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Why Creativity and Money Don’t Mix… For Me

I recently had a realization that I now think has been influencing the entire direction of my life without me realizing it. And it’s completely related to our plans to retire early.

A Creative Uncreative Life

I’ve always been a creative person. Not the outward, eccentric “Oh, she’s definitely going to move to SoHo and be an artist” kind of creative, but throughout every stage of my life, I’ve been filled with the desire to create. I’ve always made things, I’ve always written and I’ve always had visions of new and bigger projects. It’s one of the three pillars of our life’s purpose, along with adventure and service.

Yet despite this, I’ve never seriously considered a creative career, or at least not a solely creative career. My job has its creative moments, but it’s primarily a business job. I’ve always done creative things on the side, but never so much as applied for a job in a more creative field.

If creativity is such a constant for me, such a need, how can it be that I’ve never even attempted to shape my life around it, at least not until quite recently? Finding this question and knowing that I didn’t have a good answer led me to my realization:

I have never wanted to put pressure on my creativity.

OurNextLife.com // Why Creativity and Money Don't Mix... at least for me -- financial independence is one way to achieve a creative life!

The Aha Moment

In Big Magic, a beautiful and inspiring book that I highly recommend to anyone seeking to live a more creative life, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

To yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat. It has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises, and your face looks weird when you do that.

I remember where I was when I read that passage, what time of day it was. Because: THAT. That was why I had never pursued a creative path in life, why my creativity was always something I did on the side, for pleasure only. I had unconsciously tried to protect my creativity from the pressure of earning money, or, in more War of Art terms, from resistance. Because it’s not just about the cat getting confused — it’s actually about scaring it away.

Any time I’ve had to do some creative project for someone else — for school, for work, for a side hustle — I’ve met far more resistance or felt far less inspired than if I’m doing that project for pure joy. This aha moment taught me two new things:

  1. Asking creativity to make money for me is a surefire way to rob it of its joy, and
  2. That resistance, I now realize, is my way of protecting my heart. From the idea that it won’t be good enough, that it won’t be understood, that it won’t make money. (That’s certainly a lot nicer, anyway, than thinking of resistance as just laziness or procrastination!)

There are a million reasons a person can be driven to create, but anytime we put any of that pressure on it, we run a terrible risk. In a Facebook post about Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says more:

For the first ten years of my creative journey, I did not make a single dime out of writing. And for the next ten years of my creative journey (which included the publication of three books) I always kept alternative day jobs — always made sure I had other streams of income to rely upon. I did not quit all my other jobs until EAT PRAY LOVE became a crazy bestseller, you guys. And EAT PRAY LOVE was a freak of nature. The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world. . . I have seen so many beautiful creative souls murder their creative process because of this relentless insistence that they are not real artists unless their art pays the bills. When it doesn’t work out (and often it doesn’t, because, once more, Creativity is a FLAKEY AND WEIRD airhead goddess) these people become angry, bitter, stuck, bankrupted, and — worst of all — they often quit creating at all.

She is describing basically the worst thing I can imagine: not creating at all. Because of putting money pressure on your own creativity. But whether it’s money pressure or some other pressure, it’s that pressure that I believe stifles my creativity.

The Gift of Financial Independence

Having this realization helped me see our goal — early retirement (technically we’re already FI but not enough to support ourselves comfortably forever) — as not just freedom to spend our time however we wish, but as this incredible gift to exercise my creativity more than I ever have before.

Something I’m now wondering is: Are there actually two kinds of people when it comes to creativity? Those who protect it and resist putting pressure on it, and those who are unafraid to put it out there?

I’m clearly the former, and maybe those who chase or achieve creative vocations are the latter. I’d certainly love to be the brave kind of creative, but history tells me I’m not. Which are you?

Whichever type you are, financial independence is absolutely a gift for creative souls. It takes away all the pressure to earn a paycheck from anything at all, and lets us bare our ideas and vision without fear of failing at the money-making game. Or how many people wait tables or sling espresso drinks or [insert some other job viewed as temporary] while they pursue their true passion of writing, acting, singing, painting, making movies or designing something amazing? Starting in a little over a year, we’ll never have to do either one: expect creativity to pay the bills or do unfulfilling work just to support our creative aspirations. What an amazing gift!

The Beauty of an Unmonetized Blog

We have made exactly $0 on this blog, and that number is actually in the red if you factor in the costs of hosting. I’m not proud of that. Like some of the artists Liz Gilbert mentioned on Facebook, I do sometimes feel like I can’t be a real blogger if I’m not making money from it, even if we purposely aren’t monetizing the blog.

But I’m also grateful that we aren’t making money from this, because it means the only pressure I feel to write here is self-imposed. I’m not trying to keep up a certain level of traffic to maintain a stream of ad revenue. I’m not trying to please sponsors who are paying to place content. I’m not questioning my own motives for writing any particular piece of content or recommending any given product. I’m not cluttering up the page with ads or slowing down the time it takes to load on your browser. Keeping this creative outlet and money totally separate, for me at least, makes it a lot more fun and joyful, with a whole lot less resistance involved. I’ve never in my life been so prolific at something as I have been here, and I believe that that is thanks in large part to the lack of pressure.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with monetizing a blog, and I admire those who manage to make a living out of it, truly. I admire those who can create without being paralyzed by the fear of rejection, who are willing to bank on their own creativity. But I also think about big deal bloggers who flamed out because the pressure of making their blog their vocation took so much of the joy out of it. I never want that for this space. We’ll get our money from other places — that would be the money we’re hurriedly socking away now — and we’ll let our creative projects be all about the love.

