How I fund my creative life

This post was partly inspired by this piece from Torre DeRoche, partly by readers saying to me, ‘You don’t seem to be writing as much anymore,’ and partly by a couple of people who thought my life looked very different to what it actually does!

If I wanted to get binary, and sometimes it serves me to do so, I’d say there are two types of creatives in this world:

  1. Those who make a living wage from their art (writing, painting, acting, jewellery making … whatever) and thus get to pursue it full-time.
  2. Those who don’t.

Like most creatives, I fall squarely in the second category.

While it’d be nice for the writing I do on my blog and in my books to pay me a full-time income, the truth is, it doesn’t even pay me a part-time income.

Which leaves two choices:

  1. Exist on the poverty line so I can be creative all the time.
  2. Work another job that pays my bills, and hope that job leaves enough mental space and physical time for creative pursuits.

I, and most creative folk, choose option 2.

While the stress of living on the poverty line can be a great source of creative drive for some people, I’m not one of those people. (And I don’t actually know too many people who are!)

So, how do I fund my creative life?

Mainly, I work in the design business I founded 11 years ago. My husband, Anthony, runs the show at Swish Design these days, but I still work there three days a week doing content marketing, financial control, product development, a little bit of client work and providing managerial support to Ant. We have two businesses and between them, they provide the bulk of our income.

In addition to working in the business I also:

  • Write books for other people.
  • Edit other people’s books.
  • Coach non-fiction authors.
  • Speak at events.
  • Write articles for online publications.

If you’re thinking the above would eat up all the ‘work hours’ I have during the week and leave no time for book and blog writing, you’d be right. I get up at 4.15am every morning, in theory to do my own writing. But paid work generally always trumps ‘work that is unpaid right now but might pay off someday’. So, I often spend my precious morning hours doing stuff for clients.

I tell you this, not to complain. More just to convey what is reality for most creatives.

It’s so easy to look at people’s Instagram feeds, or see their books at the airport and think, ‘They’ve made it,’ or, ‘They’ve got ‘the’ life – the one I want.’

The truth is so much more mundane.

Sitting alongside the ‘need to pay for life’ is life itself. Even if professional life is humming along nicely, other areas of life might be less ideal.

  • Liz Gilbert is currently dealing with the illness of her partner.
  • Stephen King fought addiction for years.

What’s the point I’m trying to make here?

I guess there are two.

One, no matter how lovely a fellow creative’s life looks on social media; no matter how much it looks like they’re living ‘the’ life, it’s unlikely they’ve got it all going on. Because no one’s got it ‘all’ going on.

Two, if you want your favourite creatives to keep creating – you might need to get behind them. While moral support is always nice, actually buying the stuff they create, (if you have the means), means they can spend less time working a job, and more time creating the stuff you love to consume.

How to support your favourite creatives

If you have disposable income:

  • Buy their work.
  • Go to their events.
  • Sign up for their courses.
  • Become a patron.

If you don’t have disposable income:

  • Like their posts on Facebook and Instagram (this means Facebook and Instagram will show those posts to more people).
  • Share their posts on social media.
  • Sign up for their newsletter.
  • Open their emails, (you don’t even have to read them, but if you open them it helps with their deliverability and list health).
  • Subscribe to their podcast.
  • Leave reviews on iTunes and Amazon.
  • Send them an email telling them what you like about their work.

As I mentioned earlier, while it’s easy to look at Instagram and think people are living ‘the life’, most are just getting by as best they can. If you’ve noticed a favourite creative has stopped creating, or slowed down significantly, it’s most likely because they’re having to work longer hours in their paid job … or they’ve got some personal stuff going down.

Never assume ever assume people are flying and don’t need your support. The truth is almost always the opposite.

Meanwhile … if you like the stuff I write here on the blog and you’re wondering what you can do to get me creating more, this page offers some specific ideas 😊

Comments 20

  1. Thank you, on behalf of all creatives, for writing this, Kelly!

    And thank you for the mention too. I’m so fortunate that I happen to love teaching as much as I do painting, as they are both creative activities, but I couldn’t exist doing one without the other. It’s all part of that “amplified life” that is the creative one!

