If You Want to Make Money Writing, Just Don't Think About Pink Elephants

Scott Leonardi

Still-shot image from Dumbo, 1941


That’s the classic problem, right?

Someone tells you to not to think of something for ten seconds, and what instantly floods your mind?

Our savanna-stomping pink-trunked pals are merely a crowd favorite, but it works for just about anything.

Especially money.

Nowadays, with the right know-how and carefully curated list of explanatory YouTube videos, you can figure out how to make money doing just about anything.

With the seemingly endless array of income streams available to anyone with a good attitude and decent internet connection, it’s no wonder our generation is so fixated on being able to monetize their every action, reaction, distraction, and interaction.

If you can make the same amount recording your reaction to a 3-minute music video as you would working eight hours as a gas station attendant, why on Earth would you damn yourself to the graveyard shift?

If you can rake in the same pile of cash posting scantily clad photos on Instagram as you could endure the hot breath of incompetent middle management on your neck at a day job, who could blame you for making the switch?

The myriad options for income available to us today is truly a blessing, but it’s also a bit of a Faustian bargain. Desperate to lay claim to our autonomy, we sever our strings to those we deem unjust puppet masters. Then, in the spirit of children emulating parents, we craft puppets of our own. Puppets that look exactly like us, speak exactly like us, move exactly like us.

We send our avatar children into the digital infinity of cyberspace fully equipped with our romantic ideals, our gambler’s fallacies, and our handful of talent tokens we hope to trade for acceptance into godhood. All with a little flapping flag that says Follow Me sticking out of a raft inflated solely on the noxious fumes of our ego.

Then, we sit back and wait for our avatars to return trailing followers by the thousands. Only then will our evolution from dreg to deity commence.

It’s a deluded lottery, and yet we still can’t break the fever. Over time the virus starts to reprogram our factory settings and we start to forget how to see the world in any way other than transactional.

The thing is, if you have the chance to support the life you want to live, doing the thing you love to do, why wouldn’t you take it? No one wants to feel stuck under the clammy thumb of some man-child in a necktie any more than they’d want to sacrifice their first-born to appease their corporate overlords.

Your average day job isn’t so dire, but you get my point. At face value, freedom over servitude sounds great, but what most people don’t always realize is that freedom actually comes with more responsibility.

You have to learn to integrate the two sides of your mind without ruining both. If you’re not careful, your art will no longer roam free in the fields of your subconscious. It’ll wear a leash held by your logic.

Meanwhile, your logic is off-kilter because it’ll be constantly trying to wrangle in this nonsensical daemon constantly pulling on its restraint by trying to fly away any chance it gets. Your art will choke itself, your logic will meld with emotion, you’ll become a walking paradox.

People will say things like, “If you’re in this for the money, you’re not going to make it.”

But, in this day and age, when you’re on the path to artistic fruition, how can you not be aware of the world you’re birthing your creation into?

Yes, of course you should create things for the sake of creating them. Yes, of course you should try to keep the wolves of criticism, judgment, and potential financial gain at bay when sneaking into the sanctuary of The Artist. But in a world that’s always watching, a world of nearly limitless creative potential, a world that pays more for less than what you’re doing right now, it’s not always so easy to hold onto your artistic innocence.

For those of us living paycheck to paycheck — as the majority of this country is — the idea of making a living doing what you love feels like some foreign fantasy land. A place reserved for those inside the magic mirror. A surreal place where people are happy and get paid to merely exist.

I’ve been one of those people my whole life. I’ve never made money doing anything I actually enjoyed doing.

For me, day jobs and shitty paychecks have been as much a part of life as bad weather and car accidents — they’re just a part of reality and there’s not much you can do about it. It’s not like I’m unaware of the option of working hard for a career that pays better, but I’ve always seemed to value my time over money. Then again, the more I say that, the more it sounds like an excuse for my laughable bi-weekly bounty.

With this in mind, for someone like me, seeing any indication that infusing my art with my finances is actually working feels as if I’m entering a world of miracles. A world where people are rewarded for being themselves, and if you’re able to sharpen your senses enough to tune out the world and focus on your craft, you will be rewarded with a life unbound to convention and the systemic suppression of individuality.