Permission to Create without Pressure

If any part of this post resonated with you, consider this your permission to create with no strings attached. Let yourself write without worrying about what it’s for, or if it’s for a blog, without worrying about whether anyone will like it or how many clicks it will get. Let yourself spend time — maybe enormous amounts of it — creating something that brings you joy, whether or not anyone else will ever value it. See how doing that feels, whether it helps the resistance subside or the joy increase. (And if you’re not a creator yourself and want to read something wonderful — since it’s book recommendation day, apparently! — do yourself a favor and read Very Good Lives by JK Rowling, about her own creative struggles and so much more. The text is also available here for free.)

Then let us know: Do you also find an innate urge to keep your creative impulses separate from the money-making part of your life? Or do you feel it’s more natural to put yourself out there creatively and make it your vocation? Let’s discuss in the comments!


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120 replies »

  1. I used to believe that creativity was something you are born with. For example, I can’t draw, therefore, I am not creative. Now that I am older, I see that creativity comes in different forms. For me, it could be something as simple as viewing something in a different light and sharing what I see with others. I appreciate the book recommendation! 😃 – Mrs. FE

    • I’m so glad you had this realization! Creativity comes in limitless forms, and it’s something we can also grow and develop over time. Drawing, which you mentioned, certainly comes easier to some people, but it’s really just a craft you practice. You could absolutely get better at it if you spent time building up those muscles. And definitely do check out those books! Love them all. :-)

  2. This is me! I’ve half-heartedly tried to make money off creative endeavors but as soon as I do that those fun projects turn into must do items and start stressing me.

    • Thanks for chiming in that there are many of us who think this way! I think knowing this about yourself is so important, so that you can protect your creativity and not subject it to that level of stress! :-)

  3. I absolutely agree, or may be that means I am the same sort of creative person you are – who would scare creativity away once the pay depends on it. And thank you for not monetizing a blog for a change. While it is a worthy way of getting paid, somehow it turns me off, like I am dragged to read the content – but I am old fashioned, where I grew up, creativity has to be given out for free, sort of mandatory:)

    • Glad to know there are others out there like me! Thanks for chiming in. :-) And I love having an unmonetized blog, honestly, so I’m glad it is evident to you in the reading experience!

  4. I adore writing and used to do it for a living. But now I have a job that is probably less than half writing and I am just as happy if not more. I love the variety in my work and being paid a lot more. It does mean I don’t have full creative capacity to devote to my blog, and that’s fine by me. For me balance is always the key in basically all aspects of life. There definitely is something unfun about needing to be creative on demand for the sake of commerce.

    • I love how you put it: “There is definitely something unfun about needing to be creative on demand for the sake of commerce.” Hear, hear! I’m so glad that you are happier in your work now, and have found great balance. That’s the most any of us can ask for! :-)

  5. This speaks to me on so many levels. I learned about creating under pressure during my Honors Knitting class in college. I love knitting, but finishing a scarf for a grade takes all the fun out of it. Same thing with blogging. I haven’t monetized mine yet either, because I’m worried about my motivation changing. I wrote to document my journey and to help others….. not to earn money.

    • I can definitely relate to that! Studying literature in college definitely took all the joy out of reading for me! (I got it back, but it took a while.) Keep up the great work blogging as a service to others and to document your journey for yourself! Those are two great reasons to do it without involving money at all. :-)

  6. I have a friend who’s done creative work as long as I can remember and never got a dime for it. But eventually he found a job that mixed his business knowledge and creativity together, as an artistic director for a marketing agency and he’s now doing amazing.
    I guess it takes time and practice to remain creative under pressure or dismiss the pressure so much that you stay creative.
    Either way i can’t do that yet, but I’ve seen other succeed so I know it’s possible.
    Maybe all you need is actually dismiss pressure. FI should be a great help.

    • That’s awesome about your friend! I’d wager, though, that he still keeps his own personal creative projects going on the side, and that’s so important. But yeah, I definitely respect when people manage to create artistic careers for themselves! And 100% — getting rid of the pressure is so key! That’s my #1 reason why I’m stoked for FI. :-)

  7. I heard that first Elizabeth Gilbert quote of yours on a podcast a number of months ago, and I remember how deeply it resonated with me. At the time I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to discover my passions so I could monetize them…because that’s how you find your dream job, right?!?! Yes, some people can do that but not me. I totally get what you’re writing here. And I’m totally jealous of people that can do this especially with their blogs, but it just doesn’t feel right with me and I have to stay true to that.

  8. I would not consider myself a creative person – I try – but it does not come easily.

    I need some sort of pressure to get anything done – even when being creative, it used to drive me nuts, but I find my ideas come as soon as the pressure starts

    it is really difficult to get ahead on blog posts :)

    As far as the money portion – I will take it if they are willing to give it – just won’t change what I want to do for it

    • I actually have no problem with deadlines, so long as they are self-imposed! That’s why I post here every single Monday, no matter what — that level of structure has been so helpful in keeping me disciplined, and I think it actually makes it *easier* to generate ideas than if I posted less often! But making a job out of it — that feels so much less inspiring!

