An author recently posted a blog entry where she essentially laughed at readers for eagerly buying what she considered her crappiest work. Enter a passionate counter-post by a reader, expressing dismay and disgust at the author’s actions. I agreed with everything she said right up until it was implied that creatives – writers, artists, actors, etc – should just accept that they get to do what they love in this life time, and not expect to do what they love AND earn a living from it.
*Insert me wanting to throw my phone against the wall with the explosive energy that can only be spawned from vengeful wrath…and then remembering that I’d need to find the cash to replace the damn thing.*
Now maybe, just maybe, the commenter didn’t mean to sound…well, hell, I can’t come up with a polite term. Mainly because the fact that there are folks who still think that everyone who puts in hours of work (usually on top of a full-time day job) to passionately craft a creative product for the public should just accept that any payments (never mind any sort of regular earnings stemming from sales) for said product are simply a perk, is so massively insulting to me that my throat wants to shut tight from anger and disbelief.
Stop me if any of what I’m about to say sounds unrealistic:
I expect my doctor – someone who loves his work, puts in long hours, and is dedicated to doing a good job regardless – to earn a good living, because if he’s not stressing about money, he can focus on helping me feel better when I’m ill.
I hold similar expectations for nurses, teachers, technicians, builders, dentists, lawyers, my boss, the crews who help create my favorite shows, the writers of my favorite books, etc. In short, if you have a product or service that makes my life a little easier or pleasant, I expect you to earn a great living out of it, so that you can keep focusing on bringing me those products and services that you specialize in.
I also hold that expectation for myself.
I love being a writer, despite the fact that I work long hours on top of the day job that currently allows me to have a roof over my head and food to eat. I know – because I have been told so by my amazing readers – that my work allows people to step out of the hectic pace of their lives, and focus on something fun for a short while, helping them to relax, and thus move forward in their lives a little easier. It is my goal, and expectation, to one day earn a good living from doing what I love.
The ‘noble starving artist’ mentality has got to stop. Now. Yes, there will be a percentage of people who create because that is all they want to do, and yes, they’ll feel that if they earn anything along the way, that it’s a great perk. For the rest of us, we deserve to do what every other respected professional in the world is allowed, and expected to do by the general public – earn a good living from doing what we love to do.
And if we’re happy with the fact that reaching that point might take longer than folks in ‘non-creative’ careers, so be it – that’s our prerogative. It is not a sign that we should meekly choke down the assumption that we’re the only specialized industry whose participants are destined to never enjoy a naturally balanced career we can both love, and profit from.
So please, let’s all – industry insiders and onlookers – drop the assumption that ‘noble starving artist’ is still the acceptable default for the majority of creatives in 2013. It’s not. What is acceptable is the long-term Creative Professional model – the mindset that so long as you’re willing to relentlessly put in the work, no matter how long it takes, you deserve to both enjoy the ride and profit from it. (Which sounds suspiciously like the mindset for every other type of professional, no?)
Does it mean I’m ‘selling out’ if I want to earn a decent living from my writing and creative work? Not at all. I went through (and am going through) the exact same level of passion and pain as every other writer while working on my books. I am profoundly proud of my work, and am dedicated to writing stories that I love. But I also live with the knowledge that the story I am working on in a delicious haze of enthusiasm will eventually become a product for a marketplace that has the choice to purchase it, or not. And if I’m not comfortable with that gritty, realistic fact, I had better not send out my manuscript to a publishing house that operates on a profitability model. In fact, if I don’t want to make money, i.e. earn some sort of living from my writing, then I should just put my novels up on WordPress for everyone to read for free.
To the creatives still trying to hide behind the ‘noble starving artist’ facade, that’s what it boils down to – if you’ve put your work out there and asked for someone to buy it, you are, even if you don’t want to admit it, seeking to earn a living of sorts out of your work. Maybe somewhere, deep inside of you, you recognize that it won’t happen over night (all the power to you if it does), but you still want to be able turn that passion into a pay cheque. If you didn’t, well, you wouldn’t be selling your work, now would you? So step away from the old regime, and into your power – there’s no shame in admitting you want to earn a living from what you love to do, and going after that goal relentlessly and creatively.
And yes, for the majority of creatives, it may take many years before they can wish their bosses and coworkers all the best, and afford to live off of the commissions earned from the hard work they love to do. That’s reality. In comparison, telling someone they shouldn’t expect to earn a living from their creative endeavors, and to simply be happy that they get to do what they love, is not.
I am a writer. I love being a writer. But I am also a Professional Creative, and as such, I expect to one day earn a good living from doing what I love. I hope my readers hold that same expectation, too.