My wife used to be a freelance artist. And then one day she came to no longer love what she did…
It got old dealing with clients who approved preliminary sketches for finished art, only to not want to pay her for work because they changed their minds and wanted something else (and felt like they had the right to work an artist for weeks or months before finally figuring out what they really wanted all along and then trying to pay only for that final bit of work).
Having to explain, “No, I can’t just draw the Tasmanian Devil for a T-shirt without a license,” “No, I won’t do 15 designs, only to be paid in merchandise I don’t want,” and the best: “No, I don’t do free art for exposure and for portfolio pieces; my portfolio stands on its own, and is filled with art I love, much of it paid art.”
It all got old.
In the end, my wife stopped doing art for others and started sewing for herself.
When people find out she sews, many go straight to the question: “How much money do you make doing that?”
They often look perplexed when she says, “I have no desire to make money sewing. I do it for myself because I love it…”
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When people find out I’ve made more money writing articles than I have writing fiction, they ask me why I don’t write more articles. (And they’re often surprised to hear that for most writers, fiction doesn’t pay. In the minds of many, all one needs to do to make it writing, apparently, is “get inspired,” write that novel they’ve always talked about writing, and watch it debut on the New York Times Bestseller List.)
When I was laid off last December, the first thing I thought was, “I should freelance!” but instead, I worked on writing I really love: fiction and blogging. When I returned to a day job in July (only to be laid off again in August), I was a bit bummed that I didn’t freelance. And then I looked at this blog, which I do out of love for writing, and the novel I recently completed (which I definitely wrote out of a love for writing). I look at the goofy podcast I’m doing that still cracks me up, gutter humor be damned!
When I look at what I wrote and did during my unemployment, I’m proud of what I have to show, even though none of it’s put money in any of my bank accounts.
I write fiction because I love it. I write the occasional non-fiction piece I find enjoyable, but I won’t write just for the money because I never want to get burned out on the kind of writing I love. It’s why I make a big separation between the technical writing and editing that pays the bills, and the fiction and occasional non-fiction that sometimes brings in enough money to celebrate the sale.
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There are a lot of writers out there chasing trends. They hear that vampires are the thing, so they drop what they’re doing to write a vampire story. Then it’s werewolves or family drama, so they write a family drama about a group of lycanthropes trying to keep up with the Jonses until it all goes to hell when the Joneses throw a block party during the full moon! And then it’s the next trend, and the trend after that…when the whole time, the writer should have been writing what they loved all along.
This week, ask yourself: “Are you writing what you want to write, or what you think you should write?”
If you’re writing what you want to write–what you love–good for you!
If you’re writing what you think you should write, remember that by the time you see a trend and paddle out for the ride, the wave will probably be gone when it’s your turn to stand up on the board.
And even if you catch the wave and people notice, why be a surfer when what you really live to be is a writer?
Cynthia Griffith says
Excellent entry. Too many people try to catch trends, and with something like writing, there isn’t always enough time to do that.
I definitely hated freelance art. Never again. It definitely won’t happen with sewing. Besides, I don’t work quickly enough (not yet, anyway), and I have tons of stuff I want to sew for me.
I must admit, it does annoy me a little when people tell me how I should make money off my hobbies. Like I’m not clever enough to think of something like that on my own, you know? This is something people have done for a very long time, and it makes me not want to talk too much about what I do. Sometimes they don’t take my answer and almost argue with me about it, even! :/
Christopher Gronlund says
I know over the years that some people see your talents and put themselves in your place, wishing they had the dedication you have. And when they imagine having the skill and talent that come with dedication, their fantasy makes a leap to “Ah, to make money doing something creative,” without really thinking about all that entails.
I know some would argue with me, but I don’t think creativity is anything really special. Talent, same thing. It comes with a LOT of practice. Some people may have an innate tendency toward a certain thing, but we’re quick to label people prodigies when all they’ve really done is practiced. A lot!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me to turn “A story about my family that will surely be a bestseller,” into a book for them (and they’re usually nice enough to offer me 5% of the money they believe will come rushing in! 😉 ).
Being “talented” and “creative” takes an effort most people aren’t willing to make. At best, most people dabble and then go watch TV. There’s nothing wrong with it, except they are often the same people who fantasize about doing creative things and have a hard time imagining NOT making money sewing, writing, or doing art if they could only find the drive to do the things they only dream of.
It’s a lot different when you do something creative over time. Read any interview with a well-known creative person and they will usually talk about a time what they love doing lost some of its charm. For me, writing isn’t necessarily fun. It’s satisfying unlike anything else I do, and there are times I have a blast writing. But overall, it’s not this grand act full of inspiration–it’s work.
The purest reason to do something creative is simply for the love of the act and the creation of something meaningful, if only to its creator. The moment commerce is factored into that thing–even if striving to find an audience means polishing a story or work of art to a more professional level–it loses some of its shine.
If somebody like you were to view creative endeavors through sparkling eyes full of dollar signs, the things you do would lose even more of its shine. For others, creativity and commerce walk hand in hand.
It takes all types, and a lot of people just don’t seem to get that for some, working even a crappy job and coming home and creating something they love, that others may never see, is about as pure as art gets.
I’m catching up this morning and like this entry. My grandmother did watercolors and occasionally someone would ask her for one of her paintings. She found she couldn’t give them up. She gave them freely to her family, but not to anyone else. Almost like giving away her child and she just couldn’t do it.