Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Debunking the creative life

  • SpookyMrsGreen

    I am one of those creative pagans who doesn’t get paid! At the moment I am seeking paid work and spending a lot of time and energy on my healing work, writing projects and trying to devise new ideas to make money. Oh, and being Mother and Housewife, another unpaid role.

  • Aspasía S. Bissas

    As soon as you tell anyone you’re a writer/artist/musician/anything creative, their response is inevitably “Oh, that must be so fun!”

    I appreciate the enthusiasm, but no; it’s work. Painful, underpaid work. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive partner but this is not an ideal way to live.

  • Tim Waddington

    This post resonated with me. I earn my keep delivering veggy boxes for an organic market garden, and play mandolin and sing as often as I can get a gig for one of the two bands I play in. I often say that the driving is the job I do, but my work (i.e. what I do that has meaning in the world) is music (
    I also compose and arrange). When I tell others about it, they often tell me how lucky I am both to have a job that is ecologically sound and work that is creative. The reality is of course that the hard graft of earning a living is badly paid and often leaves me so exhausted that I can do little more than practice for half an hour, prepare a meal and go to bed in the evening. Add to that the fact that I have rheumatoid arthritis that makes both my job and my work painful and you have a splendid recipe for feeling sorry for ones self (and I often do). Nevertheless, there are other ways of looking at things – there are plenty of people who have to do a dead-end job like mine without either the knowledge that it is “worthwhile” (organic) or the ability and opportunity to do something more “meaningful” (music). I also remember one gig where we were playing music to accompany an exhibition of paintings by mentally disabled artists – unloading my equipment with aching wrists and ankles, I felt pretty resentful and angry about my situation, until the sight of the wheelchair-bound artists put my woes into perspective. Later that evening, with people dancing between the canvases to our music, I realized how lucky I can see myself as. Of course it’s hard work, of course it’s tough, but it’s worth it, and sometimes downright beautiful.

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