I’ve been catching up on podcasts lately. Last week at the gym, I finally listened to the Nerdist interview with Thomas Jane.
Much of the interview focuses on how technology has reached a point of allowing people to make the things they want to make, put them out there, and see what happens. (Obviously, promoting the things you make helps.) At one point, taking projects solely for the money came up. Chris Hardwick [the interviewer] asked Jane: “Is it hard for you to go work on stuff that you’re not directly involved in…?”
Thomas Jane’s answer:
“It’s getting a lot harder to do that…Like Robert Duval said, ya know, ‘One for the art, and one for the condo.’ I just did one for the condo earlier in the year and it’s depressing…”
Jane plans to stop doing those things for the condo and focus solely on the art.
The Sex and Cash Theory
Years ago, a good friend sent me a link to Hugh MacLeod talking about his Sex and Cash Theory. The quick version: there are the jobs/projects we’re most excited about (the sex) and jobs/projects we do solely for money. When you can find the balance between those two things, you’re going to be happier than when you struggle.
In my case, I’ve written all kinds of technical documents to pay the bills over the years because it allows me to focus on the writing I’m most excited about. The likelihood of making what I make as a technical writer with fiction is slim, so…having the security a regular job provides, I’m able to write only what I want.
It’s a good point MacLeod makes, but when people blur the lines between job and art, there seems to be misery.
I’m friends with an artist who does exactly what he wants. He has not done “one for the condo” in a long time — he only works for the art. I’m also friends with artists who often do one for the condo…so much so that they rarely have time for the art. The general feeling runs like this:
“I’m soooooooo sick of doing licensed property work because I never have time to do my own thing…”
“The worst thing about being a full time illustrator doing what I do is I never have time to get better or do my own thing because I’m always doing other things for clients.”
I also know writers who feel the same way when they write fiction solely for the cash.
By making what they love [drawing/telling stories] their job [writing and drawing for others], these friends have grown to dislike what they do because the lines are blurred. Some on the outside say, “Yeah, but you’re writing or drawing for a living!” but…unless your dream is to do things for others, as Thomas Jane mentioned, it becomes depressing when you’re not doing your own thing.
For the Condo or for the Art?
While I’d definitely do any writing to avoid having nothing, when it comes to what I want to do — these days — I only write what I want. Friends and acquaintances over the years have suggested that I write “what sells,” or shape my own writing to be more commercial and have a better shot as success. Their hearts are in the right place, but here’s the thing: the art matters to me.
Not that what I write is literary fiction, but I at least cross into upmarket fiction with literary moments in the writing I do. And the things I do are stories I want to tell.
Whether they sell and are seen by many, or if they are only read by a couple people and then tucked away forever, there are few things in life that bring me as much satisfaction as writing the stories I want to write…not the stories I have to write because somebody is paying me. I’m a better writer because of this, and that matters more to me than paying the bills with fiction I’m not interested in.
What about you: do you write solely for the art, or do you sometimes do one for the condo?
I see most day-job work as “for the condo,” but thankfully, I’ve mostly gotten away from doing anything creative as a day job. When I wrote for magazines, it was a lot harder.