Work vs. play? Dividing commercial and artistic writing

Do you ever have trouble distinguishing between writing for fun and writing for money? I certainly do. I actually had to sit down and make a list of my work commitments versus my personal projects, as they were starting to overlap. I needed a line in the sand.

Of course, a line in the sand need not be perfectly straight... (image by artist Andres Amador)

While it’s always great to be able to write what you love and get paid for it, sometimes I prefer to keep the two separate. If that sounds like a strange thing to do, I suppose it is, but I have my reasons. As my husband and I have often discussed, anything that feels too much like work usually ends up tainting the creative process, and often times the things I’ve written just to make money will fall flat both creatively and financially.

I’m certainly not saying that no one should ever try to make money from their writing or other artwork, but if you start from the perspective of “How can this make me money?” (at least in my experience) the project will be more likely to fail. I would argue it’s because your intentions are clouding your creative process; you’re too focused on making something commercially successful before it has even begun! How do you market something you haven’t even started? The idea itself is absurd, and yet that’s what many so-called marketing types seem to be encouraging people to do.

No wonder there are so many badly-written websites, so many uninteresting books, so many words that no one cares about reading. (But let’s not dwell on the negative…)

My point is that drawing firm lines in the sand is, for me, a necessary way of keeping my writing in order. Once I made my list of “work” vs. “play,” I was able to see more clearly exactly where my efforts have been directed, and where I should invest more time if I want to either make more money or make more art. Keeping those spaces separate helps me feel like I am doing the right thing in both my artistic and commercial spheres, rather than accidentally forcing myself to do something distasteful or even unethical.

It also makes it a lot easier to divide my day into blocks of work time and free time to explore creative ideas, do a little research, or simply pen a few lines in a notebook that no one ever has to see without feeling guilty that I am stealing time from another project. I definitely have to credit Carl King’s book So, You’re A Creative Genius… Now What? for his idea of breaking each day down into recognizable work vs. play times with the “three shift” system of Inspiration, Freelance Work, and Research & Practice. It’s a great way to keep you from burning out on any given project, and a great book to check out when you’re feeling creatively overwhelmed!

Do you write in more than one genre, and do you think of it as “work” vs. “play”? How do you separate the types of writing you do?

6 Responses
  1. D.S. Jones says:

    Laura, I Love reading your posts; your advice is always helpful. In addition, I just read part one of Naked Montreal and wanted to say I loved it and can’t wait to get the whole book. It rocks!

  2. Thanks, D.S. I’m glad you enjoyed part one! I am still plugging away at the rest of it. I’m hoping to really make some headway over Memorial Day weekend, a la my 3-day noveling marathon on Labor Day weekend last year. We shall see!

  3. Good post. There has always been a battle between the creative and the commercial. Does the money control the art?

  4. Very true, Joseph. I often think about the days of the patron, and wonder how it applies to modern-day writers. I think places like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo offer good alternatives to the classic system of patronage, where creative people are much less beholden to their funding providers, yet it’s still win-win because those who contribute to your project still get something valuable out of it. I wrote a piece that kind of touches on this idea for Funds For Writers here:

  5. […] I ran across the idea of work vs. play in a variety of articles such as this, this and […]