One of the traps and tragedies of creativity is the narrative of making money doing the thing you love. The quickest way to suck the fun out of something is to ask some version of:
- How will you make money from this? (See Dave Bennett’s blog post, and Molly Conway’s article.) 🙁
- Who’s the audience? 😖
- What is the purpose of this? 🤬
Most of the time, the best answers emerge organically; otherwise the process becomes contrived. If you knew the answers all from the beginning, there’d be no point in doing the damn thing.
There is no magic question or magic strategy, aside from time, consistency, and presence. In This is Not a T-Shirt (p. 95), Bobby Kim (a.k.a., Bobby Hundreds) writes about what makes his brand special:
“I had the luxury of crafting my brand identity for years before I met my audience. I attribute much of our longevity to the blogging spirit and this fundamental mantra: DIY and DIFY. Do it for yourself.”
If we wanted to cover the logic of it, there are plenty of practical elements to doing it for yourself. Paul Graham would consider some of these activities the soil for organic startup ideas to grow in. This is how my friend Corey built a business that made him $2,000 MR in just 30 days. Tom Critchlow writes about what he calls small b blogging.
But that would also defeat the purpose. The point is to forget about practicality and external factors, to really let go and be mindful of what’s going on inside. I’m particularly sensitive to this. After all, I make most of my money doing marketing, so I know the value of focusing on the audience.
At some point, you will realize: there’s no need to make your passion make money or fame. Commerce and creativity are not intertwined, and you’re not more creatively “successful” for it. At best, the main benefit of making money from doing the thing you love is, ideally, that you get to do more of that thing you want to do. But sometimes, going full-time at something has an ironic effect; you actually end up with less time to do it.
I’ll give you an example: a full-time author could easily spend 110% of their week on self-promotion, politicking, and building their audience. I speak from experience, but there’s plenty of others out there. That’s not to consider the usual challenges—bookkeeping, financing, project managing, etc. If their audience is the main thing that keeps the new publishing deals coming in, then they’d be prudent to spend more time and energy doing that. The only problem is, it takes away from time to write. No wonder creative blocks happen.
Doing it for yourself isn’t a guarantee that you’ll make something that you’re proud of, but it’s a good start. It’s why every Kanye album sounds different, even though he’d probably be a more popular artist if everything sounded like Graduation.
In a world where it’s much easier to delegate and hire a ghostwriter, to self-promote and make yourself matter to everyone else, you’ll be better off going back to basics:
Do it yourself. And do it for yourself.
Maybe you don’t even show it to anyone else.
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