I don’t think most consumers realize what tiring, stressful, annoying work it is to be a creator. In this day and age, whether someone’s a writer, artist, performer, or any other kind of creator, they’re most likely stretched to their breaking point, doing half a dozen or more things that they have no interest in doing, just in the hopes that you’ll see their work and pay for it. I think it’s long past time for someone to let you all in on what it’s like for us, what it means for how we should be paid, and how we can change the culture that’s killing creativity across the world.
Sadly, the days of an artist doing what they love and making money from it are basically gone. If you’re already wealthy, a people person, and have a network of supporters, you may be able to find success fairly easily. If you’re not all of those things, making it in today’s world is a nightmare. We have to be every employee in a vast business structure, and if we’re lucky, we make less than what any one of those employees would make in traditional employment.
Let’s say you’re a writer. You want to be a blogger. First off, you’re expected to “find a niche” and write only for that. The market is flooded, so standing out is hard. If you’re eclectic and don’t like writing about just one thing, it’s even harder. So, you need to shove yourself into a niche, and face the fact that your niche may not be very profitable, so you choose to write what pays, or what you care about. If you go for the latter, now you’ve got to get inspired, and produce the content. Next you have to find a platform to host it. Either you pay for your own hosting and domain, and learn to use a content system, or you pay some other service to host your work. Done, right? Nope, there’s more.
Now you’ve got to get eyeballs on that work. So you need to revise it to fit whatever arbitrary standards Google is forcing on you this month. It takes days or weeks of research to figure out what they want at any given moment, then the time and energy of reworking to suit their tastes. If you choose not to bow to their demands, which have been leaning toward answer pieces and top-10 lists, you risk never being seen. If you can’t master SEO, you may not be seen. So you’ve already become not just a writer, but a researcher, proofer, editor, SEO specialist, Google specialist, and it doesn’t end there.
You can’t depend on search engines to get your traffic. You need social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Discord, others, or some combination of many, is required to get those precious views. Now you need to be a social media specialist, and a people person. You have to figure out how to get attention in an over-saturated world, and get people to your work. Often you need to learn and master several networks, and none of them are a guarantee.
You then spend time constantly monitoring trends, analytics, and a dozen other metrics, and you’re constantly jockying for attention, and praying it’ll turn into profit. It quickly drains you, and you find you’re losing inspiration and drive. You start hating what you do. You eventually come to a place of caving in and selling out to get some small trickle of profit, or fighting the current to do what you wanted to do in the first place, with the constant, haunting knowledge that you’re very unlikely to succeed.
This isn’t just what it’s like for writers either. It’s like this for every kind of creator. When I started creating handcrafted items in 1998, it was a different world, and I loved it. I would get inspired, create items, list them on BidVille or Yahoo Auctions (pre-ebay sales platforms) with some nice photos and a good description. People would see my work, buy it, and I’d go make more. It was easy and beautiful. I was a creator, and all I needed to know anything about was the one platform where I sold my work, and that was far from rocket science. Then things changed.
The sites I used closed, and ebay and Etsy took over. Now there were bigger fees and higher standards. It wasn’t too bad in the beginning, but it quickly devolved. Soon it was all about catchy titles and keywords, tags and Google-friendly descriptions. It was about doing whatever it took to get more views than someone else, because instead of everyone getting an equal shot at the front page, the front page was a precious space devoted to those who could pay the most or punch in the right keywords. People started buying from one another to leave fake reviews, artificially and ironically inflating their trust level with 5-star reviews. Then social media became a requirement to get noticed, you had to blog too, and have Instagram, and pay, pay, pay. It was a dog-eat-dog system, and it’s gotten worse as the years have passed.
It shouldn’t be like this, and it doesn’t have to be. Creators should be able to do what they do, put it up somewhere, and have money come in. We shouldn’t need to do a dozen jobs on 20 different platforms, and pray we get some pennies at the end of the day. We shouldn’t have to bow to the ever-changing whims of Google, facing dark obscurity if we don’t. We shouldn’t have to pay more than we earn, and pretend we’re successful while we’re at it. We shouldn’t have to sell our souls to make what sells, rather than what we love. (And trust me, I’ve been in enough content creator circles to know, there’s a sick mentality that’s developed in the last decade, where you’ll actually get blacklisted if you try to stay true to your vision, rather than do what’s hot in the moment. More often than not, creators sacrifice their vision for a paycheck, and you, the consumer, suffer the loss of a whole world of unique content.)
It’s completely possible that companies could rise up and provide creators with what they need. For a reasonable fee, give us a platform, advertising, and take the hellish work off our shoulders. Let us do what we want, not what we feel forced to do for a meager income. Consumers could learn to appreciate creators, and stop expecting us to be on every social media network all day long, producing flawless, pro-quality content like machines, while offering our work at yard-sale prices. Consumers could pay reasonable prices, support struggling creators, and look to venues other than the content giants, to find creators that provide unique content. Until things change (which customers should help push for) you could show some love for all the hell we go through, the ridiculous amount of learning and work we have to do, and really make us feel like what we do is actually worth the exhaustion, stress, and depression most of us live with every day.