as a hobby, there was no point in continuing. I focused on my writing career, once again feeling that I was never going to be a professional artist.

Cover of Project Scarecrow by Natalie Buske Thomas

Natalie’s painting of a crow is on the cover of her latest book

My easel came back out of storage when I needed original artwork for my mystery series. Because I’m an indie author I have the freedom to choose my own cover artist – I chose me. I considered it a simple errand to meet a need. I never dreamed that it would be the beginning of a career as an oil painter! I created a Kickstarter project to fund the oil paints and canvas. I figured that if I raised funds for the project it was worth doing, and if I failed to raise support I’d put a cover together using random stock photography. I was funded, but more importantly I was encouraged.

Happy Ending

One thing led to another, and now my paintings are in galleries and exhibits. I divide my time between writing and painting as I have steady work in both careers. I’ll even need to set up a second easel because I have two art project deadlines that overlap! My current projects include a Doctor Who themed oil painting for a charity auction at the Doctor Who convention in Minneapolis, and a fantasy landscape painting for a gallery exhibit.

It made all the difference when my family believed in me, even when others did not. It also helped when teachers believed in me, and when my Kickstarter project was funded. But the most important of all is that I finally believed in myself. It took me a long time to be discovered as an artist and I did quit more than once. I now know that I was born to paint: I no longer need anyone’s permission to be an artist, and today when my paintings are held up for everyone to critique, they are held up high – on a gallery wall!

 

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13 Responses to Never Give Up Your Dreams of Being a Successful Self-Published Writer

  1. Willa Jemhart October 3, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Congratulations Natalie. A very inspiring story with the message to never give up. Thank you for sharing!

  2. J.P. Choquette October 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    Love this, Natalie. So glad you continued on despite all the setbacks. One of the most important traits for any self-employed person (particularly a writer, I think) to have is persistence. Bravo and thanks for sharing your story!

    • Natalie Buske Thomas October 4, 2013 at 1:18 am #

      J.P., you’re welcome. I agree with you about persistence, even though of course I prefer getting what I want instantly. Some people do win the artistic lottery, and they are discovered overnight. Even those who have been chugging away for over twenty years can seem like an overnight success when a breakthrough shoots them into visibility. For most of us it’s “slow and steady wins the race”. I don’t like the slow part, but I’ll take the “win”!

  3. Theo Rogers October 4, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    Interesting thing is that there’s a scientific basis to all this. Try searching “internal locus of control” or “self efficacy” sometime and see what comes up.

    • Natalie Buske Thomas October 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      Theo, I looked up both. Intriguing! One thing that came to mind is that children don’t have the same ability to focus internally as adults do, and they are easily swayed by the external. I hope that my article illustrates the impact that teachers have on children–even at the college level professors have much power over the developing esteem of young adults. I healed and moved on from those harsh experiences, but what a waste of time it was from my life’s purpose. I can’t blame this squarely on my teachers, or anything else, but it was part of the package. I’ve been a teacher myself over the years (private small group classes) and the one thing I strive to do is encourage the child to believe that he/she has the power to freely create.

  4. Toni Kenyon October 4, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    Natalie,
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. So many times creativity is stamped out of people because their interpretations are not the perceived ‘norm’ or the preferred trend currently being taught.
    Good on you for believing in your work.
    Toni

    • Natalie Buske Thomas October 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      Thank you. Yes, I agree–people get caught up on a preconceived notion of what they think art/writing should be. It baffles me that such people claim to preach “creativity” while out of the other side of their mouth they define creativity. They fail to see the irony. This hypocrisy and mob-mentality toward artists has thrived for eons. Why we haven’t stamped the bigotry out by now is beyond me. You’d think that a civilized society wouldn’t tolerate a harsh judgement of its artists. Sadly, the Internet has made it even easier to crush aspiring artists and authors. Hopefully stories like mine will inspire creative people to ignore their critics (of course it’s wise to listen to constructive criticism, but that’s not what we are talking about here). Perhaps people fear creativity. A boundless world might feel threatening to those who don’t embrace the unknown. When “anything is possible” it means that the world is too big to control. This is an example of don’t shoot the messenger–the messenger is merely a person who is sharing the truth.

  5. Penelope Silvers October 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Natalie,

    Firstly, your artwork is very beautiful–I love it! Secondly, I so relate to your experiences of your creative spirit being crushed at a young age. I have been struggling to overcome the same soul bruises from word daggers for my entire life.

    Keep up the good work, keep creating and putting yourself out there. We artists need to stick together and encourage one another.

    • Natalie Buske Thomas October 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      Thank you for your comment – I’m now following you on Twitter. Yes, artists need to stick together! :-)

  6. Venkatesh Iyer October 8, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    You appear to have a wonderful husband, and it must be because he finds you a wonderful wife. My compliments to both of you.

    • Natalie Buske Thomas October 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      Thank you, what a kind and insightful comment! We’ve been married for over 25 years. We were young when we got married (he was 19, I was 18). He was in the Army, stationed in Germany. He got out but was “involuntarily extended” to deploy to the Gulf War. After serving there, we went back to college together in the United States. We graduated and moved again, again, and again. We lived in the inner city/metro, then in a small town, later we lived on a hobby farm (my favorite!), and now we live in an old neighborhood near suburbia. There were many losses along the way, and many blessings. A lot of life = a lot to write, paint, and sing about.

  7. Jaime Buckley December 27, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    That was not only a fantastic story Natalie, it was the kind of encouragement I needed to hear today. I also have a very supportive family–my sweetheart and 11 incredible kids. I was a comic book artist, but a car accident took my fine motor functions.

    They encouraged me to start writing. Took years of prodding, but now I do. Even got to the point that I can do the illustrations if I take my time. So I do. Haven’t been noticed yet, but I feel it’s only a matter of time.

    I wish you the very best success in all you do. Thank you so much for sharing!

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