  9. I have also always felt the urge to write, but was afraid of pursuing that as a main income source. As a result I studied to be an English teacher instead, but I do wish I had studied writing more. I am absolutely on your page on this, as well as the blog monetization. I think there’s a value out there that if you could possibly be making more money, you should do it or you’re “under-earning.” Obviously that is not your problem. I am going to look for that J.K. Rowling book at the library today!

    • The JK Rowling book is really more like a bound short story, so just read it for free on the Harvard site. :-) I love her.

      I also wished I had studied writing more! I studied English lit instead, so learned a lot about things that have been written, but not about writing as a craft (and, oh yeah, studying lit made me kind of hate it for a while — but, coming full circle, it was the Harry Potter books that made me start to love reading again!). Haha. And yes, absolutely, we do have this sense in our culture that it’s almost dishonorable to do something and not make money at it — it feels like a comment on the quality, which it shouldn’t be!

  10. For me, it all comes down to what makes sense at the time. So far in my career, it has made more sense for me to focus on accumulation through my technical capabilities – things are much more straightforward and a hell of a lot more lucrative. But post-retirement from full-time work, everything is on the table. As you know, I’d really like to get into videography a lot more – and I already have some pretty decent photography skills – and using those creative outlets to make some additional cash is definitely something that I will pursue…but again, only if it makes sense.

    I do make some additional cash from my blog – easily enough to cover the costs of the blog – plus some more. But, I still do so with the understanding that it’s ultimately my blog, and it needs to make me happy. That means I don’t think about the money aspect when I write. I write whatever I want to write, and if it generates additional revenue through ads, then great. If not, no big deal. Like you, I definitely don’t want to feel pressure with this thing.

    Hope all is well in your neck of the woods!

    • That is an eminently practical way to look at it all. :-) Doesn’t surprise me at all that you think about your creative pursuits this way, Steve! It’s my overthinking curse — haha. I *hope* that your blog keeps growing and providing more income, and that you’re able to make some money on your photography and videography as well! That’s stuff I’d love to do in theory, but then when it comes down to it, I just feel that strong need to keep them separate. Oh well! :-)

      All good with us — excited about summer! Hope you guys are loving the Airstream life as the weather heats up!

  11. Yes & yes. I’ve felt pressure from the concept of a side hustle to monetize my hobbies. So now I’m cost conscious on the front end and trying to find ways to monetize on the back end. The result is that I’m not creating anything and that sucks. Add on to that that I don’t want to be wasteful, and we’ve effectively diagnosed my current state.

    It might be time to give myself a fun/slush budget so I have explicit permission to spend a little on the fun creative stuff. I’ve tried to do this several times, but I always end up saving it.

    • I hereby grant permission to spend money on fun creative stuff! :-D Honestly, I think we all NEED some of that! Writing is mostly free, but other forms of creativity require supplies. And creativity is such an important counter to work stress, so if you don’t let it out somehow now, it will just get bottled up — and then think of all the expensive therapy and pharmaceuticals you’ll need later! Way cheaper to invest in some fun projects now. :-)

  12. So I’m in a totally different boat – I’m a marketing writer by trade. This post really hit me because it kind of describes my reasons for starting a blog to begin with: somewhere to write without the pressures of selling anything, a space to be more creative than you can be software sales copy – a place to flex my muscles a little bit.

    I haven’t taken full advantage of that freedom yet, but this post reminded me of why I got started and also what I am capable of, if given the time and space to create.

    • I completely get this! I write tons for work, but it’s not the same as writing for ME, and so I applaud you for starting a blog for yourself where there’s more freedom and no pressure! Giving yourself an outlet for your creativity is such a wonderful thing. :-)

  13. I think the creativity and money is kind of separate for me. I love my job because I get to be creative and try and recreate old streams, rivers, that sort of thing, and figure out where a good trap may be. In that sense, I like the creative aspect of geology and kind of out of the box thinking it can sometimes require.

    However, I specifically didn’t major in music or get a degree from a bluegrass music college in TX (it was a strong contender) because I didn’t want to keep working in restaurants or whatever “temporary” job I’d need to support whatever family may want someone with that lifestyle. It’s like the joke, “What’s the difference between a professional banjo player and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four!” hahahaha

    This also reminded me of when is aw one of my “idol” bluegrass bands, they put on a great show as always, but I saw them a year later, and they played the same, set, same order, and told the same damn jokes. Even agin a year after that. That’s when I knew it had become a job for them, they might like it, but creativity was all but gone. The 5 times I’d seen them previously, all new lineups, different songs, different each show. I haven’t bought any of their music since, because the passion is gone, for them and me. :)

    • My job has creative elements, too, but like you said — it’s different. That story about the bluegrass band is crazy! But I’ve seen similar performances, and would never want some of my creative interests to become so rote like that. :-( And, like you said about the pizza, I honestly just don’t want to struggle for money! I have never felt some surge of confidence that I was going to be able to support myself with writing and other projects, and the starving artist bit holds no appeal. :-)

  14. Aha I think everyone has their own way. I see money as a reward for my hard work and this boosts my energy.

    • That’s fantastic! I love hearing that other people don’t meet resistance when they make creativity their livelihood. We certainly have friends who are artists who show that it’s possible!

