To paraphrase Jane Austen, in a capitalist society, it is a truth not so universally acknowledged that a creative person without a good fortune is always balancing practicing their art with making money.
There’s the cliché of an actor waiting tables. Or, in Michael R. Jackson’s case, a burgeoning playwright who worked as an usher.
And there are people like me working so-called middle-class jobs while dreaming of publishing novels, having galleries show our work, or seeing our screenplays turned into movies and shows.
We do something someone is willing to give us money to do that lets us take some vacations while paying off our student loans, but it’s not our passion. It’s not what revs the engines inside us.
That doesn’t mean we’re not good at what we do for money. It doesn’t even mean we don’t enjoy our jobs. At least part of them. Sometimes.
But we’re a little like Beanie Feldstein in “Funny Girl.” Miscast. Who knows why?
Maybe we discovered our art late. Maybe we don’t come from money. Some of us followed our parents’ dreams for us instead of our own. And others of us aren’t willing to live off canned tuna while sharing a shoebox with three roommates.
So how do we balance earning money with being creative?
Martin Falck’s Artistic Balancing Act
I love how Martin Falck, a creative director/screenwriter/graphic designer who I definitely had not heard of until now, describes how he does it:
“I take on every project and try to look at it as if there is one thing in it that I can teach myself, and I try to stay very true to that. I try to really explore something and learn something in every project.”
We’ve gotta pay the bills. We’ve gotta eat. This means we gotta do something someone is willing to give us money to do, at least until the revolution.
But that doesn’t mean we must despise or down-vote our for-pay work. Instead, we can identify something we’ll learn from doing a job that interests us. Maybe even something that can aid our artistic pursuits.
For example, I know SEO (search engine optimization) really well because I’ve had to learn it for my career. You don’t need to know SEO to write a novel. But knowing SEO can help get eyes on your book when it publishes.
And Falck has something for self-employed freelancers like me.
After saying he tries to “learn something in every project,” Falck adds, “That’s the most honest way to treat my clients because it keeps me very connected to the project, and it gives me something of my own, which I can explore, which is mine.”
This is a great phrase: “the most honest way to treat my clients.” It acknowledges a guilt I’ve felt since I started full-time freelancing three years ago while also giving a constructive avenue for that guilt.
My guilt is that I’m not obsessed with the work I do for clients (freelance writing, content strategy, newsletters, etc.). I want to do a bang-up job for them. And if I take a client’s money, I feel as if I should be obsessed with what I’m doing for them.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself passionate about writing sales collateral. So, instead, I beat myself up. I call myself a fraud and question why anyone should hire me because I’m not binging all things communications and content marketing.
But Martin Falck says we don’t have to pretend we’re obsessed with everything we do for our clients. We can be true to ourselves and our clients by focusing on something we can learn and explore in every project.
What a relief.