Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Creativity for a Living: The Curse of the Jobbing Hobbyist

Note: Today's blog post is a bit on the salty side. Readers with high blood pressure, proceed at your own discretion.

I was talking just now with Ginger Hoesly -- Onezumi Events design queen and regular collaborator -- about the curse of being a freelancer or part of a small business when it comes to people with "ideas" about your work. She mentioned, quite rightly, that people romanticize small businesses and freelancers, but when it comes time to do business with either, many people get very squanchy with their money.

As someone who has been screwed over financially by pretty much every tier of business, I can understand that. When it comes to an "unproven" solo creator versus a business with a BBB rating, it can be easy to get nervous and fiddly with your cash. But there's a difference between caution and entitlement.

Too, there's a very different mindset when it comes to my circle of friends and myself -- what I call, largely sarcastically, "jobbing hobbyists." By my own definition that has no source or proof anywhere, a Jobbing Hobbyist is anyone who makes the majority of their living doing something that is widely classified as a pastime. Writing, art, music, really most things in the creative field and a few things outside it. Basically, if a relative or family friend has ever said they wish they could do what you do or that they also do what you do, you are likely a Jobbing Hobbyist.

In most cases, you'll see two sides to a Jobbing Hobbyist's work. There's the front-facing side that keeps the lights on. Artists design. Writers are journalists or work for content mills. Do well enough, get far enough, know the right people, and they become Proper Artists or Proper Writers or whatever. Basically, paid enough for their creativity that people who aren't in their field will acknowledge that what they do is a career.

Well, sometimes. I've seen plenty of renowned creative types still get the Family Snub at the holidays. So nothing's certain, no matter how many figures you're fortunate enough to bring in.

I have forgiven, but am having trouble forgetting, the time a friend of mine said she'd like to pursue something akin to one of my then-current contracts as a "break" from her regular job. I did not take this well.

As I've said before and will always say, I never tell people their jobs are harder or easier than anyone else's. I've worked retail, I've worked at a deli, I've been a tour guide, a cashier, a desk monkey, a teller... everything is difficult in its way. Difficult-slash-rewarding is the best goal you can hope to achieve unless you have a rich relative who will let you live in their mansion in exchange for feeding their slightly uncanny-looking cats. And in that case you're probably already cursed.

Usually I like to think of myself as (to rip off from Sherlock) a "geek interpreter": something of a midway point to very kindly explain to people how we (geek or creative or whatever) work, shed some light on things, and bring understanding. Then there are some days when my friends and I are pissed off and I just have Things To Say About Things, and I feel like this is one of those days.

So, dear people who stare at the work of Jobbing Hobbyists and either can't understand why you should have to pay/signal boost them or think it looks like a nice getaway from your day-to-day, a few words.

1. You benefit from us from the moment you wake up.

Much of the push-back against supporting creators is the idea that creativity is a non-essential. That books, movies, artwork, music, games, and the like are not necessary for life, and thus should either be cheaper (or free, for the extra-entitled) or shouldn't be such a big deal.

But remember what I said earlier about our day jobs? You're already getting our work cheap or free -- and without it, your day wouldn't be nearly the same.

Nearly every creative sort I work with who hasn't gotten over that Professional Speedbump has a Main Hustle that they do to keep the cash coming in. And more often than not, that Main Hustle is an offshoot of their creative life. Me? I am a journalist and editor. Ginger's a graphic designer. And the work we do tends to not be a part of people's leisure time.

I mean, sure, I write for a geek news site. But I also throw in on "mundane" news and content mills. My artist friends make their money designing for businesses of all sizes, websites, and companies other than the one they work for. So even if you are forever and staunchly of the opinion that the arts are not a life essential, you are still gaining something from creatives every day.

Take away good site design by trained artists, conscientious writing done by authors trying to make ends meet, and programming by gamers who can't afford to put out their first title... and you'll barely even be able to get your morning news read. Trust me. I've worked for a news site.

Every job in some way impacts the world. "Burger flippers" keep people fed. Sales clerks keep the stores running. Teachers make sure we are intelligent and trained enough to keep pursuing these careers. And artists do more than you think. Even if you consider the output we make from our own minds unessential, we aren't. And much like a horrifying industrial short from the 50s, removing our influence would make shit weird pretty quickly.

2. Creativity on a deadline is hard.

This is extremely hard to convey to people, in large part because it sounds like whining.


In large part because it is whining.

But the process of inspiration, planning, creation, and production is extremely taxing. People who aren't Jobbing Hobbyists don't necessarily get this because when creation is a hobby, you do it when it comes to you and at no other time. You paint when you want to. You practice piano when you want to. You write a short story when you're inspired to.

As someone currently sitting on about five writing contracts and the last two days of NaNoWriMo -- being creative on a schedule is extremely taxing. You wrote a short story because it came to you, but think of it this way. Imagine a stranger dumped you out of bed at 7 am, said you had two weeks to write a short story based on a one-sentence prompt and a pile of papers they've shoved at you containing what you can and can't do, and then left.

Are you ready? Can you do it? Did you have plans for the next two weeks? It isn't easy. And considering the majority of it comes from your brain -- what do you do if it isn't there?