  15. Money and creativity don’t mix at all for me. Whenever I’m doing something creative and someone tells me I should do this or that with it and make some money, I feel the air get sucked right out of the room. I love to cook and am constantly creating new recipes and techniques to keep our low carb menu fresh and interesting, but as soon as anyone tells me I should write a cookbook or a blog or make a YouTube video series, I instantly feel pressure to take something that gives me great pleasure and turn it into a cash register. Whatever creative juices are freely flowing instantly freeze up in me at the thought of being encumbered by having to do something instead of wanting to do it. Not needing the money is the reason I frequently give for not pursuing my passions monetarily, but it’s so much more than that! I want the process to be purely for my enjoyment and the enjoyment of others, without the burdens associated with any endeavor designed to make money. I’m sure I could put together a wonderful cookbook, series of videos or whatever, but if I were ever to do so it would be something purely from my heart, unencumbered by any outside constraints. Otherwise the joy of the process would be lost.

    • Wow, it sounds like you and I are so similar in this stuff! I started compiling camping recipes for a cookbook once, and same deal — as soon as it got “real,” it was no fun anymore, and the ideas dried up. I wonder what we can deduce from this… clearly we have strong rebellious streaks to not want to do something anymore once we have to do it. :-)

  16. This is definitely Mr. T! Somehow I’m pretty good at the whole “no pressure” thing. I feel no pressure to make money on my blog. I experiment with doing so, but obviously run a blog to write and connect. Mr. T has to come home and create things because it’s not his job. He doesn’t want creativity to BECOME his job. Your sentiments hit home. Since we are not that close to FI, I’m attempting to strike a balance. I want to work on projects that are creative and excite us, but none that we won’t be devastated if they lose money. That’s my goal for the end of 2017: have Mr. T see actual income from one of his creative endeavors.

    • It’s interesting that you guys have different views on this stuff — but great that you recognize that! I’ve made plenty of big leaps and taken big risks in life, but with creative stuff, I just want to protect it and keep it (probably too) precious. :-)

  17. I have struggled with whether to combine creativity and monetizing our blog. For now, I just choose to view our blog as more of a personal thing and way to educate, help and serve others while giving us motivation and an avenue to keep learning and connecting with others. I don’t have a problem with monetizing as long as I am able to stay true to my beliefs and keeping the message my own. The nice thing about FI is that there is far less pressure to change your message to cater to advertisers or always say the politically correct thing. I think having a voice with transparency and honesty is appreciated by many and may actually be more profitable in the long run anyway.

    • I could not agree more that being transparent and honest is the best way to connect with people! And maybe we’ll monetize one day, though it will be in in unconventional ways if we do, not with sponsored posts and ads — what can I say, I like having a pretty site? ;-) I completely relate to all the thoughts you have about it — I don’t want to have to cater to advertisers or be too PC either!

  18. I never understood this line of thinking, probably because I never considered myself to be creative. But I have a son and a sister who are, and yet they have never tried to profit from it. Both have said that if they were paid, it would take the enjoyment out of it. Thanks for comparing it to blogging, because THAT I can understand. I’ll be thinking about this for a while. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • I really am convinced that we are all creative in some way, so I hope this helps you see blogging as a creative task that you’re engaged in! :-) Interesting to know that your sister and son both share my view that it’s best to keep money and creativity separate!

  19. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your relationship with your creativity <3 <3 <3 It's such an incredibly personal thing and there truly is no right or wrong answer. Not sure if you've already read it, but I HIGHLY recommend The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

    • You’re welcome! :-) I love Julia Cameron — no joke, the Artist’s Way and a few other books by her sit right here on my desk. If you like her, you’ll love the War of Art and Big Magic if you haven’t already read them!

  20. Yes! I chose a career I thought I was passionate about (and I was at one time), however years of following someone else’s agenda has literally sucked the joy out of it. I hope to come back to it someday, but like you suggest, perhaps not for the money. Lovely post by the way

  21. I’ve always been stubborn about how if we try to monetize our hobbies, to force ourselves to spend X amount of time on something that we derive personal enjoyment out of, that the activity just won’t be fun anymore.

    This is why I don’t work in personal finance. This is why I don’t work in the sports industry. This is why I don’t use my (creative) performing arts music degree and work in music, whether in a creative or non-creative role.

    Yet, I see so many others who have “jobs” that they LOVE, that they would do even if they weren’t being paid, and I wonder if I am just a little too stubborn.

    I’m all for you keeping ONL as a hobby. It makes what you have to say more raw and authentic and it’s why you have one of the very few blogs that I willingly have e-mail notifications sent to me when there is a new post published.

    • Thanks for that nice compliment, pal! I think there’s always a flipside to having a job that you truly love, and it’s not really as rosy as it seems on the outside. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to have careers that we really enjoy or feel excited about, but I think you’re right to try to keep your passion out of the money realm! So wise of you to do that from the beginning.

  22. Love this. I’m definitely writing stuff on my blog because I want to and for me it’s my way of expressing my creativity. Too many of these big time blogs just end up pumping out these highly SEO optimized “How do” and “Why” posts. To me those posts are pretty boring. I want to read things with personality.

    I will only do stuff on my blog that I feel happy. That’s why you will never see these popups for email. That annoys the crap out of me so I will never put that on my blog. :)

    • Omg — I hate does email pop ups! I hereby swear that you will never see one here! :-) I love that for you, your blog is also a creative outlet, and it’s something that you do for you, not for SEO or traffic.

