I was talking to my artist daughter the other day. She described a thing she was working on and I turned the conversation to its salability. I’ve done this to her before, and it is not good because the salability conversation takes her to an anxiety place. So I caught myself and returned the conversation back to joy-in-project, which was a much happier conversation for both of us. As I thought about the conversation later, (because I always overthink conversations later) I considered how different my daughter’s creative life is from mine. She has a spouse with a day job that pays their family bills. She doesn’t have to make creative decisions with bills in mind. I do.
My entire ability to pay bills is based in the combined creative output of both Howard and I. This has been the status quo of our lives since Howard quit Novell back in 2004. I’ve had nearly twenty years of training that means the minute I see a creative thing, my brain starts considering salability and marketing strategy. The impulse to market is less when I’m at the front end of project money rather than the dwindling tail, but it is still there and it affects everything. It shapes my every day, where I spend my efforts, and what I commit to do. I would like to put out some books via traditional publishers. It would help us diversify our income streams, it would reach new readers, it would be personally satisfying and reassuring. But traditional publishing is a spec project that is very slow and ties up IP that I could turn into money faster using another means. It also uses up time and energy that I could be using on more immediately lucrative tasks. This is a huge reason why I keep de-prioritizing writing my novel or my picture books.
I am constantly looking past the point when funds run out, to think how to make the next batch of funds arrive before I can’t pay bills anymore. It is an ongoing stress and a distraction, yet even while worrying about money, I am aware of how fortunate I am to have resources that let me buffer the highs and lows. Long-established home ownership is a huge buffer even while being a money pit. That buffer got bigger with the huge increase in home values in the past year. Which just highlights to me yet another way my daughter’s life experience is different than mine. In the last year my buffer got cushier, while her possibility of ever owning a home got further out of reach.
I can’t afford to undo twenty years of training in thinking about marketing. I mean that both literally in the financial sense and more figuratively in that the energy to put into that work would be even more energy not going into paying my bills. For years I moved forward, half aware of the constant financial calculation in the back of my brain, but hoping that if I could just bring in enough money, get far enough ahead on the bills, I could buy some space for me to create work that doesn’t have to prove its value with dollars.
Then I had a conversation with Howard. It was one of our regular kitchen meetings where we talk about the work he has in front of him and I have in front of me. In this particular conversation I talked about accounting, giving him a summary of our financial state; enough so that he knows how close we are to needing to run another Kickstarter without tangling him in so much anxiety that his ability to work is crippled for the day. During the conversation I realized that I am monitoring the world situation, the labor shortages, the supply chain issues, and panicking a bit because if we do have a big recession I don’t feel financially prepared for it. I have plenty of resources to manage bills for the next several months, but I don’t have the resources to solve long term problems for a couple of my children who are currently disabled to the point that they can’t support themselves. I am panicked, not because we’re in trouble, but because I am borrowing trouble and trying to defend against every branch in the future possibility tree. It is a huge waste of emotional resources.
So while the world at large is living the consequences of Just In Time manufacturing, I’m trying to learn how to spend my stockpiles of time and effort (and therefore money) on things that are not immediately poised to bring in money. I’m also highly aware that despite the noble-ish sound of letting creative work be what it wants to be regardless of salability, I’m also playing a long game here. Because if I ever do manage to sell something into commercial publishing it will be because of work I did on spec.
The thoughts are still all tangled, and perhaps I’m circling the same realizations I’ve made before and lost track of. (This is one of the hazards of keeping a blog for nearly two decades, delving the archive and realizing that I had a very similar epiphany seven years ago.) Yet this morning I started my day with writing a tweet-sized spooky story and then this blog post before doing any work that is tied more immediately to income. For today I trusted that my future self will figure out the money stuff and let my today self find joy in writing.