How THIS Keeps Happening

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It occurred to me today that I’m not really sure if the things I publish are the things I allow to get out of my think-meat, or if they’re things I can’t keep inside it. It probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but my brain (jerk that it is) thinks a lot. A LOT.

Now, I’ve always assumed that I objectively look at all the thinky thinks, and then determine, “ah yes, this kernel of insight is worthy of the masses.” But, yeah, no. I’m rarely, if ever, proud of the stuff I write. I might be proud of myself for sharing things, but never do I think, “This. This is what people need to hear.” Other people say things much better than I do, and they’re almost always more qualified to say things betterer than me. (Apart from a very, VERY narrow area of expertise. I’m pretty confident with my Kool-Aid making skillz…)

So what I write, like this for instance, is almost certainly not because I think it will make the world a better place. And I know I don’t do it for praise, because for my spheroid-jiggly-ponder-box, praise is a double-edged sword.

(Short explanation: “Shawn, that was incredible” makes me very much assume that whatever I just created is now the low bar for all future creations, and if it really WAS good, then I might as well not bother, because I’ll never create something that good again, and if I make something worse, I’ll let down everyone.)

I guess that means whatever I end up publishing is just think-juice I couldn’t quite keep inside. I suppose writing is my emotional outlet. But even that doesn’t explain why I click “Publish”, because there are plenty of drafts here on my bloggity-blog that will never see the light of day. So it’s more than just a need to write, because writing doesn’t need publishing to be an outlet for emotion. (See also: Diaries. But no, I don’t have a diary. OMG, is *this* my diary?) So why do I publish anything, ever?

Maybe narcissism? Maybe I seek the self-destructive praise of others? Maybe I hope that one person will read my escaped thoughts and realize they’re not alone in this weird, judgmental world? I honestly don’t know. But for some reason, I often feel compelled to share my thoughts, even when they’re weird, or personal, or scary, or all of the above. Apparently creating and sharing are very different endeavors. A lot of what I create isn’t shared — but a surprisingly large percentage of it is.

I was talking to a friend today about the “highlight reel” aspect of most social media. Many, or maybe most folks share the best and happiest parts of their day, or they make sure the part of their persona that lives “in frame” is squeaky clean and perfect. There’s the other side of that coin, when people post about how bad things are, looking for either help, or pity, or even just attention. But the mundane seldom makes it on Instagram. Or blog posts. Yet, here we are.

SO my fellow creators, I have two questions:
1) Why do you create?
2) How do you decide what to share?

Just Do the Next Thing

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I often think about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall. If you aren’t familiar with the married comedy duo, it’s not surprising. They were the act who followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. How could you possibly follow that?!? Thankfully, Justin Bieber didn’t recently make Linux training videos that I have to follow. But the thing is, this past week has been a surprisingly good week with regard to the things I’m creating being appreciated by other humans. (And maybe robots, I’m ok with that. Meep morp, y’all. How ’bout those electrons, am I right?)

The problem is, one success feels like setting the bar for the next thing. And a big success makes for a really high bar.

After this blog was shared by a super popular friend of mine on Twitter (the same friend who often shares my comic… he’s basically my ex-naval fairy godmother), and then one of my youtube videos was showcased in a Hackaday article by another friend, the traffic and popularity of my stuff has stepped up a bit. No, I’m not an influencer, or a YouTube celebrity, or parking a Tesla in my garage… (or, you know, having a garage) — but I crossed the monetization threshold on YouTube (the process of which apparently takes about a month, and then I could make DOZENS of cents a day!) I was sent a tech product to review without me asking or buying it, and there are actual conversations happening in the comment sections of my stuff.

OMG, I’m Too Good Looking, and My Wallet is Too Fat…

I know, I know. Complaining about a modicum of success is pretty douchey. I mean, isn’t being successful exactly what I’m intending to do with all this writing and newslettering and podcasting and videoing and cartooning and… everything? And Shawn, if you can’t handle a video getting 1000 views without feeling overwhelmed, you’d better hope you never actually make it big.

