Thursday, February 20, 2014
On Doing What You Love (For Free)
I'm a writer and I perform comedy. Most of that is free. Well, actually, at the moment ALL OF IT is for free, but while I was in Boston, I mostly got paid to perform. But writing was just for the fun of it. It's very hard to turn a creative passion into a paying career, there isn't a whole lot of monetary gain from doing things you love. And that sucks.
That being said, I think it's totally worth it.
There's a quote that gets thrown around a lot that says, "If you're good at something, don't do it for free." Sure. That makes sense. If you're a really good lawyer, you probably don't spend hours working on somebody's case for free. If you're a great surgeon, you're not cutting people open for free. That sounds very dangerous, actually. But I think there's something to say about busting your ass and doing something not only for exposure, but to get better.
When I started performing, I never got paid. I formed an improv group, I did House Teams and I never got paid and I didn't care because every opportunity to perform was an opportunity to grow and it worked! I got so much better by doing all those free shows. I got so much better by getting my ass out there and failing all the time. So much better that I eventually started getting paid for what I did and eventually was able to live off it for a little while. It felt pretty awesome.
With writing, let's face it. There are barely any paid creative writing jobs anymore. They exist, but the pool of people going after them is a HUGE POOL. How are you go get ahead? How are you to establish yourself among all those people? You write for free. I have blogged here for years now and if you look at my first few years of posts, they're awful. Posts are still awful! But at the very least, I've got much better. I honed in on my voice. My writing grew with me, and I wouldn't be able to say that if I didn't do it for free every single day. I write posts and submit them to non-paying websites like Thought Catalog and Hello Giggles and xoJane and I get nothing in return but more experience and opportunities to reach a different/bigger audience. Someday, I'd like to receive a paycheck for my creative writing projects. I'd like to write books, novels, memoirs, television shows, movies, etc. I work on those things every day (for free.) But I honestly believe any writing at all is better than no writing. Writing and publishing this blog posts is at least a little better than just sitting on my couch watching "Boy Meets World" and wishing I was a writer.
I do agree that if you do something well and are able to make a career out of it, then you shouldn't do it for free (except for some circumstances.) I know lawyers and people in the marketing industry that take on pro bono work and I think that it's okay for writers and performers to do that as well. But if someone is asking you to do a lot of work for them with no compensation, it's ludicrous. I was asked to do a workshop for free once and I had to turn it down because that was my career, it was how I made my money - if I didn't value myself as a teacher and director, then nobody would. Everybody would be getting free workshops and then where would I be? Homeless.
It's going to take a lot of time and hard work to get paid for your passion, but that shouldn't stop you from doing it. Write your heart out. Perform every show you have the opportunity to perform in. Play music in seedy bars where nobody is paying attention (at the very least, you can drink after and learn what it's like to play for terrible crowds.) Do stand-up at weird open mics. Take every nonpaying opportunity to get better in your free time, because some day it's going to make you better at your craft and you'll be able to turn your passion into a prosperous activity or career. (And then, never do it for free again. Never!)