    Thank you forever and always for everything you create. Xxx

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  2. Awesome post Kelly thank you. Sometimes I beat myself up because I haven’t ‘made it yet’. My online work only pays me a small amount and I still teach on the side to cover the bills. Thank you for showing the reality we don’t often see.

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      And it’s the reality for the vast vast majority – even those we think are ‘successful’ or have ‘made it’. It not a bad reality – I mean, we still get to do our ‘thing’. It’s just not the reality many think

  3. Kelly – I reckon you must be the most productive person I have ever come across! I have long been in awe of what you manage to achieve. Personally I’ve pulled way back from my (very) little patch of creating (blogging, yoga writing, meditation videos etc) to concentrate on writing in the background (that hopefully becomes a book), my paid job, my yoga teaching ‘hobby job’ and family (including organising our recent big holiday). I feel bad that I haven’t also been engaging online and supporting you and others, as I get something out of everything that I read of yours. Thank you.

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      Aw Kathy don’t feel bad! I love hearing that you’ve taken a look at everything you have going on and you’ve prioritised what’s most important rather than trying to do ‘all the things’!

  4. I love this post 🙂 The reality of writing is very different from what my childhood self expected (cottage on a Welsh hillside, fountain pen, soft rain). I had no idea the minute proportion of novelists who actually make a full-time income from their books.

    At the same time, though, I’ve often thought that if I didn’t have this other work to do (a lot of which is just other kinds of writing, but not all) I’d probably become super unproductive. Having a “day job” at least keeps my brain active and motivation levels up!

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      Haha I know right? Where’s my shack in the woods!

      And I totally agree with you – the limits having to work places on our time forces us to get shit done. And also – no one can write all day, every day

  5. I love reading your emails, loved your recent book and always find what you saying interesting and helpful.
    It’s actually great to know the truth about all the hard work involved
    Sarah x

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      Thanks so much Sarah – that means so much! And yep, I used to think there were people out there living ‘the life’. But the more I get to know ‘successful people’, the more I realise no one has ‘the life’!

  6. Great post Kelly!
    I definitely understand. I took on extra administration role this year at the feeding clinic. I miss just waltzing in to do my creative outlet ~ “eating and exploring food with kids and writing about it” ~ and going home to my kids and blog. However, the extra hours doing the less exciting clinic admin means the creative outlet gets to continue to exist. (And my book sits relatively idle at about 15000 wds).
    Thanks for sharing and inspiring so many of us!

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      Pleasure Simone! It’s a balance. I find being worried about money saps all my creativity. But then – so does working too hard for money! It’s a balance! One we’re all lucky to be able to walk the line of I think 🙂

  7. Such an insightful post Kelly. I, like Kathy has already expressed, am always in complete awe of all you achieve.

    After hanging around the blogosphere the last few years I’ve come to admire many creatives and have such respect for the time they give generously creating content that inspires and makes me think and feel, with very little (or no) monetary gain to support their on line presence. I appreciate their sharing immensely.

    I’m aware behind the creativity is much toil and sacrifice. And even though that’s not usually blatantly obvious it’s inadvertently obvious in the intention of quality creativity shared.

    Love your work Kel 😉 (But you already know that). Xx

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  8. I too dislike the poverty line so chip away at creative writing once the paid writing is done. Luckily I love my day job so it’s not a tough juggle ☺️

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  9. Such an insightful look into this topic Kelly. I find people think blogs will make them a ton of money, but it seems to do that you need to sell your soul to make that happen. How I struggle with the ideas of sponsored posts when I myself am trying to live a more intentional and slow life. Affiliate links are also a fine line.

    I struggle with the idea of monetising and since both of my passions are creative (writing and photography) I am constantly trying to think outside the box as to how I can make an income from it. But the reality is, it isn’t easy.

    It seems people want to consume content for free, but are not willing to pay for it. or put up with sponsored content or affiliate links that could support it. Tough situation.

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      I think that’s definitely the problem. We’ve all given (and been given) quality content for free for so long now, we just can’t get our heads around paying for it. I do pay to support my favourite writers, however. And hope people who like what I do and want more will find a form of support that works for them

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