Commerce and Creativity: The Struggle is Real

Arriving home, I caught a new article on Wired, “Jack Conte, Patreon, and the Plight of the Creative Class.” Earlier this year, I heard Jack’s talk at South by Southwest, a sort of origin story cum sales pitch. Many of us would love to get paid for blogging, and I’d love to get paid for editing and publishing my book in progress. Yet the struggle between having to work a job and pay the bills is one that’s been going on for a long time. Ever since the first caveperson started drawing on the walls instead of hunting, I would imagine. How to be creative in whatever your endeavor(s) may be keep a roof over your head and food on the table is an ongoing issue. Spoiler alert: I won’t solve it here today. But maybe you’ll relate to some of my thoughts and have some comments.

Working as much as I have been on a gig that ends none to soon, I’ve not had much time or energy for biking. My last 100-mile week was in July and my stats are pathetic (compared to myself) ever since. But I had no choice really, since I needed to get some money for the high Austin, Texas rent and day-to-day living expenses. But it’s not enough money to just take off work again (if you can call being laid off “taking off work”) to fully devote myself to editing my book and getting it published. So after this job, or gig, there will need to be another, and another after that, and so on.

I won’t repeat the article, since you can read it and decide what you think for yourself. But I’ve written before about the struggle to be creative versus paying the bills. It’s such a time-worn battle that there’s even a stereotype about it, the “starving artist.” However, that’s a myth.

Street artist and musician at SXSW.

In my post BOOK REVIEW: Real Artists Don’t Starve, by Jeff Goins, I explored his ideas and related them my situation. Also, I occasionally (okay, routinely) kvetch, complain, whine, moan and gripe about how I wish I could just write for a living. Save finding a sugar mama, winning the lottery, or maybe if Universal Basic Income becomes a real thing before I’m dead, it’s “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” How do every day people do their art and not become homeless?

I think one key is often repeated by Owen Egerton, host of One Page Salon. He’s a prolific creator with a writer wife and kid, too. He’s written a number of books (that have been published and sell for money), done Hollywood screenplays and directed his own movies. He’s on the radio, teaches classes, presents at conferences, appears with a comedy group on occasion to mock live movies. And that’s just what I know about him. So how did he do it? I’m not sure, and maybe he’ll let me interview him for this blog some day. I think he knows what a bicycle is. But obviously he diversifies, he netwworks, and most of all, he works.

In the age of digital followers, clearly Owen is well-loved by real people who buy his stuff. To what degree, I don’t know. He does alright. But having a community of supporters, whether it’s on Patreon, YouTube, a website, a blog, whatever, Jack Conte makes the point that having a devoted fan base is one way to succeed.

“…the most important thing isn’t media or genre or platform—it’s how much do you love your fans, and how do they love you back? Are you making a thing that gives people all the feels, and do they just fucking love you?” 

Jack Conte in Wired
Jack Conte at SXSW 2019

Are you loved by your fans? Am I? No clue. For A Dude, I just keep at it. I’ve been writing this blog since January 2016. Starting in March 2018, I’ve written it three days (ok, nights) a week and worked on revising my memoir the other four days. I’ve been doing yoga every day since December 2018. I’ve been walking and forgoing virtually all processed grains since January 2018. And I’ve bicycled over 21,000 miles since January 2015. During that time I raised over $12,000 in six charity rides, too. These activities take a lot of time and energy, and feed into each other.

My take on what some of the things Jeff Goins talks about are:

  • have collaborative relationships with other creators
  • find a community of supporters
  • form an inner circle of cheerleaders,
  • put yourself out there and risk rejection
  • court patrons at various levels
  • continual work at honing your craft

Much of the last two years I was fortunate to have some support and in particular two people who are essentially patrons who allowed me the time and space to write. Clearly to monetize my writing I’ll have to start doing things differently. Submitting to websites, trying more fiction and poetry, doing live readings in front of actual human beings, promoting myself and more. I also have interests in playing music again. And while not a visual artist, I have a few ideas for some short films or at least comedy videos. Sometimes I consider trying improv and stand up comedy open mics, too.

Meanwhile, I’ll have to be working full-time just to afford to keep living here. So for me it’s an ongoing journey, and I don’t know if it will really ever lead anywhere. For most of us, we aren’t going to become internet darlings making six figures a year or month. We do our art because it’s part of us. We need to tell our stories, draw, paint, sing, dance, and all the rest because it’s part of the human experience. If Jack Conte is right, eventually being a creator will become a normal profession where people aren’t constantly worried about being a starving artist, but instead, Jeff Goins’ thriving artist.

Until that day, I think the journey IS the destination. DO YOUR ART, and good things will happen. As Owen says, the world needs you to do it, and no one else can (or will do it for you). And on that note, so endeth the blog. Time to go to bed, so I can get up and go back to work, so I can pay the bills and have a place to write the next chapter. Below is a little of the European Elvis (Costello) to take us out. But first:

Are you writing or creating every day? Why or why not? How do you deal with the time versus money issue?

Chapter one we didn’t really get along
Chapter two I think I fell in love with you
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of chapter three
But you were up to your old tricks in
Chapters four, five and six

And I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday
Everyday I write the book

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Every Day I Write the Book”

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