Why do we create? To share a thought: an idea, a story, a paradigm. To help another person. Maybe to feel a little more understood, a little less crazy. I like what Steven Pressfield says about the work of an artist: “The artist doesn’t create to express herself; she creates to discover herself.”
The act of creating shows me who I am
That’s true for me, at least. Through my work, I am always trying to figure out who I am. Or, as Flannery O’Connor once said, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.”
One thing is for sure: when you ask a creative person why they do what they do, their first response is almost never, “I do it for the money.”
That would be absurd. Why? Because that’s not how art works. It is, in the words of Lewis Hyde, a gift. Something special and generous you share with the collective is meant to be passed on to others. And gifts aren’t given with an expectation of reciprocity.
Nonetheless, we all have to eat. And who wouldn’t like to be paid to do what they love, to share their work with the world? It would certainly make some things easier.
Two lessons of being paid for creative work
I’ve been doing my own creative work of writing, speaking, and creating online courses for ten years now, and for ten years, I’ve been paid to do it. From my own experience of working with over 20,000 creators (writers, artists, musicians, and more), I can tell you two things:
First, the most successful creative people don’t do their work to get paid. Money, I wrote in my book Real Artists Don’t Starve, makes a better means than it does a master.
Second, the most successful creative people have found a predictable way to get paid to create. For some, it’s a considerable income, even a substantial business. For others, it’s a decent living wage. But most who have made a career of making things have found a consistent way to make money off their work.
My hope for creative artists (yes, that's you)
I hope the same for you. Because it’s no fun to eke out a creative existence wondering when or from where your next meal is going to come. It’s not very fulfilling to constantly question if there’s any value in what you’re doing. You deserve better. Or better put, your work deserves better.
So let’s get on with it.