A dream is not a hobby.
Some of you are already nodding your heads; others are, perhaps, confused. Let me explain. Writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, those of us who try the arts hoping to eke out some acclaim and a living, do so because we love it, to be sure. I write books and stories, for instance, because I get genuine enjoyment whenever someone reads and enjoys my stories. I probably get more satisfaction than they do. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t care about financial results.
I routinely get told, by well-intentioned people, that I should be content with “writing for myself” or that I shouldn’t care about financial rewards.
“Why are you writing?” they ask, “Is it for money or because you enjoy writing?”
The answer is, “Yes.”
“Do you want to be good, or do you want to be famous?”
I, in fact, am confused by the question. It’s like asking, “Do you want to have kids or do you want to see them grow up?” Um, why do you think those are two different things? The theory seems to be we artists should be content with being able to create – that the work itself is enough, if we have people who recognize and appreciate our efforts. But that diminishes our dreams of being an artist to a hobby.
I write for two reasons. One, I love to write. Two, I dream of being able to quit my day job so I can write more. Why should I be content with the first reason? Would you, well-meaning friend, be okay with consulting for free, as long as clients tell you that you’ve done an admirable job? And you, dear doctor friend, do you treat patients as a sideline (hobby) while working full-time at another gig that pays the bills? Of course you don’t, and why should you?
See, here’s the secret that your artist friend isn’t telling you: they probably work as hard at their art as you work at your job. Plus, most likely have a “real” job to go along with it. My work days, if you count the days I’m at my career, or writing, or promoting, or editing, or any of other related tasks, are 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year. I “work” probably 10-12 hours per day. The fact that the writer/photographer work is fun doesn’t lessen how hard I work at it.
If you are not an artist, but you have a friend who is, promise me something. Promise that you will never tell him or her that they should be happy just doing the work. And, if you believe that to be true, keep going to work and give them your salary. See if that feels satisfying. The work is its own reward, after all. Right? Your artist friend has a dream to be validated, which in modern society takes two forms: First, people view the work, like it, and tell others they do. Second, there is some tangible, objective measure of its worth.
Now I’m not trying to reduce everything to money. Heck, my own research indicates that the bestselling books aren’t even the ones that are critically acclaimed. However, the way I know that my short stories are good is if people are willing to give something up to read them. A painter knows people appreciate her painting because they pay for it. If they were all free, would they be important? Who knows?
I give away books to people I like. Those who care, read them. But here’s a secret – the more they like me, the more they like the book. So, am I good? Not unless objective people think I am.
I don’t have a dream to be a writer. I have a dream to be paid because people like to read my work. Your artist friend doesn’t have a dream to do a gallery showing, she has a dream to have people come to the gallery, love her art, and buy some of it. Then, perhaps, she can spend the remainder of her life doing what she likes for money.
Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that the dream we all have in common?