Thanks for checking out this free lesson from the Story Cartel Course. Check out the next free lesson below.
What is the Story Cartel Course?
The Story Cartel Course is an eight-week online course for writers who want to learn how to start a career in creative writing.
To get an idea of what the course is like, you can listen to the audio clip below or read the article.
We only open the class once every three to four months. If you’d like to be part of the next class click here.
Listen to lesson (11:14)
Behind Every Great Artist is a Cartel
This may sound like hyperbole, but the truth is that behind every great artists is a Cartel. There is no such thing as the individual genius. Great artists are always found in Cartels. This is true for Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner, William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and more.
No artist is made in isolation. The undiscovered genius is a myth made up to sell books and paintings. If you look at the biographies of a hundred great artists, you will find other artists and supporters of their work.
Movements of Art
Movements of art are measured in movements of Cartels. Cartels create a stage for their members in history. The fact that Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald knew each other and helped each other made them both more famous. The fact that William Faulkner and James Joyce met—through an unknown but essential mutual friend, Philip Stone—improved both of their work.
Cartels aren’t always full of bestsellers. Instead, they create movements. The authors and poets of the Beat Generation didn’t all become rich. Instead, they changed the world.
Hemingway’s mentor and the Modernist ringleader in Paris in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein, never made millions with her poetry. Instead, she influenced some of the best artists of the century. (Which would you prefer?)
Cartels in Other Disciplines
Cartels don’t exist just among writers. The Italian Renaissance was started by a Cartel (the Medicis have just as much in common with drug cartels as art movements). The Impressionists were a cartel.
Robert Schumann, and then Johannes Brahms, were the ringleaders of a Cartel of composers in 19th century Germany, much of which was coordinated through Schumann’s publication, The New Journal of Music.
Philosophy has its Cartels. Socrates would not be known today if it weren’t for one member of his cartel, Plato, who captured his ideas.
Science has its Cartels. Cartels of physicists battle over competing theories of quantum mechanics. Cartels of Geologists debate the age of the Grand Canyon.
Every realm of society, from the arts to science to business have Cartels, and the hard truth is that if you’re not in one of them, you will have a hard time advancing.
6 Writers and Their Cartels
To better understand the importance of Cartels in a writer’s career, let’s look at six different authors and how Cartels affected their work and helped spread their stories.
Before moving to Paris in the 1920s, Hemingway was a cub reporter, a trainee journalist with barely a byline to his name. He had a few friends in the writing community already, notably John Dos Passos, a novelist and friend of poet, e.e. cummings, and Sherwood Anderson, a novelist who first helped both Faulkner and Hemingway publish their first fiction.
But in Paris, Hemingway first began to build his literary reputation, helped by a Cartel of expatriate artists led by Gertrude Stein, and which included James Joyce and Ezra Pound, writers who, as he said, “could help a young writer up the rungs of a career.” Stein called their Cartel, “The Lost Generation,” and Hemingway used the name in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
Hemingway had been writing short stories, but after meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald and reading The Great Gatsby, he realized he needed to write a novel, and soon began his first novel, which was later critiqued by Fitzgerald.
Hemingway’s story isn’t just the story of a creative genius, but an encyclopedia of some of the most talented and famous artists of the 20th century. Without Dos Passos, Anderson, Stein, and Fitzgerald, we wouldn’t be talking about Hemingway today but some other writer.
Since Virginia Woolf’s father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an editor and author, Woolf was introduced at an early age to some of the best known authors of the day, including Henry James.
Later, she would become a central member of the Bloomsbury Group, a loose-knit group of artists and intellectuals that included novelist E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of the 20th century, and Lytton Stratchey, a well-known arts critic.
She would go on to found Hogarth Press, where she would publish her novels (yes, she was self-published) as well as the poetry of T.S. Eliot.
Woolf was hardly a pensive genius working on her own. She was one of the pilars of a literary circle.
Tolkien originally wrote The Hobbit not for the huge audience it would one day be read by, but for his children (Yes, children can be part of your Cartel, too!) When The Hobbit accidentally fell into the hands of a publishing executive, Tolkien was surprised they had any interest in it. However, the novel would become one of the best selling books of all time.
It was around the time of The Hobbit’s, publication when Tolkien joined The Inklings, an informal group of writers and scholars who met at a pub near Oxford, where Tolkien taught. The Inklings basically functioned as a critique group, where members would read their works in progress aloud and receive feedback from the group. There were many respected authors, poets, and critics who were part of The Inklings, but C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, is probably the other Inkling most widely known today. This group played an important role in helping Tolkien shape The Lord of the Rings.
In the 1940s, Kerouac was a college dropout living in the Upper East Side when he met Lucien Carr, the man who became a ringleader of the Beat Generation. Carr was an intellectual and would become a respected editor with United Press International. Carr introduced Kerouac to William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, the two most well known poets of the Beat Generation, who would influence his style and make appearances in his novels.
Ginsberg would later say, “Lou was the glue.” Without Carr, The Beat Generation would likely never have formed and On The Road might never have been written.
Several theories claim William Shakespeare was not the author of his plays. They say he was too poor and too uneducated to have written works of such brilliance. Some suggest Shakespeare was really the pen name of either Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary playwright, Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, a courtier and patron of the arts. Others suggest Shakespeare’s plays were really written by a group of writers, which may have included any of the above.
While I think Shakespeare was the original author, the truth is that all art is made by groups. We are influenced by the writers we’ve read. Our editors make significant contributions to our works. Our friends give their own input to our stories. No work of art exists in a vacuum.
Shakespeare worked with an acting company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men who would perform the plays he wrote. Sometimes he would act in them himself. Everyone in his company would have given input to each of his plays. If he had written them on his own, away from the company, they wouldn’t have been nearly as good.
The author of Frankenstein was the daughter of two celebrated writers, philosopher William Godwin and Mary Wollstencraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, one of the very first books to argue for equal treatment of women. Shelley grew up in a lively literary family filled with books and new ideas.
She later eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, an aristocrat and one of the most influential poets of all time. Percy encouraged her writing, and Mary said of him, “My husband was, from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was forever inciting me to obtain literary reputation.”
When Mary was 19, she and Percy Shelley were visiting Geneva, Switzerland where they met Lord Byron and his doctor, John William Polidori. Byron’s racy narrative poems had made him the most famous (and hated) poet in England and Polidori would later go on to basically invent the Vampire genre.
While in Geneva, the group read German ghost stories while sitting around a fire in Byron’s villa. Soon, Byron challenged the group to a contest for who could write the best ghost story of their own. Mary was the only one of the group to finish her story, and Frankenstein would become more famous than them all. However, without Percy Shelley’s encouragement and mentoring, without Byron’s challenge, and perhaps even without Polidori’s love for the Gothic, Frankenstein would never have been written.