Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sex and cash

Years ago I met a fantasy/science fiction writer who had recently published a Star Trek novel. I watched Star Trek: Next Generation faithfully, and I'd met my share of hardcore Trekkies, so my first assumption was that he must be a big fan.

No, he said, not particularly.

At the beginning of his career, the writer explained, he decided that he would support himself by writing books. No day jobs for him. Just books. The money he earned from Star Trek novels and the like allowed him to write the stories he really wanted to write.

I was incredibly impressed that he'd been able to pull this off. Making a living as a novelist is well-nigh impossible.

Still, I wondered if I would make the same decision in his shoes.

* * *

A month or so ago, I read a short book that came highly recommended by Derek Sivers, the original founder of CD Baby. The book, Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod, contained unconventional advice to those of us who pursue creative endeavors.

I found most of his tips insightful, but one of my favorites was "keep your day job."
The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.
MacLeod calls this his "sex and cash" theory: one way or another, you'll always have to balance your need to support yourself (cash) with your desire to do the creative stuff you like (sex).

Reading this made me feel better about myself and my life.

Because eventually I did find myself in my writer friend's shoes. I started writing songs, bought a keyboard, joined a band ... and kept my day job. Why kill myself trying to find work as a lounge pianist, or as a member of a cover band, playing songs I didn't care for, when I already had a way to support myself?

In the end, keeping the day job didn't mean I was selling out somehow. It meant the opposite. It meant I could focus on the music I wanted to make rather than singing the equivalent of Star Trek novels.

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