I know it’s an exaggeration, and I know that individuality has its limits, but as someone who’s been burnt out in the menial job market for years, financial freedom through integrated artistry and personal responsibility feels like an Olympian-level achievement.

I’m not saying it’s everything, or that I would magically feel fulfilled as a person, but that’s not my point.

What I’m saying is that when you find yourself in the world of art today — art in any form, mind you — it’s becoming increasingly difficult to set aside thoughts of money.

It really is a shame. It’s a hard truth, but our eye for beauty and the natural splendor of our artistic talent has been tainted by the Almighty Dollar.

Trying to balance genuine creation and financial foresight on the tip of a pencil is a dangerous game to play, I know that.

The dangers involved are similar to the patients described in Viktor Frankl’s lauded book Man’s Search for Meaning who seem to be stuck in a state of “hyper-intention.” People who feel trapped in this state of mind are the sources of their own misery. They can’t help but focus so intensely on preventing a particular situation from occurring, that it’s their fear itself that causes the situation to occur in the first place.

In the book, he uses “paradoxical intention” to combat his patient’s fears. For a man whose fear of sweating too much would be what caused him to do just that, sweat too much, he was told to try and intentionally sweat as much as possible. A mere week later, the patient returned claiming that this exaggerated intention allowed him to let go of his anxiety and, in turn, prevented him from his excessive perspiring. It was his willingness to change his attitude and detach through a lens of openness and good humor about himself that allowed this phenomenal cure.

Now, as artists it may not be in our best interests to intentionally create the worst art imaginable in an attempt to somehow overcome our “ailment” of Not-Making-Money, but it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard for getting over yourself and your perfectionism when it comes to creative and financial anxiety. Because as far as our hyper-intention goes, I’d say there’s an abundance of guilty parties here.

Some people try so hard to “make” something of themselves they don’t realize how much they’re actually holding themselves back from creating something authentic. Isn’t it always the case that the harder we try, the harder it feels? The more we hyper-focus on monetary gain from our art, the less we’re ever satisfied and the more our art suffers?

The people who warn against thinking about the money are mostly right. When it’s the only thing on your mind, the further away that goal will pull from you ever being able to reach it. It’s only when we allow ourselves to relax and not take ourselves or our goals so seriously that we begin to feel as if we’re making genuine progress in our craft.

There’s always the potential of sabotaging both your art and your bank account when attempting to braid them together. But I also don’t think it’s necessarily oil and water we’re talking about here. It’s not an impossible feat to compartmentalize these facets of yourself, and with enough practice, it becomes easier to manage.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice artistic integrity just because there’s a fly in the room shaped like a dollar sign. You can still be genuine in your craft without getting distracted by occasional buzz. Perhaps when that fly evolves into a large bird with dollar bills for wings flapping and squawking in your face while you’re trying to be creative, then it’ll be time to open the window and let that bugger out.

Just be authentic in your voice and in your actions. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever be rewarded for anything you create, but that’s not the point of creation in the first place. Maybe your work will be recognized one day, maybe not. That shouldn’t be the guiding force of your creative motivation, but in this day and age you’d be forgiven if you found it hard to not think about it at all.

Money itself isn’t important when it comes to creation. It has no inherent value other than what we’ve given it. However, it is a tool, and tools make building a life and providing for yourself a hell of a lot easier.

Life itself is art. Of course, you want to create and contribute to life’s artistry in the same way it created and contributed you. You yourself are a work of art and wanting to live in accordance with creation itself through creation itself is only natural.

Wanting to infuse these two opposing forces is difficult, but not impossible. You just have to be aware of when one side is bleeding too much into the other.

Different tools were made for different reasons. As long as we can differentiate our financial tools from our artistic ones, we should be able to stay in decent psychological shape.

It’s just that, with the world being what it is today, telling me that the only way to make money by creating something authentic and meaningful is to not think about the money, well, sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’m being told that all I have to do is not think about pink elephants.

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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at MossManSupreme.com

Imperial Beach, CA

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