When Og put the first cave painting on the wall, his father smacked him upside the head and said something akin to “but how will you make a living?” And that is the question we have all wrangled with since, without making any real progress.
The truth is that art is not valued for what it is (see my last post on is it or isn’t it a Pollock?). The arts are in large part what makes us human, and yet we often treat them like an unnecessary luxury—cell phones and pedicures come higher on the list of life’s necessities.
A NEW SERIES OF POSTS: Making a Living
So this will be the first in a series in which I explore how people who devote the majority of their time to art manage to pay the bills. And I’ll start with myself. I am a writer.
I am, by most accounts, one of those eclectic types of people who finds anything artistic worth doing—writing, painting, music, filmmaking, photograph. Not uncommon, since we usually have to find multiple ways to express ourselves—and I don’t do them all well. My strongest suit is writing and I chose that one from which to draw my income. (How do you like that grammar?)
There are three ways I know of to sustain yourself as a writer (unless you can find someone else to do it for you—which we aren’t addressing here)
Plan B: Take a mainstream day job and write at night; or,
Plan C: Become a freelance writer and work your brilliant nonpaying projects into a regular schedule of paying work.
I have tried all three and succeeded at two of them. (Unfortunately, neither was Plan A.) So let’s talk about the other two options open to most of us.
Plan B: Mainstream Job
What’s good about it:
- It provides a steady paycheck
- You’ll meet people to write about
- You’ll learn about a business you can write about
- You can get a mortgage, car loan, and a credit card at Home Depot
- Plus two weeks paid vacation every year!
- Most pay for medical insurance (this is a big one!)
What sucks about it:
- Your job takes all your attention
- You never really get much time to write when you get home
- You may not like your colleagues
- Your company owns your time (often including your free time)
Plan C: Freelance Writing
What’s good about it:
- You work on your own schedule
- You have free time to write what you want to
- You can often make good money
- No commute!
- You can deduct work-related expenses on your taxes
- At least you’re writing
- You’re continuing to develop your writing skills
What sucks about it:
- You’re writing for somebody else
- You’re always looking for more work
- Unstable income
- You have to run a business
- It still won’t get you published or produced!
- You MUST pay for your own medical insurance
FIND YOUR PAYING NICHE
No matter which route you choose (or which chooses you), you can count on frequent, intense burnout, and a lot of time spent on things you didn’t think you would have to do. This is life, and for people who are creative, at least we have a haven in our minds to go to.
I’ve been both staff (at upper management, Director-level jobs) and freelance over the past 20 years. For me, the benefits of freelancing have generally outweighed those of a staff job, although in this tight economy, it’s tough for everyone. Either way, you have to develop a strong set of niche skills. My two niches are the arts and medicine.
When I do medical writing, I hear contract, payment schedule and flat project fee. I like that, and Og’s dad approves. These words mean several thousand dollars a month doing something I’ve come to be very good at. And I can take it with me no matter where I travel. Last summer I managed an art gallery in Lake George, NY, one of the truly spectacular places this country has to offer. And while I did okay selling paintings, I made a lot more money doing my steady medical writing projects from the back office when the gallery was quiet. In the evenings, I worked on my novel, and had dinner lakeside with friends. Not a bad life.
My sister and I are both medical writers and it has treated us well. We have both owned property and drive (relatively) new cars. We have traveled quite a bit for business, and usually stay at 4-star resorts and hotels (because that’s where medical meetings are held).
This year, we realized that between the two of us we know so much about medical writing—journal articles, newsletters, website content, continuing medical education programs, physician slide kits, patient education brochures, and audio and video scripts—that we could write an e-book. And so we did.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
If you are a competent writer and want to make your living from writing, medical writing is a direction well worth considering. Our book will tell you what you need to know to decide, plus, how to get work, AND, how to do it when you get it.
You can visit the site of my coauthor, Nancy Monson, who also wrote Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Pasttimes.
And now, I can get back to that novel, which I hope to share with you soon.
A FINAL NOTE ON PLAN A:
…By the way, Plan A isn’t so easy either. J.K. Rowling was on welfare while she wrote the first Harry Potter book, which was rejected by twelve publishers before she found one who accepted it.
And Shane Black―who wrote Lethal Weapon at 22 and sold it for the most any script had received by that time―I met him a few times at film festivals and he doesn’t have much good to say about the industry that’s made him so much money.
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