When I first started writing for a living, I worked for several local newspapers and small magazines. I wrote mostly feature articles, often history related. It was not uncommon for me to spend 8 hours on an article for which I was paid $25-50. $75 if I was lucky.
At the time, I knew the pay was far too low for the work I was doing, but it was industry standard in our area, and I figured I needed to pay my dues. Besides, I loved my job. Slowly, though, it dawned on me that even the writers who’d been working for those publications for years were being paid either the same rate as me or only slightly higher. I did break into a Denver paper once, with a very in-depth article that turned out to be a two-page spread in their Arts insert. For that, I received a whopping $200.
When my son was born, it wasn’t hard to do the math. My meager income as a freelancer would not cover his day care if I wanted to continue the job. So, I gradually phased out of work I was really good at because it wasn’t financially sustainable.
And nothing has changed since then. The other day, I listened in on a travel writing class. Someone asked the inevitable question, “How much do they pay these days for travel articles?”
“Oh, there’s no pay in travel articles anymore,” the instructor said. “Most of the ones I get published don’t pay at all, or maybe a small sum.”
We live in an information age. We say we want well-researched and well-written information, but we’re not willing to pay for it. We love books, but prefer to get them for free from the library or at a low-cost from an online dealer. It never occurs to us how little the authors of our favorite books actually receive for the massive amount of time they put into writing those books.
I know, this is a tired, old tirade that sounds more like a whine. So, I’m not going to say more about how messed up the system is. What I want to talk about is how we artists see our inner worth. Because whether you decide to write for the love of it and not worry about pay, or you figure out a way to make money off your writing (through not just book sales but other products, courses, or Patreon accounts), what really matters is how you see your inner worth.
After all, I can argue till I’m blue in the face about the value and importance of art, and I can argue until you’re blue in the face about why your art matters most of all, but deep down, we all know these truths. We walk around in two skins, the noble starving artist and the highly valued genius. We vacillate between believing that money is the root of all evil and that money will set us free. Our self-worth is often wrapped up in compliments and awards and good reviews, instead of self-compassion, mistakes well-earned, and the gift of our passion.
Our art is subjective. Some will like it; some will hate it. So, the end product does not belong to us. It belongs to those who experience our art, and they will determine its worth. Our drive and desire to produce our work, though, is personal. Only we can decide whether the time, energy, and avidity that goes into making our pieces has value. Only we can decide if the growth and pleasure we experience while creating art contributes to our inner worth.
So first and foremost, do the work for yourself. Do it because you value yourself as a creative individual. Do it because you value art. As a friend of mine says, just the act of creating raises the vibration. It raises your vibration, gifting you with more energy, joy, and purpose which you carry into other areas of your life, and that raises the vibration of everyone you encounter. And it frankly just makes you a better person inside and out.
I’m not suggesting we stop having conversations about what art is worth in the marketplace. I’ll stay up all night discussing that if you want to. I’m just asking you to never forget that, as an artist, your inner worth is as important as your outer worth. If you value your art first, the rest will follow.
Teresa R. Funke
If you like this post, please share and credit Teresa and Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life blog