Robert Fripp, a Brian Eno collaborator and a musical force in his own right, talked once about three "divisions" of creative work that someone can fall into:
.... The third division is research and development, interesting ideas and civilized lifestyle, but you won’t earn a living. Second division will earn you a living if you graft and you can get to be professionally respectable, but you won’t change the world. First division is an entirely different bag of bananas: at worst it’s merely ‘prime market penetration’ and success as mass culture; at best it means the top players, cream of new ideas, and the apex of popular culture. It also involves the commitment to what EG (Fripp’s management company) call the ’24-hour-a-day-man’: total commitment of belief, energy, lifestyle, and time. You put yourself on the line every time you play: you expose yourself to the ignominy of being considered deific by those who love you, being sliced apart by those who don’t: you risk losing yourself in your own press hand-outs and favorable reviews, and abandoning yourself with the bad reviews, without becoming cynical either. You’re on a tight rope: either way you have to jump and if you fall you lose your health, sanity, and occasionally your soul. But you just might fly away. So there’s your choice.
Should I pat myself on the back for coming to many of the same conclusions on my own, albeit decades after Fripp did? (And without having ever run into his words until now?)
If I fit anywhere in this schema, I think I mostly fit in Division 3. And very self-consciously so. I have to learn a living separately of the creative work I do, because I don't try to make it fit a marketable mold. I do still try to market it, in what feeble way a guy on his own can do something like that, but I have no delusions about how far it can reach. (On the other hand, I also don't try to make anything that self-consciously excludes a reader. At least, I try not to.)
Nobody, from what I can tell, can choose to get into Division 1. You get invited, or you get lucky. That said, there have come times when I've thought hard about trying to get into Division 2. Such ambitions lasted until I found out how miserable the money was, even for the best-paid people in that slot, and decided I'd already lucked out. I write for a living — just not fiction. The day job I've carved out for myself pays a lot better than most other writer's gigs, and it helps that I have enough casual techno-nerdery in my system to not find it a grind.
If I tried to retool and become a full-time writer of fiction, I'd be in a terribly precarious position. Problem #1 is the money, as I mentioned before; there's just that much less of it, barring a jackpot bestseller or movie deal, and banking on that is like waiting for ice water to refreeze on a warm day.
Problem #2 is something I got a taste of when I was a freelancer. On the one hand, I had total freedom when it came to my schedule: I could work for my bread four hours a day, then spend the rest of the day working on "more creative" things. The reality was nothing of the kind: because of the amount of work I had to drum up to not starve, I ended up working six- and seven-day weeks, with no more time for my "creative" work than I would have had if I'd had a fulltime job anyway. What freedom I had didn't add up to much when it was hemmed in on all sides by having to satisfy the baseline stuff in Maslow's hierarchy.
I never had fame or money as a stated ambition, or even broader access to the existing apparatus of support for writers. I mostly just wanted to do my own thing, find whatever audience there might be for it, hone my craft, and make a living doing things that had a far better chance of being monetized. Nothing I've ever worked on was calculated to appeal to a wide audience. It might have taken cues from other works designed in those ways, but it was never meant to be anything but itself.
I do keep coming back to a legitimate issue I have with that plan, which is not one of intentions but of feedback. Honing my craft requires having an audience of more than, say, three people. The more feedback you get, and the more of it you get from people who care and who are sincere about liking your work, the less hobbled you are, and the less need you have to second-guess how everything is supposed to work. But I'm leaning more towards that being an issue of picking the right people to surround yourself with as mentors, inspirations, and sounding boards, and less as a justification for trying to pitch yourself to the millions. I'd rather have a few of the right people than a lot of indifferent ones.
Are you one of the few right people who wants to see me make the best of living in Division 3? Show your support for my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.