And yeah, I get all that. And I do hope the success continues. Heck, my lofty aspirations include the need and ability to actually hire people to join me in my endeavors. The problem I’m mulling over now is that I find it difficult to do the next thing when the last thing was deemed “worthy and good” by the masses. I think as humans (or robots, still love you guys) we tend to look at a very narrow slice of time. Heck, we practice “living in the present” as a way to stay healthy in mind and body. But the road to success is long. For some of us, very long. And while intellectually I understand a video that gets 10,000 views isn’t 100 times better than a video that gets 100 views, it sure feels that way. Let me get very specific. I’ll use my YouTube channel as the example, because this week has some prime examples of what I’m talking about.

The Hackaday Debacle of Awesomeness

One of the many things I do, is to occasionally co-host on FLOSS Weekly over at One of the OTHER occasional co-hosts is Jonathan Bennett. We don’t know each other in meat-space, but I consider him a friend, and if we were at a tech conference, we’d totally hang out and be nerdy. Anyway, he’s a writer at — and last week he included my SSH Tunnels video in an article he wrote. It sent a flood of users to my tiny YouTube channel, and quickly elevated that video to like 7,000 views in the first week. Most of my videos get about 100 views in that timeframe. It also brought in lots of new eyeballs, who subscribed to my channel, which increased the views on my other videos, and there was a snowball effect that gave my tiny channel a boost.

Again, my channel is small. We’re not talking fame and fortune, we’re talking a cool growth acceleration. Like I mentioned above, it even bumped me over the monetization threshold, so that approval process started.

But HERE is the crux of the situation. My brain tells me that SSH Tunnelling video must have been the cream of my video crop. THAT VIDEO is what will breed more success. Whatever I did there is what I need to do every time, and improve on. Because for some reason, my brain says, “This is a video of a creator that has 3,000 subscribers. If you want to increase to 5,000 subscribers, you clearly need a video that’s about twice as good.”

Now I KNOW that’s not how it actually works. Heck, even my observation of older videos getting more views proves that it’s not a single video that raises the bar of adequacy. But as I often point out, brains are not logical. They’re emotional, fickle, jiggly think-meats which assume the worst and never appreciate the best. And so, I didn’t make another video that whole week. The week where I was getting more and more people interested in my channel and my content. I was crippled with fear that I’d release a video that wasn’t better than the SSH Tunnel video. And people would know that the apparent “star quality content” was a fluke.

Brains suck. (I actually accidentally typed “Brians suck”, and autocorrect was just going to let me insult innocent Brians everywhere. C’mon robots, I thought we were friends?!?)

The week went by, and the popularity boom waned. I still garnered quite a few new subscribers, which was incredible, but instead of riding that incoming wave, I floundered and released no new content. On Friday, I felt so terrible about not releasing anything, that I threw together a video on Linux Certifications, and posted it. I figured it would flop, but at least I was trying. (That video is honestly doing really well, which is weird, because it hasn’t been boosted by anything external. So who knows.)

So What Have You Learned, Shawn?

Honestly? I have no idea. Here’s the thing though — it’s pretty common with anyone who gets a bump of success, that they struggle with their next endeavor. One-hit wonders, authors who write a successful book, middle-aged men who get a compliment on how their hair looks… we all flounder with how to meet or exceed whatever we did that was deemed “good”.

The only advice I really have is that maybe we shouldn’t try to outdo ourselves. Just like it’s unhealthy to compare our success to other people, comparing ourselves to the most successful thing we’ve done is just silly. I’m just as good as that guy who made the SSH Tunnel video, because I’m that guy. I wasn’t trying to specifically make a stand-out creation, I was just doing what I love. Greatness isn’t a thing we do, it’s the way we do the things we do. Trying hard to be a more perfect self seems silly. We’re already exactly ourselves.