  23. I’m really looking forward to being FI, because I think I’ll enjoy my job more or be able to switch into a different career that may pay less. I’m so emotionally exhausted at the end of the day that I think that in itself zaps my creativity. When I am less stressed I am able to be much more creative around the house, as soon as I feel stressed with work I find it hard to get motivated to do much of anything else. Great post as usual, you always sound so wise!

    • Oh that’s so nice, thanks! You bring up a whole other issue, which is how stress impacts creativity. And that’s an important thing to know about yourself! In our experience, reaching FI doesn’t itself make work easier, but we’re looking forward to a future with less work and more creative time! ;-)

  24. I’d never really thought about reasons not to monetize a creative skill. I’m a scientist by day and occasional cake decorator by night. I say occasional because I only take on one or two a year (aside from birthday cakes for my kids). When I do cakes for others it’s people I want to do a cake for, and I charge them cost. The time is a gift. My excuse not to monetize this is lack of time, but a big part of that is doing it under my own terms and only taking on projects I’m excited to do. I’ve considered making it a bigger part of my early retirement life, but I never want to lose the fun!

    • It’s definitely worth thinking about this question. It could be awesome to combine your passion with a moneymaking venture, or it could totally steal all the joy from decorating cakes. I bet deep down you know the answer that’s right for you. :-)

  25. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I totally get where you are coming from here… I do not work in a creative field, but I have always done creative things as part of my hobbies.

    • So glad you connected with this! Sounds like you’re similar to me — lots of creative inclinations but you’ve never made them part of your vocation (or at least not a major part). I know lots of people are happy combining them, but I really do think I’m happier keeping them separate. :-)

  26. I’ve been saying it over and over again in my offline life, but I look forward to the space between. I have so much more to say on the topic of creativity and I think you do, too! Let’s chat at FinCon. I’d like to pick your brain on how higher education impacts creativity.

    • Yes, definitely chat at FinCon! Oh, man… higher ed and creativity… such a big topic! Of course, the funny thing is I felt that studying literature took the joy out of it for me, at least temporarily (I got it back!), but my friends who studied more truly creative fields (acting or music), at the time I couldn’t believe how impractical they were being. I remember thinking, “Why would you spend college studying something where you won’t be able to get any job unless you also go to grad school??” Haha.

  27. You have me thinking hard on this one. First, I believe everyone is creative. Creativity shows up in many different ways, not just “the traditional arts”. Like you pointed out, writing/blogging is creative! And creativity is not necessarily inventing something completely new. My creativity is based on synthesizing – finding connections between different ideas. Finding your own way to be creative is part of self-discovery (and a stage many spend there first years in retirement doing!)

    Second, most of the ways we are creative also take practice. A lot of practice. Whether it’s writing, or painting, or cake decorating, or playing an instrument/creating music.

    Lastly, I’ve been struggling with creativity and monetization since retirement. I’ve realized I have a strong belief that getting money for your work/creation validates the work/creation. I have not yet achieved the belief of creating just for the joy of creating!

    I never pursued a hobby before retirement, much less a creative hobby. My work/career was quite creative (product design), so I had that outlet. Now, I’m looking for other creative outlets (writing is one for sure). I really appreciate your perspective on writing for the joy of writing. I will continue to mull on that.

    • Glad to get you thinking! I take that as a big compliment. :-) I am in COMPLETE agreement with everything you said: everyone is creative, creativity is a practice you cultivate, and monetization *can* validate the creation, though with potential pitfalls. It’s awesome that you had a creative career! And I love the writing you do now. Sending lots of good wishes for finding a range of great creative outlets in your retirement!

  28. oh man, this post! Forcing creativity to make me money absolutely robs me of my joy. However, in spaces where I feel free to fail without consequence, I create wonderful tales. It’s interesting to watch it happen.

  29. I’m so with you. I’ve always had a creative outlet (on average I spend 2 hours a day on it after the kids are in bed) but I’ve never made any money from it and in fact spent a lot of money on it! I think like you I’ve got a great income so there is no pressure to ‘produce’.
    And the value of creative things is so subjective, it is not like a business deal where you can create a business case.
    My husband is from a ‘creative’ family and both his parents were musicians which didn’t make for a financially secure environment (plus throw in a divorce). But a strong motivator for me is wanting to do more creative things like learning the piano which i am ‘saving’ for FI – does that sound weird????

  30. Hmm, I can’t say I’ve started my blog with the intent of a creative outlet or to truly rack up the money. It was more of a fun community of people who think like me and are focused on retirement like me. I will say though, monetizing the blog is a great feature and I would prefer that over the ability to have creative freedom.

    The Green Swan

    • I love this comment, because it’s proof that we really can all make our blogs exactly what we want them to be. For me it’s a total community-driven thing with a built-in creative outlet, for you it’s about the community with revenue, and those are both the right answer. :-)

  31. Great perspective. For me, the reason to choose a non-creative career was much more about the unpredictability and unreliability that Gilbert describes in her writing career. Maybe it takes off financially, maybe it doesn’t — and that’s a level of risk I wasn’t willing to tolerate early on in my career. FIRE opens a lot of doors, including providing the safety net to take those kinds of risks. I’m excited to try a lot of fun projects I never would have dreamed of before!

