Fun Is a Form of Currency

My friends want to spend the majority of their time making art and getting paid for it. I surround myself with creative people and this is the gripe I hear most often. We don’t want to work 40 hours a week, we’d rather spend our time pursuing our whims and getting paid for it. Henry likes spending time working on his boat. Bea likes making video games. Both are too tired after work to really settle in and focus on the things they like doing, and as a result they don’t get very much of it done.

Part of this is a time management problem, but also it makes me think about the importance of community. Creative work is very difficult to do alone. As a writer, I spend a lot of time alone, and sometimes this makes my creative pursuits feel impossible. How can I write a good novel, format it, market it, and distribute it without a team? And even if I had a team, how could I pay them? The short answer is that I can’t. My friends work in cafes or retail storefronts and the possibility of delegating tasks is slim just because we aren’t really doing that well in making ends meet.

I believe we all should be getting educated so that we become more valuable in the workplace in order to make a livable wage. In the meantime, we should also strive to make sure that our pursuits are not solely money-motivated and still stay close and true to our initial desires to produce art. One of the easiest ways to overcome so many of the barriers of lone-creating is to build your community, which is one of my goals for 2018.

With a creative community in your immediate vicinity, you can pool your resources to achieve individual and collective goals. You can delegate tasks and push to create a video game or a TV series with a group rather than solo. The work becomes easier because you have social accountability pushing you forward, and also you have many hands making light work. For example, I do an annual blog called “Culture Bucket” (link). I ask my friends to send me lists of their favorite media from the year and I post their “Best Of” lists on the blog. I get a huge amount of content and have to do relatively little work. I get to see all of the art my friends are interested in, and it informs me how I should pursue my own art in the following year.

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How am I getting these people to submit content without having to pay them? As it turns out, not all currency is in the form of dollar bills. The currency that motivates my friends and brings them back to this particular project is fun. Writing “Best Of” lists doesn’t feel like work because it’s fun to write about stuff you like. I don’t mind not making any money from the project because it’s fun to hear from my friends. As a result, we all get a little bit richer in a spiritual way. It sounds cheesy, but it works. To foster a community and to inspire creative collaboration, the best way you can compensate everyone for their time is to make sure they’re having a good time. 

Another example was a group called “Late Night Pomes” (sic) that I helped organize in Portland, Oregon. Every Sunday, a group of my friends and I would meet at a bar, write poems, and perform them in the street. Each week the prompts were different, and over the year we wrote hundreds of poems that we saved in shoe boxes. This is a wealth of content that we published online and attempted to organize for a book. Members of “Late Night Pomes” reliably showed up because the meeting time and location was convenient, and also because the ritual was consistently fun. One night, a stranger at the bar observed our process, and he bought the group a round of drinks. He handed us his card and told us to give him a call if we ever needed funding to keep this project running.

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The takeaway is that if you want creative collaborators, build a project or a space that is designed to maximize fun. If you’re pitching a project to a friend and it sounds like hard work, they’re not going to show up. However, if the whole creative process is engineered to make sure everyone likes what they’re doing, you have created value for your teammates. Right now I am working on a project where I write a TV series with a group of friends. I find talented writers looking to build their portfolios, and we spend time together dreaming up animated series and putting down all the ideas into a Google Doc. It’s fun to dream up your own TV series, and the community makes the task of writing an entire script less daunting.

Of course, we still should strive to make cold hard cash. Money feeds us and allows us to buy paintbrushes (there isn’t a feasible way to pay for products with fun). Until we start getting paid for the value we create with art, we have to work with our immediate resources. I know that I get paralyzed when I think about all the things I’d like to do but can’t afford the proper materials. I keep asking myself “what can I do today?” and I remind myself “start where you are.” I cannot magically raise the capital for creative projects with no portfolio. So, my focus is to do as many creative projects at the lowest possible cost of entry, which means pulling from my community and providing value where I can. I end up with a fuller portfolio, a network of creatives, and an understanding of why I make art in the first place.

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