So just do the next thing. And in the words of Paul McCartney, Let it Be.

Doing One Thing Well, or Not

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When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s the deal:

For the past decade plus, I’ve been a trainer for CBT Nuggets. Many of my videos are still in their catalog, and most people would have no idea I’m not working there anymore. I’m currently a full time sysadmin managing a bunch of Linux systems in various datacenters around the western US. But a couple things made me want to do more than just my DayJob.

  • The pandemic proved that jobs are not a sure thing. So many folks were laid off, or lost their jobs entirely, it was a scary wakeup call. A single income stream, even a really good stream, is scary if it might disappear.
  • I really really miss making training videos.
  • I really really miss writing for Linux Journal.
  • My kids are grown now, so I have a little more time on my hands.
  • My kids are grown now, and they’re currently trying to survive in an economy where surviving, much less thriving, is difficult. I want to set an example on how to diversify income.

Anyway, for those reasons and probably more, I decided to go “all in” for the entire 2022 calendar year. I still have a DayJob, so this means lots of after-work work. But again, it’s a good time in my life for that sort of thing. I’m not missing anyone’s basketball games, etc. As of right now, I’m about a third of the way through the year, and I’ve learned a few things.

There’s no Right Way, but Lots of Wrong Ways

My biggest focus thus far has been with YouTube. Yes, a 46 year old man becoming a “YouTuber” seems like a sad sort of midlife crisis, but I actually have a lot of experience making videos. And I’m a bit of a camera whore (I really like being on camera/mic). So YouTube actually makes a lot of sense. But oh my goodness are there nuances with the platform. For example:

You Must be Genuine

I think I do OK with this one. I’m not good at being fake. But… I’m a fairly weird dude, so maybe I should strive to be genuinely Ryan Reynolds… but Ryan Reynolds already does that, so y’all are stuck with me. Seriously though, I think people assume that unless they’re super charismatic, they’re too boring. That’s honestly just not the case. I’m a pretty boring guy. But when I’m passionate or excited about something, that’s when I light up. And everyone is like that about something. I tend to get excited about a LOT of things (more on that later), but the common adage to, “write what you know” works for YouTube as well. When you’re excited about something, that passion is contagious.

You Must be Unique

This is really a carryover from the previous point. If you’re genuine, you’re unique. Because no one else is like you. When I started taking YouTube seriously, it was tempting to emulate other successful people on the platform. There is some value to seeing what works and doesn’t work but it’s important to only emulate what they do, and not who they are. It’s hard to be genuine or unique if you’re trying to be just like someone else.

Those two “rules” are the most important, at least I think so. Look, I’m not a professional at YouTube, and this isn’t an article on how to be a YouTuber, but I think without following those two ideals, it’s impossible to be happy as a content creator. The next points are important to be a financially successful YouTuber though. And I like them much less. 🙂

You Must be Specific

This is the whole idea of “niching down” on a subject. The narrower you focus your content, the more people you draw in. This seems backward, because a broader array of topics would capture the interests of more people. You know, a bigger net catches more fish. But since there are an almost infinite number of YouTube channels, people tend to gravitate toward the ones where every video hits their sweet spot. If you branch out, the number of people your particular eclectic tastes match will dwindle quickly.

For example, a few of my passions are Linux, A/V equipment, Birdwatching, Renewable Energy, and Kool-Aid. Any one of those subjects might resonate with people. But if I made a YouTube channel with all those topics? Very few people would subscribe, because while they might like one or two of those subjects, they’d get annoyed by videos popping up in their feed on the less desirable topics. So, they look for a channel that has videos on their specific likes, and subscribe to multiple channels. So a person with my particular tastes would subscribe to a Linux channel, a birdwatching channel, a few A/V review channels, and an 80’s retro beverage channel.