    • Oh, totally relate! Probably not a surprise that I am super risk-averse, but yeah, I have always wanted the guarantee of the steady paycheck, too! We’re so looking forward to the safety net of FI to try those risky projects, just like you. :-)

  32. I admit I do try and make some money from the blog but I still write whatever I want. I dont have intentions on ever making real money so the little money I do make is really just for paying for blog expenses and any extra money I get after is just bonus.

    I dont try and maintain a consistent blog traffic or anything like that so it keeps me happy not worrying about that.

  33. I have had a few run ins with the blog making money and not making money. It’s against my nature in general to do something for free. I can’t play poker and play for no money, it kills me it’s pointless. I don’t make but a few dollars on the blog and I kind of associate it to making a few dollars for something I like, while from time to time I turn out a blog post I absolutely love. I don’t think I ever considered myself a writer, but rather a story teller who likes to share about money, boring for almost everyone;)

    It’s funny in some ways I’m probably jaded in what I mentioned before, like I used to play fantasy football, poker, blog, etc for the fun of it all, then money and incentive got involved and a switched for me.

    Along the same lines you mentioned FI and I personally think many out there chasing FI that are in better financial positions than others come along as a journey and then realize they could monetize if they chose, but I feel like very few go all out to do so. MMM might be an exception but I think his is more of a cult following than him wanting to make some extra monies on the side, well in his case it might be EXTRA monies. Financial Samurai appears to be doing quite well in this category as well.

    • I think it’s all about knowing what motivates you, and if making money motivates you, then great! In my case, I think trying to blog for money, even if we pretend it would be for a large sum, it would still steal the joy of doing it, which I don’t want to lose. But that’s just me! And you’re right that it’s a luxury since we don’t actually need the money. ;-)

  34. I’ve never been a fan of the idea that you must find your true calling – something you’re passionate about – and make money from it to be successful. Instead, why not separate your income sources from your passion?

    And actually, I don’t spend time thinking about my passion either. Instead, I focus on the things that interest me. And while I may spend some time thinking about how to monetize those interests, I don’t let it get out of hand. I don’t want to feel the pressure to give up something because it doesn’t make money.

    There are things I do just for the pure joy (or challenge) of doing them.

    • Your point of view seems eminently reasonable. I think it’s pretty damaging the viewpoint these days that you should find your passion and only do what you love. Work is called work, after all, so it’s silly to think that we’re all only going to be able to do passion projects for money. Keeping them separate is such a smart move on so many levels. :-)

  35. This is exactly what I needed to hear! I have just retired from a career in early childhood education and want to start a blog, just as a means of expression and to pass on a little knowledge to educators and parents of young children. Thank you!

  36. Oh, this is very timely for me as I’ve been doing a lot of questioning lately about what my blog is really for/about. Monetizing is not really something I’m considering, but even with that element off the table, there is still the question of whether my blog is simply an open creative space or whether I’m under some sort of obligation to myself/others to write only about personal finance.

    What about you? I really like that you write about lots of different things on this blog. Do you find it easy and natural to relate everything back to early retirement in some way, or is it easier for some posts than for others? And/or do you have posts that you ultimately end up not posting because they don’t relate closely enough to early retirement or personal finance? Just curious. :)

    • This is a super tough question, and I’m not sure that I’ve figured it out, even 170 posts in! In my case, early retirement is so all-consuming in my mind that it’s relatively easy to relate things back to it, but as I’m sure you’ve seen, not every post is about money by a long shot. So I do take the much larger definition of early retirement and don’t just stick to finance. I’ve occasionally thrown in other posts like the recent travel healthy one, or how to camp, and those are generally duds from a traffic and comment perspective, which tells me that most people coming here to read don’t want that kind of stuff — and I sort of extrapolate from that that people are okay with the looser definition of ER that we generally follow. But that is not to say that we have it all figured out, and I still can’t predict in advance which posts will do well and which won’t. Some of my most cherished posts have bombed, and little nothing posts I threw together quickly got 100 comments. So, um, how’s that for a non-answer? I do think, for you, people read because they like the way you observe and interpret things, not because they’re looking for advice on how to save or invest (I think it’s similar for us since I don’t try to play expert or do finance 101) — so I think you have plenty of built-in freedom to go beyond straight up money posts. Just my two cents. :-) And I’ve definitely decided not to post TONS of posts (draft folder is currently at 23), but I think that’s mostly just because they don’t feel good enough, not because they aren’t topical. Though there’s one I have wanted to publish that talks about how we’re not unitaskers, and how weird that we all have to focus on this one little slice of our life to make our blogs successful. But it is too complainy, and I try to stay positive, plus I’m actually happy with how much of our lives we’ve managed to work in here, despite the narrow niche.

      And (sorry if this is the longest reply ever) your Q is very much on my brain for the future. Like what can we still contribute to the FIRE convo after we retire? We are never going to be like the Mad Fientist or Go Curry Cracker and do these massive financial breakdown posts, or teach people how to do some obscure financial thing. I don’t want to lose our community and go pure travel blog either, though. So I think this will be an ongoing struggle. (But then again, I somehow haven’t run out of topics yet, so maybe that’s a dumb worry by a neurotic overthinker.) ;-)

      Hope you’re feeling better!!!

      • Ah yes, I hadn’t thought of it quite in that light before, but the early retirement theme obviously gives you a lot of leeway to explore non-money-related topics. I guess my blog is ostensibly more money-focused (or debt-focused). I sometimes feel like I still have a lot of leeway, but at other times I find myself thinking, “Really? I have to find a way to relate this back to my bank account?” I think it’s tough because one of the common-sense rules/guidelines of blogging is that you have to stay within a niche or else nobody is going to read, and I think there’s some truth to that. But I do get weary of thinking about my loans all the time, and I sometimes wonder how much blogging is contributing to that.