I already hear the clapback: "If you hate it so much, don't do it." I don't hate it. I stress under it. Everyone has something, eventually, that is extremely difficult but that they still love. That they curse when they're under the wire but they'd kill to keep doing. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean I don't love it.

Just because I love it... doesn't mean I don't deserve recompense.

3. Payment is for time and effort, not to make up for not having fun.

There's an unspoken assumption in society concerning the workforce: fun is payment enough. If you love what you do, you don't need money. Therefore, if someone is doing a job considered to be "fun," they are already being paid in getting to spend all their time enjoying themselves.

This is, like, essentially not what salaries are about at all. You are paid for your time and your effort, not as a reward for putting up with a bad time. Salaries are the price put on your work, your time, and your ability. Not always fair prices, God knows, but that's for someone a lot more socially minded than yours truly to put into words and graphs.

We live in a world where it costs money to live. (There's another thing that maybe someone besides me should take up.) As I've said in previous blog posts, and every single day of my life, we cannot live on love and fulfillment.

Creativity takes time. This blog post takes me time. Writing anything takes time, which is why when I write for other people, I prefer to either get paid or do it for a charity about which I am knowledgeable. Do I love to write? Yes. Even when it's hard? Eh. Usually. Sometimes I lie on my office floor crying about how writing is hard, but I do still love it. Does that means the 12-18 hours a day I spend on it should be unpaid? No.

I am fortunate -- very fortunate -- to get to spend time doing something I love, instead of being stuck in something to make ends meet. I really am. But I'm not fool enough to think that that means I don't deserve recompense for the time I put in.

4. Packaging our creations with business info isn't tacky...

There's something pretty widespread a lot of creators have noticed online: creations posted with a link to a shop, tip jar, Patreon, etc. get fewer engagements and shares than creations posted on their own. Or, in the case of a few wiseacres, people will simply repost it without the information to make it look "nicer."

Don't do this.

We may love what we created and choose to put it out free, either for our own fun or to catch an eye. And there is nothing wrong with attaching info about us, financial or otherwise, to it. Some people -- many people -- want to know where it came from and how they can support the creator. It doesn't spoil the "aesthetic" to leave it there. And, even if you're not about helping creators, it helps people who want to know who to credit.

5. ... and we wouldn't have to do it if it was more fashionable to support creators.

You know what I'd love to do on a more regular basis? Just put a link that says "Hey, here's my Patreon" without having to construct an elaborate eyecatch around it. I'd love to just be able to say "Hi, guys, here's where you can go if you fancy supporting me." But just saying that with nothing else is often considered begging. (Well, you know, it kind of is begging after a point if just selling things isn't working because "non-essentials" should be free -- so good call.)

The "begging" links rarely get shared except by other creators. Other people who know how hard it is, who understand that people deserve recompense for their work while they're being underpaid or yelled at to not ask for money. Largely because they're going through the exact same thing.

Can't support someone financially? Don't fancy anything in their shop? Just share the link. Just hit retweet or reblog. Just boost it. Send it to a friend who likes the thing. The way you'd send an Amazon link. It takes two seconds.

6. "Buying small" goes for everything.

As bigger and bigger industries take over, it's getting trendier to tell people to buy small/local. And for most things, we feel compelled to. We go to mom and pop stores, look for local coffee and tea shops to buy from, seek out hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurants over chains. And that's good. It really is.

But when it comes to creators, many of us see the same thing. "I don't have the money," followed by the same person posting a haul of big-title creations totaling up to a few hundred buckos.

Let me quantify: I am not saying that if a company holds the copyright on something and you want to buy official merch, you should not buy official merch. Always do what you can to give money to the license-holder. There is a difference between buying from indie artists and buying from knockoff sellers. Also, if the license-holder has said up front that they do not approve of fan-made merch, then do not buy fan-made merch. But if they do? And you can't find what you want? Buy fan-made merch.

Here is a piece I did for Crunchyroll in which a major IP holder details what fans are allowed to make and sell.

Fan-created or original work aside, if you are a lover of entertainment, consider setting aside part of your "fun money" for an indie creator when you go out for books and comics and art. All your faves started small, after all. You could be supporting the next big name and helping them get out there.

Is this a rant? It's a rant. Of course it's a rant. Because my friends, myself, and creators I admire from a distance fall into this hole on a regular basis. And when we hit these points where we have difficulties presenting our job as a job and then we're told we shouldn't be doing that anyway, it gets a lot of things. It gets daunting. It gets painful. It gets gross.

Everyone deserves to make a living for what they do. No one deserves to be told it's not worthwhile. If you wouldn't say it to a sandwich maker or a tutor, don't say it to a writer or an artist. Show love, even if you don't have the money, by telling other people. And apply your "buy small" mentality to things beyond produce and IPAs.

You'll make the world a better place in a lot of ways.


Want to see more of my work, get exclusive content, and help me help others pursue their creativity? Become a patron! Gifts include behind-the-scenes looks at my work, monthly fiction you won't find anywhere else, and personal writing consultations. Thanks for your support!