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Around this time of year, a lot of people complain about the over-commercialization of the holidays. While I really do enjoy wrapping and unwrapping gifts, I agree that it has gotten way out of control. But what I don’t hear about is the over-commercialization of hobbies and passions, usually via the rising gig economy.
The problem with this is that it seems like anything and everything can (and should) be turned into money. It may not be a substantial or steady source of income, but it does dangle the tempting carrot-myth of “making a living doing what you love” in front of discouraged and disillusioned creatives such as myself. It also turns the word “opportunity” into a guilt-trip. If you’re doing something you love for free, you’re missing an opportunity to make money from it. I mean, if you’re doing it anyway, you might as well try to get paid for doing it, right? Passing up the chance to market yourself is considered just plain stupid. This is the capitalization of passion.
That isn’t to say that people haven’t succeeded or had a fantastic go of making it via the gig economy doing what they love. There are people who have worked their asses off to make it and I’m really happy that it worked out for them. It’s just that the entire game feels unbalanced. We hear about people making a living doing what they love because it’s rare. There’s so much out there, especially in the arts, that it’s hard to stand out to enough people to make the income worth the expenditure of energy and effort. And I wonder how many people started out just doing something because they loved it but got so stressed out trying to market it that they abandoned the endeavor or saw it warp into something unrecognizable.
I miss the days when not completing a story wasn’t a big deal. I could drop it and move on to something else with little to no sense of guilt. My identity or sense of worth wasn’t tied to being a successful writer. (And by “successful” I mean “traditionally published.”) Now if I don’t finish something or a project isn’t going well or takes longer than hoped, I feel like a failure. Even when I try to put the end process of publication aside, it still gnaws at the back of my psyche, poisoning the well that I draw my creativity and motivation from. And it shouldn’t be that way. I do (or did) love writing and I feel like it’s slowly rotting away, helped along by my own neurotic tendencies and self-doubt.
As the years creep by, the worry continues to mount. I worry about trying to sell stories, how daunting the process is, how I can’t sell anything if I don’t finish it, and how can I keep calling myself a writer when I don’t seem to write much or regularly except for blogs? By our current economic and societal standards, your success and self-worth is tied to how much money you make. That is hard to fight when it’s the only measurement that society as a whole accepts as valid, and you’ve been beaten by that measuring stick your entire adult life. I would like to make a living writing… but maybe that wouldn’t be good for me after all. Not if I’m already this torn about it while getting no income (and therefore theoretically no pressure) from it at all. The entire set-up makes me feel worthless, like everything I have written is worthless. Unless I somehow manage to sell it. How can one stay passionate or invested with an outlook like that?
Sometimes I think about Patreon, but I don’t feel like writing lends itself well to the Patreon model. With an artist or a podcaster or a visual novelist, the rewards are far more tangible. You can get a special piece of art or an extra podcast episode if you pay money, or you get early access to a comic or demo before anyone else. But what could I offer in writing? A poem? A commission? Early access to… what, exactly? With a popular or established author, it might be cool to see the behind the scenes or works in progress. But why would anyone pay to see a newbie’s work? It’s not like anyone pays attention to my current scribblings, which are offered for free.
I’m no economist, so I know that the factors involved are myriad and complicated. The advent of the internet has changed a lot of things and the breakneck pace of technological refinements and development leave all of us scrabbling to keep up, using models from the previous decade (or even the previous century) as we try to navigate what is happening Now. And by the time we catch up, our skills and assumptions will be obsolete again. Creatives have always existed in a precarious space, but it only seems to be getting worse for us. At a time when there is more art and more access to art than ever before, I feel like we’re all slowly sinking, desperately holding our work above our heads to keep it out of the flood.