I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve been reading books (and blogs) about writing for almost as long: books on craft, narrative, symbolism, genre, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t think of right now. I’ve also read a lot about how to get your writing published (there are MILLIONS of people out there who can tell you how to write the perfect query letter. Well, maybe not millions, but a lot), as well as how to make a living as an artist/writer/creative person in the internet age, where things have changed from the days of vinyl and printing presses.
There was something else, though, that no one seemed to be talking about: most of what I read acted like the work creative people did existed in a parallel universe accessed by a Sliders-type wormhole, one that was completely removed from the rest of their daily lives, where what happened in the outside world was irrelevant to the creative process, and vice-versa. It’s easy to talk big about setting aside two hours a day for writing, but we all have rent and grocery bills to pay (and probably student loans too…), and what if you come home exhausted after mixing cement on a hot construction site for eight and a half hours to earn that rent and grocery money? How about office jobs: does anyone want to sit down at the computer to write after answering emails and skimming through PowerPoint slides all day? Is it better to write a little bit every day or schedule large chunks of time at once? Is teaching a viable source of income, and is it possible to write and teach at the same time? Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 while working in the New York advertising world of Mad Men, but that was sixty years ago and he had a boss who didn’t care if he wrote on the job when his work was slow. How are things different now—or are they?
Furthermore, how about other creative pursuits? What kinds of day jobs do musicians have if they have to play late-night gigs in far-off cities? Mike Birbiglia’s character leaves his bartending job in Sleepwalk With Me to drive his Volvo around the East Coast doing stand-up—that’s awesome that he did that, but did he really make enough on the stand-up gigs to cover his rent, or did he have a bunch of money saved beforehand that he just didn’t mention in the movie? What if your creative projects involve expensive equipment, lots of space, soundproof walls, huge chunks of time, or other people to collaborate with? How do you keep from waking the neighbors if you have to finish a woodworking project at 2 AM with a radial arm saw?
Creative work is hard enough, but there’s a lot of real-world challenges that make it even harder. Some of these challenges are external (paying bills, finding a decent desk, fixing a broken clarinet or radial arm saw), but a lot of them are internal, like scheduling your time, finding the motivation to get up every day, taking on too many projects at once, telling people you’re an artist but not one that gets paid to make art yet, and fending off Facebook distractions. These problems, in a lot of ways, are just as real as keeping the bills paid.
In the Internet Age, most writers, artists, and other creative people don’t make all (or any) of their money from their creative work, and need other income sources to keep them afloat. (This was true in the pre-Internet Age too, but the internet changed the way a lot of artists share their work—musicians, for example, used to make most of their money off record sales, but that’s not really true anymore.) The artist-with-another-income source model isn’t always obvious, though, since most of the time whatever other job that artist is working to pay their heating bill isn’t terribly interesting, the same way that washing your dishes isn’t terribly interesting. Most people want to hear about the creative stuff, but balancing the practical stuff is important too.
I’ve always liked reading about the struggles faced by artists I admire, especially when they were just starting out. Matt Groening used to draw Life in Hell at a wobbly card table in his kitchen, and David Byrne used to share a New York City apartment with no heat or toilet. These experiences range from the extreme to the trivial, but they’re all worth talking about if they can help us become better creative workers. (I’m literally writing this from a wobbly card table in my kitchen right now, but at least my apartment has heat and a toilet.)
You can also bet that there are a lot of people out there who are just like you, who want to make their living from their art but can’t yet, and who face real challenges managing their time, money, and creative space. If any of that sounds familiar, this is the blog for you.
Or, if you’re lucky enough to gain some of your sustenance from your creative pursuits but still have to have a day job to cover the rest, this blog is also for you.
Or, if you have an actual paying job that’s tangentially related to your creative work, but only tangentially, and are finding entirely new challenges involved with that, then this blog is still also for you.
Also, if you’re fortunate enough to gain all of your sustenance by doing mostly the kind of creative work you want to be doing but feel conflicted about balancing business with passion, then—you guessed it!—this blog is also for you.
Finally, if you’re a person who gains all of your sustenance from doing exactly the kind of creative work you want to be doing 100% of the time without ever compromising your artistic integrity and holds total control over your career, work, and future and always lives up to your full potential without ever getting distracted or losing your cool, then you clearly live in a rainbow-filled fantasyland where chocolate-covered hamburgers grow on trees, so you should stop reading this from your hovercar or whatever and go teleport somewhere else, since the rest of us have work to do.