        Oh, and I can totally relate to not knowing which posts are going to do well and which ones aren’t — it feels like a total crapshoot sometimes. :) But that’s fine because it means I can focus more on whether *I* like what I’m writing. Also, congrats on 170 posts! That’s crazy!!

      • I think of your blog, fwiw, as being about not following the usual path, not having the same aspirations just because everyone is supposed to have them (you know, not wanting the yacht), and not making the same dumb choices as everyone else. I think you could interpret that as going way beyond money and your debt (and, honestly, I think it’s tough to pivot a debt blog to something else once the debt is gone, so hope you don’t feel like you need to focus just on that. That’s just one small part of your life.). I do agree that a niche is important for readers not to be confused, but I think you can think of yours as broader than it sounds like you’re currently defining it. :-) (And, whoops — I accidentally exaggerated. I checked and it’s 162 posts.) ;-)

  37. (just like in your case, comment was lost – I think it is a time out problem or so)

    Long story short: Funny to read this: ” I do sometimes feel like I can’t be a real blogger if I’m not making money from it” I do not associate those 2. When I then read the rest, I am happy to red you can also decouple these 2.

    To answer the question: at work, I need to delver solutions to problems by thinking out of the box. T be, that is being paid to be creative. You do project work as well (I am guessing), does that require some form of creativity to deliver beyond the expectations?

    • Oh, WordPress! :-( Thanks for the validation on payment and blogging! And yes, I definitely have that element of creativity at work but I guess the distinction I’d make is that it’s not how *I* would choose to be creative, plus at work even your best ideas sometimes get shot down, which is discouraging. So having creative outlets that are the way I choose to express myself and where no one else has any financial interest in them, that’s really important… at least for me. :-) But I think that’s a very personal thing!

  38. Thanks so much for this post! As someone just starting out (who has also reached FI), I am really trying to find my “voice” as I begin to write without any concern of making money. I learned a really important skill in my doctoral program and I am just hoping to add value to others’ lives if I can. I don’t always feel that I have been good about “giving back” since I was so busy with school and life. I am hoping this will be my chance – if not, I still have found it very enjoyable to be writing again!

    • I wish you lots of luck on your blog journey. And I totally agree – it will be enjoyable just to write, no matter what. But give yourself lots of time to find your voice, and figure out how you want to approach the blog. It definitely took us a good six months or more! :-)

  39. I’m completely with you on this. The most recent example being the imaginary travel blog I’ve been pondering. At first I was very much leaning towards monetizing, but the more I think about it I really don’t want to. I feel like it would become something I don’t want it to be.

    In fact, and this may sound strange, I don’t even really care about money anymore. It wasn’t too long ago that I would’ve never imagined myself saying that. I want to do things solely for the pleasure and challenge of doing them.

    And yeah, you’re definitely a real blogger. That’s not even debatable :)

    • Thanks for the real blogger note. :-D I’m actually glad to hear you say that about your future travel blog. I read a fair number of travel blogs, but none religiously, because so many are like “I’m broke but let me tell you my totally biased opinion of my stay at the St. Regis Grand Cayman that they paid me to write.” (I don’t know if that’s a real resort, but it could be!) Knowing you guys, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make your travel blog awesome, and I wouldn’t want to see sponsors intrude on that. Of course, I’m sure there are other ways to monetize besides being a corporate shill, and soon you’ll have time to figure that out!

      I kind of know what you mean on the money point, actually! We keep having the same conversation about whether we could actually quit this year, what it would take at year-end bonus time, and what else we could give up to save faster (we’re already saving 50% faster than last year, so the answer is: not much!). And even though we want to go into ER super duper prepared, we both keep saying things like, “Eh, we don’t really need as much as that. We can figure it out later.” I’m still thinking we’ll work at least part of 2017, but it’s interesting how quickly our views are evolving! And just random things, like I’ll see giveaways for money or prizes, and think, “I’ll save that for someone who needs the money.”

  40. This post made me think – thank you. I don’t really know where I am going with my blog but writing inspires me and keeps me accountable to my goals. I have also found that I receive greater comments and traffic on my personal finance posts versus my other posts. I don’t think I am reaching out as actively to the non-personal finance communities though. I could find other bloggers in the women career space since that is my other passion and maybe I would have a more balanced readership but like you said, maybe that is not what is important. What is important is the creative outlet.

    • Thanks, Julie! Glad it got you thinking — that’s the best compliment. :-) I definitely think the PF space is an extra special and active place, so it doesn’t surprise me to know that you’re getting the most traffic on PF posts. I think in choosing between making money on the blog and having a creative outlet, I’d totally choose (and am choosing) the creative route. BUT, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t also doing it for comments and interactions. I don’t care about our Google ranking or total site traffic much at all, but I do care about building a community and a circle of friends to support each other in the journey, and that absolutely comes from the comments and from social media, mostly Twitter. But I do think it’s possible to have the creative outlet and build up a community, but I think if you also want to make money blogging, one of the other two may have to give. Or maybe not! Maybe you’ll be one of those success stories of people who pull off an awesomely creative blog with a big readership and lots of revenue! :-D

  41. I totally relate to this post. I don’t think I can put a price on the creative things I do because the moment I think about making money out of them, I run out of ideas. I feel pressured and while I work very well under pressure professionally, the creative side of my brain stops working at the thought of it. I like making things but instead of selling them, I give them as gifts. When it comes to blogging, I included monetising as part of my long term plan before I put the website up, but as I go along, I’m no longer sure if I still want the same. It goes back to being pressured – pressured to write more or better or random things for the sake of creating content. I think once it comes to that, I will lose my drive for writing. I envy those who make money from their blogs, I wish I can too, but at this point I know it isn’t for me.

