My wife makes costumes like this:
And even this:
She does art like this:
When people see what she does, the first words that often leave their mouths?
“You should do this for money!”
The Internet is a wonderful thing. My wife and I think it’s so cool that there are people making livings by creating and selling things online. Some make supplemental income; some make more from home than people starting up large companies with their MBAs.
It’s all great, but…the obsession with monetizing everything can get very old, very fast. There often comes with the attitude that everything should be monetized a sense that someone shouldn’t do something solely for the love of creating.
Why not make money doing that thing you love, right? [Putting aside that people are allowed to do what they want to do for their own reasons] because…some people believe there is no better reason to make something than simply because one enjoys creating. For many, there’s more pleasure in the act of just making things than making things and then spending all that extra time turning it into a business.
Not everything that can make money has to make money.
The Downside of Monetizing Things
I blog, podcast, and do other things online. I sometimes attend tech groups and speak at tech groups about making things. The meetups that seem to draw the most attendees are those promising to show others how to monetize what they are doing. I’ll go as far as saying there is a strange obsession with monetizing things online. I’ve seen well-known bloggers come out and say:
“I’m about to embark on the project that means more to me than anything I’ve ever done…this is from my heart!”
Two months later, when it’s not making money, they bail on this thing they claim meant more to them than anything ever before. Maybe I’m wired differently, but if you have a project that means more to you than anything else in your heart — ever — you work on that project whether it makes money or not!
If you don’t, all I can assume is that your whole, “It means more than anything to me!” was a marketing ploy, and you’ve destroyed all trust I had in you and the things you make.
An [Often] Fast Path to Mediocre
I’ve seen great content become soured in a race for more ad revenue or a larger audience. As a podcaster, I often see people talk about how some shows they do get more listens than many of the shows they love doing. Because the thought of money is the driving force behind what’s being done, good shows about topics most dear to the hearts of the creators become like so many other shows that do little more than aggregate content.
Suddenly, we have another run-of-the-mill tech or entertainment podcast with little to no original content. Blogs are written whether there’s something good to write about or not because it’s a numbers game in hope of ad clicks. Over time, what started out as good content often becomes mediocre (at best) because content is created out of a panic to keep money coming in.
Worse than all that, sometimes the people behind the sites can’t get through the line at a grocery store or stand beside you at a urinal in a bathroom without giving you their pitch.
Desperation, frequency, and volume are not endearing traits.
Back to my Wife (and Why She Does Art Only for Herself These Days)
My wife understands that in its own way, “You should do this for money!” is a compliment — people see what she does and they feel it’s worthy of being paid for. It’s strange, though, because the compliments often come with a tone that my wife has never considered making money with her art.
I won’t go into great detail, but I know many artists whose art jobs become this:
- They end up on a contract for something they don’t really want to draw or paint.
- They work through the contract, getting approval for all stages of work.
- Near the end, someone higher up says, “I want something totally different!”
- The artist says, “Pay out on this contract, and I’ll write up a new contract for what your big boss wanted all along, but never mentioned to you.”
- Big boss gets wind of this and shouts: “I’m not paying for something I don’t want to use!”
- The original contract is either paid out and the work never used or now the artist is spending more time and money trying to collect what’s owed to them than they are creating art.
I know this is not the case for every artist. I have friends who are artists who do their own thing and make very strong livings doing what they love. But for every artist like that, there are more artists I know trying to collect on past due accounts or illustrating licensed content and other things they don’t enjoy creating, solely for the paycheck.
It’s Sew Easy
It’s not unheard of that my wife gets email from strangers asking her to sew them something. My wife passes by on offers to sew things for others, and some people find that perplexing. But why would someone who loves sewing their own things, on their own schedule, drop that to sew 40 of the same bonnets on an in-house assembly line when that is not what they find any pleasure in doing? (Or may not have room to do without turning several rooms into workspaces and be constantly reminded that they are not sewing what they want?)
Just like we have artist friends who live a life of nightmares collecting on accounts, seamstress friends of my wife have been ridiculed when they quote a price for something that’s deemed too high in the mind of the requester who doesn’t understand that the cost of material alone is twice what they are willing to pay — never mind the 60+ hours of labor! If fabric runs $250 for a gown and you’re putting over a week into the project, the last thing you want is to deal with an angry person online, screaming that you wouldn’t do it for $75!
It can be great making a living doing what you love, but it’s not always easy. Worse, it can make the pleasure of something you once loved a thing of the past.
There are things I will only do for myself, solely for the joy it brings me. I once juggled for money, but…never again. I’ve written magazine and newspaper articles that made more in one piece than almost all fiction I’ve written combined. I won’t rule out certain articles in the future, because I’ve enjoyed the pieces I’ve written, but when it comes down to limited time and making guaranteed money with another article or writing another chapter of a novel that may never see publication, I choose the novel. And not just any novel: I write what I want to write, regardless of what happens when it’s done.
A handful of years ago, a friend in a position to pass along my second novel to the kinds of people who can make publication a reality offered to pass along anything I wanted that suited the genre. The book, the first in a series, is something I had fun writing, but there are other things I want to write even more. When some people heard I passed on that offer, the replies were a resounding:
I disagree; to have accepted this generous offer would have meant not writing the book I wanted to write more than anything I’d written at that point in my life. (The novel-in-progress now holds that title.) Part of the reason I write is to push myself to write things I wasn’t 100% sure I could pull off. These are the kinds of books that take a longer time to write. The novel I didn’t have passed on to publishers was written over a period of months, mostly during lunch breaks at my day job at the time.
I have different goals than some as a writer.
All This Said, I Understand Monetizing Things
To some, it may sound like I’m against monetizing things.
I have friends who make a living from the things they love online (and offline). These are people who did the thing they love and figured out a way to make that thing work. There was no polling the audience to see what worked best and leaning heavily on those things…they built loyal followings doing their thing and monetized their content.
I think that’s wonderful! I will never shake my head at someone monetizing the thing that’s wholly theirs…that they love making. If I could make a living writing the fiction I love writing, I would. I won’t change to something I don’t want to write as much, just to make a living writing fiction, but my goal has always been to make money with the writing I love doing. But just as there’s nothing wrong with monetizing something you love, there is nothing wrong with not monetizing something you love.
Many people don’t seem to get that…