That’s difficult for me. Because while I intellectually understand why having a specific niche is vital for YouTube success, it feels very limiting. And honestly, I get bored. Even if it’s one of my passions, if I don’t feed the other beasts in my head, they get restless. And that is sorta where the point of this whole post is going. Because the last “rule” of YouTube is…

You Must be Consistent

Oddly enough, posting videos every day isn’t 7 times better than posting once a week. Sure, you get marginally more views, but more importantly than number of videos you produce is the consistency with which you produce them. But honestly, even this is extremely flexible.

The consistency you MUST strive for is having consistently good content. Releasing regularly is also good, but not as important as having consistently good quality videos. And look, what “good quality” means is very much up for debate and evolution. For example, most people agree that having music in videos keeps people watching. But… I generally don’t, because it feels contrived for my style. I just talk into a camera, demo stuff, and try to teach complicated topics in a way that makes them easy to understand. A soundtrack seems to detract from that, so at least for now, I don’t add music.

Bonus Must: Audio

This isn’t YouTube specific, but just a tip for anyone making video. People will look past questionable video quality (to a point), but audio quality is king. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a microphone first.

So What’s My Point?

I started the year making lots of videos in pretty short order. That was partly due to me really missing the training process. But also, I wanted to have a backlog of videos in place that new viewers could “binge” and get a taste for my style. So I worked hard to get a full “Linux Essentials” course created, making multiple videos a week, and publishing them in rapid succession. But that came at a cost.

At a mere 2 months in, I started to feel some burnout. This is not because I don’t enjoy teaching, or because videos aren’t interesting. It’s because some of those YouTube rules above are really oppressive. I understand my YouTube channel needs to be mostly Linux focused. But as a person, *I* can’t be all Linux focused all the time. So while the idea of doing one thing and doing it well is good advice, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t always work. My inability to be disingenuous works against me here. If I’m genuinely miserable doing one thing, that one thing I’m doing will be a miserable version of the thing.

I Need More Irons, and More Fire

Toward the beginning of my “Big Year”, I tried to follow the standard advice of not having too many irons in the fire. If I do lots of things, it spreads my time and talent thin, so everything will be mediocre at best. And even reading that last sentence, it makes sense. But human meat sacks don’t always follow logical rules. I’m starting to discover that if I don’t put lots of irons in lots of fires, my one big fire will burn out. I know that is stretching the metaphor hard, but basically, I can’t focus all my energy on one thing or that thing suffers.

So as I enter the second trimester of the year, I’ve decided that I need to do more things. Even if I do those things a little less regularly, the things should end up being better in general. This rekindling of my blog is a prime example. I miss writing regularly, and the best way to scratch that itch is to write. Where better to write than in my own personal blog, where the only rules are ones I make up? I’m doing other things too, and will probably write about them here eventually, but off the top of my head:

  • Reading this blog as a “blogcast”, which is a word I made up. I think. It’s like a podcast, but is just me reading these words out loud.
  • Reviewing things on my review site.
  • Adding a video aspect to those reviews, probably on a new YouTube channel (not yet created).
  • Video blogging on a secondary YouTube channel (INSIDE The Brain of Shawn)
  • Speaking at events (virtually for now)
  • Drawing my comic
  • Learning Spanish
  • Constructing a micro datacenter at my farm
  • Trying to go outside more

My point is, rules are important, but they should always be examined and revised. Plus, the definition of success varies for the individual. I hope this “Big Year” of mine proves to be the start in a life long pursuit of passions and revenue streams. But if at the end of 2022 I discover that I really don’t like the whole “be a creator” thing? That’s valuable too. I’d rather be absolutely certain I don’t like something, than forever wonder what could have been.

Learn everything. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind.

Jelly is Lonely

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And of course I mean jelly people are lonely. Jealous people, that is. Actual jelly people are never lonely because they’re sweet and sticky, and people either want to lick them, or are stuck to them. And that’s weird, so I’m gonna stop.

