T. Kearny Vertner, III
Stop Monetizing Joy!
Too many of us try to convert our hobbies to a side-hustle, and it's destroying our creativity.
It seems like every few days I'm asked, "So what are you doing to get your blog to make money?" It does personally cost me in hosting fees, domain name registrations, and if I think an idea is worth spreading, a bit of advertising. While I'm exploring a few options with advertisements and occasionally posting an Amazon Affiliate link, I don't expect to see much more than an offset to my modest expenses. So why do it? Here are my two goals:
I enjoy writing, and I want to get better.
I like sharing ideas, and I want to hear feedback.
Neither one of those is "get rich from blogging." This brings me joy in the same way that drawing in my sketchbook did when I was in high school. It is not a job or a chore. I have no explicit deadlines, though I do keep a private publishing schedule for the sake of developing my discipline. Nobody controls what I post, I can't get fired, and the quality is entirely up to me.
No doubt, my writing isn't always the greatest, and sometimes I ineffectively convey my ideas. That's okay. In pursuing any creative endeavor, it's healthy to produce without fear of failure. We learn to make great art by making good art. Before we can make good art, we have to be willing to make bad art.
How often, as a child, were you corrected, scolded, or shamed for the way you danced or sang? At one point did you decide that you shouldn't paint, draw, or sculpt? Why have you given up on your dream of writing a novel?
Did you think you weren't good enough... or that it wouldn't sell?
When did we buy into the idea that creative exploits always have to turn a profit? My wife is an avid collector of crafting hobbies. She joyfully swings from knitting, crocheting, watercolor, sewing, basket weaving, cooking, woodworking, and gardening with a delightful and irrepressible zeal. Her ardent excitement when she's learning about any new hobby is infectious, and I (almost) don't mind the constant addition of bizarre new tools to our home. Despite this, it seems that nearly every time a well-meaning friend or family member hears her excitedly describing her latest exploratory passion, they will immediately ask, "have you thought of selling it?" Of course, the follow-on thoughts always turn to:
"Well, my work isn't yet good enough to sell."
"My work isn't good enough."
"My work will never be good enough."
"I'm not good enough."
"I will never be good enough."
... and that's how a nascent hobby dies. Instead of fearlessly engaging and growing with a newfound passion, we're instead busy figuring out the shortcut to being good enough to monetize it. Invariably we will hit a roadblock when we realize that it's just not fun grinding out projects for the sake of building a skill into a trade. Life is not like a video game, where you know that crafting a certain number of potions will predictably level your character up. Some people could paint one thousand landscapes and still not be able to market and sell a single piece. Some will paint a single landscape that immediately sells for thousands. Talent can be fickle. What's important is that both of those painters are earning a great deal of wealth, but it's not monetary.
Having hobbies is well-known to support mental health. They allow us creative outlets to express our emotions, focus our minds, and keep our hands busy. With a global pandemic forcing many to spend more time at home, the value of pursuing hobbies has never been more apparent. Your hobbies matter and not because of the money they can make! While engaging in a creative endeavor is incredibly essential when you're feeling good, it can make the difference between life and death when you're feeling down.
In 2012, Neil Gaiman gave a stunningly brilliant commencement speech to Philadelphia's University of the Arts. While it's twenty minutes of wonderful advice on both life and survival in a creative field, his primary request is that no matter what the circumstances, make good art.
"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do."
"Make good art."
"I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art."
I'll leave you with this advice: if you have ever wanted to try something creative, do it. Don't wait until you're good enough. Please don't wait until you think you can sell it. Don't let anybody tell you that it's a waste of your time. The most you'll lose is that you'll be a few episodes behind on the latest Netflix fad and a couple of dollars in tools and materials. Moreover, if anyone ever tells you that they are trying something new and creative, do not ask them when or how they are going to make money from it. Also, do yourself a favor and watch Mr. Gaiman's speech. It's powerful stuff.