For Love or For Money?

Elizabeth Lada, like many of us, struggles to decide which job to take. She asks …

What to do when you have a number of medium-sized talents, and the ones that make you money aren’t quite as fun to do (that would be painting/illustrating) and the ones that are more fun to do are not (yet? ever?) remunerative (that would be screenwriting and playing music). How to focus? Reward so many hours of doing the money-maker with a half-hour of the fun stuff? Focus exclusively on the money-maker until some (arbitrary?) goal is met? Do the fun stuff first and wait till the deadline for the money-maker is looming and work like crazy?

Steve: This is another great question and it kind of goes back to an old axiom in Tinseltown, which is “one for love and one for money,” and, uh . . . A lot of actors and writers and directors kind of go by this, where they’ll make a movie that they know is a commercial slam dunk to make enough money so that then they can do a project for love. And I think that that is another possible, there are pitfalls to that, but I think it’s a pretty good way for some people anyway to do it.

So, again, if you’re thinking about a year, you can say “Okay, I’m gonna do, for the first three months, I’m going to work on this project that’s going to bring in some money, and that’ll bring me enough to do the next four months, so that I could work on my web series or whatever it is that I really love, and then meanwhile I will book the last three months to do something for money.”

And, again, one of the great skills that you have to develop if you’re going to manage your time is compartmentalization—to be able to work on one thing and then bring down the gate and work on another. So Liz, this is one way to look at it. One for love and one for money.


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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"


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  1. Seth Godin on March 10, 2014 at 4:24 am

    My take: the professional loves what he does and gets paid for it too.

    In other words, love and money aren’t natural enemies when you’re doing your best work.

    Many artists have set themselves up to believe that they are, that making a living doing great work is impossible, and that if you’re getting paid fairly, there must be some element of what you’re doing that’s wrong or sold out.

    Another way to think about this: Whatever you’re getting paid to do, make it your art, and do it like your life depended on it.

    • Barbara on March 10, 2014 at 9:23 am

      For me, that’s an unsatisfying answer to the original question. Painting is not playing music. And it may be the case that music is a long haul that needs to be supplemented for a time. The music is far less likely ever to take off, I believe, if she weakens her focus on it and makes painting her art instead.

    • Pheralyn on March 10, 2014 at 11:04 am

      While I certainly see Steve’s point about compartmentalization, this is great advice, Seth. Adopting this mindset will set a lot of us artists free. Thanks.

    • George Kao on March 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      I love that Seth replied!

      To bring in an overtly spiritual perspective, whatever we “must” do for money at the moment, we are called to be as mindful, grateful, and excellent as we can be, in doing the job.

      And on evenings/weekends (or off-job times) to do the hobby we love, until we get so good at it the world just can’t ignore us, and would even pay us to do it full-time. It takes persistence, but it’s much easier to persist when you do something for the love whether or not you ever get paid.

      For the day job though, keep doing a good job… and switch day jobs as often as needed to remain sane.

    • George Kao on March 10, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      I recently read “Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg. I’d recommend it to anyone working a “day job” especially if it’s hard to bear…

  2. tolladay on March 10, 2014 at 6:53 am

    This one hits exactly where I live as I devote about 70% of my time to my day job, and the rest to writing. I should note that this division comes naturally, and is not of my doing, as my day job is working freelance.

    If I may be so bold, what I have learned, seems to match up with what Seth is saying above. The more I write, the more I demand out of my day job and the more rewarding it also has become. In fact, I’ve found that when I have 100% of my time devoted to writing I tend to fall apart and find it difficult to master the energy to work that hard. But when I work my day job and cannot write, it makes the upcoming time when I can write all the more precious.

    Mind you, I can do this only because I have a full staff (well my lovely wife, but she’s like a whole army all on her own) behind my efforts, balancing the money and keeping our bank account green when no one calls for work. But what I did not expect was that by demanding more of my writing actually made my day job more fulfilling.

    One last thing. Oliver Emberton has a great blog entry called “How to succeed when you have no special skills”, which is essentially about how a combination of job skills is actually better then any particular one. I highly recommend it.

  3. Greg on March 10, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Perhaps the secret here is a lacking entrepreneurial skill. With increasing platforms and opportunities growing by the day, the list is endless for the artist to make a fantastic living doing what she loves – without sacrificing integrity. And just mean mastering the fundamentals of value exchange + a business model.

    I think outdated is the old model of the starving artist who has to sell out to put food on the table, but rather it’s due time for the sophisticated artist who steps up and takes responsibility to intelligently merge their heat’s work with compensation. Just setting a simple system up such that money flowing mirrors that outpouring of rich value into the world.

    I humbly suggest a 3rd area to allocate our time, where we artists spend x number of hours per week investing in our ability to monetize our gifts to the world.

    • Eva Rawposa on March 10, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      AGREED 100%! You and Seth both hit the nail on the head – there is no good reason not to have both. It’s nearly always possible; it’s really just finding out how that’s the challenge. Often we creatives don’t market ourselves in a way that brings in the green… But we could… 🙂

    • George Kao on March 10, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Brilliant response… yes on the 3rd area!

  4. Krystol on March 10, 2014 at 8:48 am

    This is a tough question. It depends on what you have to work on and what time frame that you have. As a writer time management is tough for me,but I’m getting a lot better. For this question I would time management is a MUST. Get one of those calendars (the really big ones) where you are tear off the page and write out your projects month by month depending on how big or small they are. At least that’s how I would do it. Currently, I don’t have a normal 9-5 but i do work and make money from home so I have more time to work on my projects. This task may seem harder for those who work and possibly have children. Kudos to those that do!

  5. Mike B on March 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    If you have medium-sized talents but you can deliver professional grade work in each area, why not develop your own project that combines each of these skills in a creatively satisfying way? This takes an extra dose of entrepreneurial chutzpah and may take longer to complete and realize a profit. But right now everyone is down with mixed media. The best example I can think of is Shel Silverstein. He was not the greatest artist and would never win a national poetry award. But the combination of his humor, wit, funny drawings and ingenious rhymes produced some of the most original children’s books that are still loved by both kids and the parents who read to them.

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