Sometimes it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone. Particularly when they’re really good at something that you are super bad at. For example, I am not jealous of:

  • Olympic athletes
  • Basketball players (Olympic or otherwise)
  • Professional cake decorators
  • People with exotic taxidermy collections
  • Cave divers
  • Antique furniture collectors

Ok, it’s beginning to occur to me that it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone who is good at something you don’t want to do, regardless of skill level. But I still argue it’s easier to resist jealousy when someone else is really good at something I’m bad at doing. Here are some more examples, these I’m maybe envious of, not not really jealous:

  • People who can draw
    • (Yes, I see the irony and/or hypocrisy because I literally draw a web comic, but it doesn’t mean I can actually draw — just that I’m unwilling to let my lack of skill stop me…)
  • Really good photographers
  • People who understand how semicolons work
  • Physically attractive folks
  • Singers who can melt your soul with their voices. (I’m looking at you, every member of my immediate family)

And then there’s jealousy of possessions, which isn’t really about the person who has the stuff, but more about your own lack of stuff. Maybe this is covetousness? I think that’s just another flavor of jealousy though, so it counts even if it’s a bit different. And we don’t really need a whole list, because it’s usually:

  • People with money
  • The things people with money have and do

And I really can’t help with that last list, because wanting more and more and more is a much deeper issue, and I think it’s rarely solved by actually attaining those things. Although, having more money is honestly usually nicer than being poor. So while it might not be the solution to all life’s problems, it’s nice to have central air and a heated garage than to not have those things. (Or so I assume, I have neither) But that middle list of things you wish you could do, but other people are better can get ugly pretty quick.

If you are good at something, or you are trying to do well at something, and someone else is MUCH better than you at it — it’s easy to get bitterly jealous. Especially when the other person is able to accomplish such things with minimal effort. And no, I’m not talking about people who work hard for years and then get accused of being overnight successes when they finally make it big. I mean those people who are like, “Oh wow, I’ve never even tried waterskiing before. Check out this sick flip!” Thankfully those people are rare, and nobody likes them. Nobody likes you Dave…

Take my friend Jim, for instance. Jim and I actually have a lot in common. We’re both old, we’re both grumpy, we’re both incredibly unattractive.

Ok, that went sideways. Lemme try again. Jim and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both writers. We both like taking photos of birds. We both want to support ourselves and our loved ones using our creative abilities.

And Jim posts photos like this. ALL THE FRIGGEN TIME. And he’s able to support himself using various creativity-based revenue streams. And he can grow a real moustache. It would be easy for me to be jealous of what he’s accomplished. Even though I know he’s worked for YEARS to build the skill required to do what he does.

Because jealousy isn’t rational. And it’s not even about the other person. Jealousy is frustration and disappointment in yourself and your situation. And to come back to my original point — jealousy is very lonely. And I use Jim as an example here, because I’m not actually jealous of his accomplishments. I’m honestly super happy for him. But there are people who turn me green on a regular basis.

I’m not going to specifically mention any of them here, because giving light to those demons only makes them stronger. And some folks might tell me, “oh you’re so much better than them, they suck” — or, “you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people”, and those responses aren’t really helpful even if they are true. Friggen Dave. Because jealousy isn’t rational. So what I do, and what I recommend everyone consider their own version of, is to steal from those people.

I should probably elaborate.

How to Steal Like a Winner

The nice thing about other people getting successful before you, is that you can learn from all the bad choices they made along the way. This actually works for both those people you’re jealous of, and those you’re not. For example, if he could do it over again, Jim would probably never befriend that annoying guy from Michigan. *ahem*ME*ahem* Seriously though, there are so many things I’ve learned from Jim’s success. The frustrations of social media platforms, the importance of personal online security (he gets death threats on the regular), how important it is to disregard hateful feedback, etc. Heck even his moustache — he taught me how to blow my nose when I grew my own sad face-caterpillar.

