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How To Diversify Your Art Income And Be Happy


If there is one lesson I've learned since we gave up our full-time jobs for a creative career, it's that you just can't put all those eggs in one basket.

Great advice at the best of times, and heaven knows we're not living in the best of times. In fact, I noticed everyone is now posting pictures of themselves when they were young on social media.. Really... it that going to be a thing now. If someone can convince me that by my digging through that shoebox of old photos, to locate the one of my long hair, with the powder blue leisure suit and sparkly platform shoes, and further that sharing that image will somehow ease the pain and suffering of a world ravaged by pandemic, I will. Otherwise, that abomination stays in the box.

But I digress. What is crystal clear is that there is no really safe bet when making it as a creative. You're not going to paint the portrait that will support you in old age, or write the novel that will rival Harry Potter's success. I truly hope some of you have that meteoric fame that will prompt statues of your likeness in the park. But for most of us, that just ain't gonna happen.

But not being a superstar does not mean you can't be a success. I remember when J. Patrick Lewis, past Children's Poet Laureate came to speak at our school in Russia. A kid asked him what brought him inspiration as a poet. Without missing a beat, he said; "I don't believe in inspiration. Poetry is a hard, repetitive, process that you work on, and work on, until you get it right." I remember watching the faces of the teachers in the room, shocked at the notion that poets don't sit around with feather quills sipping absinthe and speaking to the Muses. Art, for the vast majority of us, is just hard work, that pays infrequently and requires us to innovate constantly. That's not a bad thing, but it does require a different strategy to thrive.

It's like the old iceberg analogy. We've all seen those overnight success stories when a singer or a writer, or any creative type seems to appear from nowhere,with a new style that takes the world by surprise. What genius! Of course, that artist didn't succeed overnight. We just hadn't seen them when they suffered to learn their craft, wait tables to pay the rent, or eat Ramen every night. They worked hard, failed often, were misunderstood, and made tiny steps that made their work better and better.

So in order for us to slog our way toward overnight success, we need to be realistic and strategic in how we make ends meet. That means we need to develop some diversity in our income streams.

What does that look like for a creative? I'm afraid that may vary a lot from individual to individual. Much depends on where we are in our own lives. I know that when I was young, I could sleep pretty much anywhere, and eat pretty much anything. Now I wear a Bi-Pap mask for my sleep apnea, have to watch what I eat for diabetes and obesity, oh and I have arthritis and restless leg syndrome. I have to maintain a level of insurance for my ills, and my day to day expenses are remarkably and consistently high. If I were hot, and twenty, life would look very different. God I hope it would!

Obviously we need to create paths to income. A percentage of that might be direct sales, or gigs. We might need to feather into that some grant writing and/or scholarships. We certainly need to include a certain amount of online income, particularly anything that is passive or residual. We need to back up that online presence with some way to promote our "brand" in print, guest appearances on blog/vlogs, teaching, or coaching. We may need merchandizing, by creating products reproducing our art. And we may need to sell our work in different sizes and quality reproductions to meet the needs of a variety of budgets.

But for many of us, that whole financial planning world is a foreign shore. Can't we just spend our days writing poems, singing songs, painting pictures or designing games? No, we can't. No, we shouldn't even want to. Break through those innocent notions we had as kids. A creative career is hard, steady, tedious, work that is filled with error, mistake and uncertainty. It's also hugely rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling, and either way, we don't have a choice. It's not like we're going to stop creating. So let's give adequate time to making real decisions on how to make this career we've chosen, support our lives, as well as our souls.


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