    I hope you guys are having a great weekend!

    • Hi J! :-) We have so much in common! I love making things to give as gifts, but the few times I’ve sold things I either stopped having fun with it or got so perfectionist about the end product that I was creating way more waste than sellable inventory. But I completely agree with you that it’s all about the pressure. Anytime I feel pressured, I clam up or procrastinate, but yet I’ve somehow managed to crank out 162 posts here on schedule without much resistance — so if it helps you in thinking about it, know that I feel strongly that I’m so much more productive and creative without the pressure. :-) I also envy bloggers who make a living at it, but I think that would feel like a job for me, not like a creative outlet, and I already have a job. :-) And hope your week is off to a great start!

  42. Agree with this whole post :) I consider myself a creative person as well, and anytime “I have to” do something creative and not just have it flow organically, I falter. Thank you for putting it all into words so nicely!

  43. It’s hard isn’t it, I guess it’s a fine line between making some money off what you love, and getting snowed under and stressed out with the amount you have to create. I guess it could depend on the scale, if you keep it small then it can be possible to monetise creative pursuits.

    • I think it’s super individual, and I’m highly envious of people who can rely on creative work to pay the bills! But you raise such a good point that it can be able the scale, too. I think you’re right that smaller, low-stakes projects could be more doable even for those who meet massive resistance whenever there’s pressure on their creativity! Good food for thought. :-)

  44. Yes, yes, yes! I resonate so deeply with everything you said here. There’s always been this dissonance between wanting to create something (for me, writing) and needing to pay the bills with a predictable job. I think I’ve always held “writer” up in my mind on a pedestal as the dream job, but I’m gradually learning to accept that I can “be” a writer without that being what brings in the money. Yes, I would love to write and publish prolifically for profit, but I would also hate to lose the love of writing and creating by placing too many restrictions on myself. Lots to process here! Thank you for sharing.

    • So glad this spoke to you! Sounds like we approach our creativity similarly. :-) And you absolutely can “be” a writer without a cent — just write! If this blog has proven anything to me, it’s that. ;-)

  45. I’m definitely in the same boat with you on monetizing the blog. On the one hand, it’d be great to actually get paid to write, on the other hand, I post once every three weeks ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I always tell myself once I write consistently once a week, then maybe I’ll transition it to a self hosted site. It’s just life gets in the way and the blog always gets pushed aside.

    You’ve been doing great. Your blog is seriously one of my favorites, moreso than the bigger guys that actually get paid to do what we do.

    I’m one of the least creative people ever. It’s why I work looking at spreadsheets all day :)

    • I think unless you’re going to add a bunch of plugins to your blog, which can also destabilize it, there’s no reason to go to self-hosted. We’re perfectly happen on WordPress.com (or at least mostly happy). ;-)

      But thanks for the nice words, Vic! I definitely love blogging, and think that comes through, but it’s definitely the community and awesome people like you who keep me going at this pace. :-)

  46. Still slowly but surely working my way up to present day! :)
    This is really resonating with me because I’ve been contemplating starting a side gig as a pet photographer. On the one hand, I think it’s something I’d love doing and would be a lot of fun. On the other…time/pressure/deadlines like you mention! The good news is I won’t ever anticipate *needing* the money, but when I’m retired, will I want to give up those precious hours to other people?
    Thanks for the food for thought, as always!

    • High five for making it so far! :-D After we unmask ourselves next month, I’ll share more about the side hustle I did for 10 years, and how — even though I never relied on the money — it still came to feel like an imposition like any other job, robbing me of the joy I once experienced from that thing. So my (totally discountable) advice is: start with a side gig that won’t hurt your soul if the joy drains out of it. If photographing pets lost all its joy and that was okay with you, then great! But don’t gamble something you truly love on the possibility that it might make you money. ;-) Good luck figuring that out! xo

  47. I get what you mean about seperating creativity and commerce can allow your creativity to flow unbridled. Sometimes though creating without pressure can lead to stagnation, the pressure can be a positive impetus to push yourself out of your comfort zone and grow as an artist. I agree that if performing to a client spec feels like a chore then it may be healthier to separate creativity and commerce. However, if you get excited at the prospect and challenge of performing to a client spec then it may not be a bad avenue to explore.

  48. This is such a helpful post. I’m glad I came across it while searching for information about creativity and money.

    I have existed as both of the people you mention. I existed at one point putting enormous pressure on my creativity. I made money from it, but I was an incredibly anxious person. Now I protect my private creativity with income from another job that allows creativity but also thrives on routine (teaching). I am definitely happier now and my ideas seem to be a lot more original and useful to others. Financial independence (if only the vision of it in my circumstance) makes sense to pursue mostly for creative reasons. I’m glad whenever I come across blogs acknowledging this. Nice work!