I have several friends who have published books. Some have self-published, some have used traditional publishing, and some have used multiple methods AND multiple publishers. I have very smart and successful friends. But even though I haven’t written a book yet — I already know the pros and cons of each method, and I know what publisher I absolutely wouldn’t use even if they wanted me. No, I won’t tell you the company. But you can still learn from my thievery — before you agree to publish with a company, talk to some authors who have already worked with them.

I’ve been hitting YouTube pretty hard recently, and the nature of YouTube means you can see the progression of successful creators as they build their channels. I know a few personally, but even if you don’t know the individual people, you can see what things work for them and what things don’t. This one has been invaluable for me. Because I’ve learned that I really hate the “narrow niche” required for YouTube success. That doesn’t mean I can’t be successful on YouTube, but it means I have to put energies elsewhere too. This blog, for instance. And my review blog. And various podcasts I contribute to. And secondary YouTube channels. And silly tweets. And web comics. All of those things help me to “niche down” on my main YouTube channel without feeling like I’m stifling myself. I wouldn’t have known any of that if I didn’t watch other successful creators and how they managed to be successful.

We can learn so much from those who are ahead of us. Even if they leapfrogged us getting there. From people I don’t like, I learn what not to do. And from those I strive to emulate, I learn from their successes and their failures. Heck, in many ways it’s better to let other people blaze the trail so it’s easier for us to get where they are going. But even that isn’t the healthiest way, in my opinion, to deal with jealousy.

Just. Enjoy. The. Beauty.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. If we can focus on appreciating how well other people do things, we can pretty quickly turn our jealousy into admiration. This even works if the people don’t “deserve it” in your opinion. Thank goodness they got lucky, right? Otherwise they’d be struggling forever. Those photos you wish you could take? Hey, you’re getting to look at them. Photos can be magical, and sure, being able to take them is incredible — but you still get to experience the magic first hand when you look at someone else’s work.

We already do this. Have you ever watched the Olympics? We are SO excited for those athletes who have devoted their lives to excellence. We will never be as good at their craft as they are, but that’s OK, we get to see them be great. That isn’t reserved for olympians. Are you jealous of Miley Cyrus’ voice? Maybe instead focus on how great it is to hear her sing. Do you wish you could dance like… um… I don’t really know any dancers. But if you have a dancing person in mind, isn’t it great to see them dance?

The point is, jealousy is a very strong emotion. But many times it’s easy to flip that strong negative emotion to admiration, which is a strong positive one. And that makes you a better person. One that someone might, you know, admire. 🙂

Monetization Sucks Beans

There’s a bitter sort of irony that people who enjoy selling things are rarely the people you want to give money, and those folks who deserve your money are cripplingly uncomfortable receiving, much less asking, for it. Mind you, this is a terribly generic take, which (might) be true for the majority of situations, but has so many exceptions it’s bordering on a trope or stereotype. So before you skip to the comments and call me a fool — lemme break down what I mean just a bit.

The sort of predatory salespeople we often (unfairly) associate with the “used car salesman” label, are not the most effective salespeople. The problem is, they’re moderately successful. That moderate success is built on narcissism, deception, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy. They’ll encourage, and even push you to buy more than you need, and manipulate you to pay as much as they can get you to pay. The worse they screw you over, the better they feel they did — and so they’re self-motivated to be just the worst people ever. There are “crafty” versions of these salespeople, who wear the guise of giving a crap about you, but are really just more subtle about pushing those limits, and at the end of the day are only nice because it might benefit them in the long run. (referrals, repeat purchases, etc)

There are genuinely customer-focused salespeople. And oddly enough, they are the most successful type. The great irony here is that on a per-purchase basis, they are likely to make less profit. Yet, in number of sales, repeat customers, referrals, longevity, and countless other non-monetary metrics, they are far more successful than the smarmy, pushy salesforce. These salespeople are rare, and since the “crafty” salespeople mentioned above often appear to be this way — it’s difficult to find them, especially at first. But my hot take on the nuances of the psychology of sales is not what this post is about. I’m just avoiding the main point, because it’s awkward.

