Saturday, 7 May 2022

The (next) best things in life are free, by Dawn McLachlan

Making a living as a creator comes at a cost, and that cost is our unfortunate need to apply a price to our art. Incomes for those in the creative sector have never been lower. Over the last few years we have all faced falling incomes and most of us have had to expand our creativity in an ever widening portfolio of work. To keep our heads above water most of us are exploring new paid opportunities. Every day I see friends announce new businesses or new potential income streams. Personally, I spent the Pandemic years cooking and creating a small food business as well as taking on some ghost writing, speech writing, and anything I could to keep the wolf from the door.

Recently I realised that I had fallen into a trap of inspecting everything I do for income potential. This act of attempting to monetise everything I do had a very sad knock-on effect. I found that I was no longer enjoying those elements of my life that were previously my escape route from stress. In short, everything became my business and there were no days off. Every time I took something else on I was asking myself "can I make any money from this?"

I knew that I had to redress this and so I took a step back and a good long look at the things I used to do purely for enjoyment. I had to remove the financial value from some elements of my life and put back the less quantifiable value - the wellbeing factor. I made a decision to stop looking at the surplus from my allotment as a source of extra fruit for my little preserves business. I also decided to not look at my paintings as a potential source of income and instead just enjoy the time I spend with them - and it gives me yet another excuse to nip to the beach regularly.

I haven't suddenly come into money, in fact quite the opposite. With rising material costs for ingredients and packaging it looks like my food business will not survive much longer. The contracts I had for my non-fiction books for children have not returned after the Pandemic, and as most of those publishers are now using in-house staff to write books it looks as if that work is gone forever. I'm much worse off financially than before the Pandemic and, like everyone else, I need to pay the bills - but I also need to take care of my own mental health. I am no good to anyone if I can't take better care of my mental health - none of us are. I found that I was unable to create (or seek new contracts) because I had spread myself too thinly and was exhausted trying to hold onto everything. My creativity was actually being damaged by my attempts to cash-in on everything. My writing suffered, and dwindled.

Self-employed creatives are often neglectful of our need for time for simple pleasures. I'm taking back my painting time, and my allotment. I've already found that both of these things are instantly more enjoyable. Who cares if my paintings are messy or amateurish? Who cares if my strawberries and lettuces are wonky? Now I'm pottering around my allotment getting my onions in the ground and instead of thinking about how much each jar of relish might earn me, I'm writing a poem in my head. It is priceless having a little time back just to allow some thinking space back in.

Mind you... maybe I can save some money on presents or bartering throughout the year...?

Jam anyone?

Dawn McLachlan (aka Dawn Finch) is mostly muddy, spattered with molten fruit, and smudged with pthalocyanine blue.

She is also the current chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group at the Society of Authors.


Stroppy Author said...

Absolutely! I know just what you mean. I have decided to reclaim weekends and cut my hours to 30 a week. It's too exhausting. The money goes down for the same amount of work so we have struggle to do more and more work to stop our income dropping too far. And there comes a point where actually quality of life will improve with lower income because we might stay sane.
BTW - can I buy that picture? I love it! You know my email address xx

Rowena House said...

So glad you've refound joy in plants and paint.