Just Get a Job!

I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. …

I’ve always felt like this is so cruel to your work—to demand a regular paycheck from it, as if creativity were a government job, or a trust fund. Look, if you can manage to live comfortably off your inspiration forever, that’s fantastic. That’s everyone’s dream, right? But don’t let that dream turn into a nightmare. Financial demands can put so much pressure on the delicacies and vagaries of inspiration. You must be smart about providing for yourself. To claim that you are too creative to think about financial questions is to infantilize yourself. …

Other self-infantilizing fantasies include: the dream of marrying for money, the dream of inheriting money, the dream of winning the lottery, and the dream of finding a “studio wife” (male or female) who will look after all your mundane concerns so that you can be free to commune with inspiration forever in a peaceful cocoon, utterly sheltered from the inconvenience of reality.

Come, now.

This is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time—just as people have done for ages. What’s more, there is a profound sense of honor to be found in looking after yourself, and that honor will resonate powerfully in your work; it will make your work stronger.

Also it may be the case that there are seasons when you can live off your art and seasons when you cannot. This need not be regarded as a crisis; it’s only natural in the flux and uncertainty of a creative life. Or maybe you took a big risk in order so follow some creative dream and it didn’t quite pay off, so now you have to work for the man for a while to save up money until it’s time to go chase your next dream—that’s fine, too. Just do it. But 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 …

I held on to my day jobs for so long because I wanted to keep my creativity free and safe. I maintained alternate streams of income so that, when my inspiration wasn’t flowing, I could say to it reassuringly, “No worries, mate. Just take your time. I’m here whenever you’re ready.” I was always willing to work hard so that my creativity could play lightly. In so doing, I became my own patron; I became my own studio wife.

So many times I have longed to say to stressed-out, financially strapped artists, “Just take the pressure off yourself, dude, and get a job!”

There’s no dishonor in having a job. What is dishonorable is scaring away your creativity by demanding that it pay for your entire existence.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Transcribed by me from pages 152–155 of my hardback copy of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, © 2015, Riverhead Books.


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