Beholden to NO ONE!!!

Some monetization is easy. Sorta. For example, early on (too early, honestly) in my web-comic-drawing-days, I commissioned a stuffed animal of Spot, one of the characters. I have those plushies for sale, and accepting money for them does not feel icky, because I paid for them. (I actually paid WAY too much for them, because I could only afford a limited run, and as such they cost way too much per unit, and so I sell them at cost plus a few bucks for shipping, and even then they’re way too expensive, but I digress.) I paid for them. I mark them up slightly (or not, see above), and I sell them to you. You have a tangible thing that you paid an amount of money to get.

Monetizing creativity, however, gets complicated and icky really quick. For a vast number of reasons. Let’s look at a few…

1: Creative Direction

Let’s say you decide to support my webcomic with a monthly subscription on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If I have tiers of rewards for patrons, it’s a little easier to get a sense of transactional value from your monthly donation. Maybe you see comics a day early. Maybe you get access to livestreams of me drawing. Maybe you get to see comics where Blue says swear words. Who knows. But with that sort of a system, I’d feel a little better knowing you have a transactional value for your donations. It means I have to adjust my creative endeavors in order to accommodate those things — but it works.

But most “lowest tier” support models are just a “big thank you” for supporting. And honestly, I don’t have tiered rewards set up, so if you support me (I have 1 supporter currently, at $4/month), you get nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling when you see Spot befriend a porcupine. BUT… because you’re giving me money, you might feel a bit of ownership over the comic. And that’s not entirely unfair of you. You’re helping make the comic happen, and shouldn’t you have some say on what does or doesn’t happen? Mostly no, of course, but it sorta *feels* like you should, doesn’t it?

This is far more pronounced with something like YouTube. If you’re supporting me with a YouTube Membership (I’m not eligible for monetization of any sort on YouTube yet, so don’t go try), and you’d like me to make more videos on shell scripting, and fewer videos on Kool-Aid taste tests — you might really feel like your opinion matters. And in that case, it really might matter. I mean, you’re paying me because you like the stuff I create. It’s pretty easy to feel comfortable requesting I make things that you like more often, since you’re literally paying me money. And since I’m an individual creator instead of a faceless corporate entity (like, Netflix for instance) — it’s in my best interest financially to listen to you. So… it gets messy.

2: Selling Out

If a creative person creates for money rather than the art itself, doesn’t that make them a sellout?!? WHAT ABOUT THE ART, MAN? Well… the “starving artist” trope is old and worn out, in my opinion. Plus it’s not even accurate. Have you heard of the Sistine Chapel? That ceiling was painted on commission, paid for by the Pope. Was Michelangelo a sellout? Maybe. Did that mean his art was any less art-sy? I’d venture no. It was probably better than it would have been if he couldn’t afford sandwiches for his lunch breaks. So while taking money in return for art doesn’t really make it less genuine or pure — it sorta feels icky. For some reason, if our motivation is to get paid, it often feels (and appears) like we’re only doing it because we’re getting paid. Which, is true. But is that bad? I mean, it shouldn’t be bad, but it feels like it is. Or it feels like it should be. Or… it’s very confusing, but it’s an issue creative folks have to work through.

Then, as if that whole situation weren’t complex enough, add to it the odd personal struggle many artists have with devaluing themselves and their work. It’s hard to charge a living wage when you feel like what you make isn’t work anything. Again, this disfunction isn’t true of all artists, but it’s really super mega common, and not just due to mental illness or abuse. When a creative person is creating, they’re just doing what they do. It *feels* like something anyone can do, or something that lots of people could do much, much better. (Look at my comic, y’all… if you love it, it’s not due to my amazing art skillz. Or, at least in my head there’s no way it’s because of my art skills)

So either what we do isn’t worth real money, or if we take money, we’re not doing it for the right reasons, or if we do take money we’re just shills trying to make a buck doing something that isn’t real work anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, monetizing creative endeavors is complicated. And often feels icky. And also often, it’s not something the actual creative people are good at doing even if they’re OK with doing it.

3: Being Flaky

Sometimes I can’t create things. There are any number of reasons why. For videos, perhaps I’ve lost my voice. Maybe I have a huge pimple or flushed cheeks that I’m showtoppingly uncomfortable with. At times I just run out of ideas, and need a vacation (of various sorts). The same is true with my comic, my writing, my silly cat photos, and all those other creative endeavors I do but haven’t yet shared with the world. (I’m sorry, and you’re welcome) What happens when I don’t do the thing that you are paying me to do? Will that $4/month subscriber of mine get angry if I don’t make a single web comic for a month? Maybe. And, maybe they’d be justified.

What if I fall into a fit of depression, and I can’t work at all for several weeks? I’d arguably need the monetization more than ever during those times, but it sure seems unfair to ask people to give me money for sleeping in the same underwear 7 days in a row. Heck, a few months ago, I got RSV which turned into bronchitis, and teetered on the edge of pneumonia. I’m a sickly dude, and that sort of thing happens to me. If I’m not able to be “ON” for an extended amount of time, does that mean I’m stealing from folks?

Yes, I realize there are responsible ways to prepare for situations like this. I could have a bunch of pre-drawn comics that are released automatically. I could make videos in advance and do the same. In fact, that would be a very healthy thing for me to do anyway, and I should really do that. But since I still have a full time job (because I haven’t successfully monetized my creative ventures), I can barely keep up with this just-in-time release schedule. So building up a buffer is a lot easier said than done. The flaky bit is just one more aspect of monetization that weighs heavily on me, and likely other creators as well.

No Great Answers

Oh, did you think this was an inspirational story that ended with a, “thus and heretofore we shall solve the problems inherent with funding fine arts…”? Yeah, no. This is just my blog where I think out loud. When I write out my thinky bits, it no longer has to live in my head full time. If you expected me to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything — I’m afraid “42” is the best I can do.

That said, I have discovered some things feel less icky than others, at least for me:

  1. If/when I ever get monetized on YouTube, I will not feel horrible about ad revenue. That’s largely because YouTube ads are the norm, and it doesn’t directly take money out of people’s pockets. (It takes a bit of time out of their day, which is arguably a much more terrible thing to do, but that’s another topic). I also like that YouTube has a “Premium” or “Pro” option so that you can pay a monthly subscription to YouTube and not see ads in videos at all. Creators supposedly still get paid, and users don’t have to watch ads. Once I’m monetized, I’ll be making a video about how the premium plan for YouTube is actually pretty great, and I would cancel Netflix long before I’d cancel my YouTube Premium.
  2. Affiliate marketing is really win-win. This one is weird for me, because it still feels icky. But honestly, it doesn’t cost the user any more money at all, and the creator is supported. I try to make it clear that I use affiliate links when I link to a product, but even then I feel like I’m “tricking” people in to buying stuff so that I get a percentage. And yet, it really isn’t that way. I suspect this is a personal issue I just get to work though. And my new “review” blog is me trying to add some value to affiliate links. We’ll see if that works for me emotionally and financially in the long term.
  3. Books. If (when, darn it!) I write books, I’ll be totally fine with selling them. That’s back to the transactional ideal though. You pay me, you get a book. I plan to write books that are self-published ebooks, maybe self-published print-on-demand books, and traditionally published as well. I have no problem accepting money for any of those methods. But also, writing books is hard. Or so I’m told. I haven’t done it yet. 🙂

Anyway. That’s my brain dump about monetizing creativity. It’s weird, and I don’t have a handle on how to do it properly. Perhaps I never will. But if you’re also struggling with monetizing your passions, and you’d really like to monetize your passions (sometimes, if you don’t have to, it’s a better option to not do so!) — know that you’re not alone.