The Struggles of Being a Creator
Everything that sucks about being a writer
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In last Tuesday's post, I included a link to a feedback survey because I wanted to learn more about what you guys like and dislike about Young Money. If the link was disabled or you missed last week's piece but would like to leave feedback, the form is still open here!
While one reply said, "We get it, you made money trading SPACs then quit your job to travel," (honestly a fair point, I've beaten the dead horse on that one) the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many thanks to those of you who filled out the form!
Out of the dozens of responses I received, one particular piece of feedback stood out:
This was spot on. A lot of my content has revolved around the "ditch the system, do your own thing, and live your life ahaha" mantra. I (and plenty of others) have highlighted the benefits and upsides of such a lifestyle while ignoring the struggles that come with being a creator.
So thank you, whoever wrote this reply, because you inspired this blog post. Let's dive into everything that sucks about creating content for a living.
Two brief stories.
1) When I graduated from college in 2019, I applied to 20-30 different finance-ish jobs in Atlanta and Washington D.C. I landed interviews with 5-6 of them, and I ultimately accepted an offer to work for UPS as a financial analyst in their Atlanta headquarters. As a 22-year-old with zero work experience, I started with a ~$60,000 salary.
2) I started writing Young Money in July 2021. I have published two pieces per week basically every week since this blog's inception, and this is blog number 137. I didn't make a dime from this thing until April 2022, after I had written ~90 pieces.
The amount of time I spend on each blog varies depending on how much research and editing is needed, as well as how easily the words flow from my brain to my keyboard. That being said, I probably spend an average of ~8 hours writing each piece.
Yes, it does often take around 8 hours to write a piece that can be read in 8 minutes. Pretty wild.
It takes me the same amount of time to write each piece regardless of how much a sponsor is (or isn't) paying me, so I spent approximately 720 hours writing 90 pieces before this blog officially became a business.
And that's just writing itself. You can't make any money unless you have an audience, and people aren't just going to find your stuff organically, especially when you're getting started.
I'm fortunate that writing comes pretty naturally to me. But marketing? That was a foreign language that required a ton of experimenting.
So on top of the 720 hours that I spent writing (for free), I easily spent another 1000+ hours working on promoting and marketing my blog (also for free).
Promoting and marketing can mean a lot of things, including talking to different publications and sites about sharing my pieces, working with other writers to cross-promote each other's content, growing my social media followings organically, and studying the strategies of more successful/bigger newsletters.
Now back to my old job. With a $60,000 salary and the occasional overtime pay, I was making right around $30 per hour for UPS.
At $30 per hour, the 1720 unpaid hours I spent working on Young Money would have been worth $51,600. And that's just at an entry-level salary. Had I stuck around and gotten a promotion/pay raise, the opportunity cost would have been closer to $70,000.
1720 hours is a heavy investment for something that has no guarantee of paying you anything, but that's the reality of creative work.
And my timeline has probably been a bit faster than average. 10 months from $0 to sponsorships is quick.
This brings me to the first and largest struggle of being a creator: the amount of work it takes to make your first dollar without any guarantee of ever reaching that point.
Speaking of making money, the business side of being a creator isn't all fun and games either. In an ideal world, money would magically appear in my bank account after I hit *publish* on a banger piece. Unfortunately, that's not how any of this actually works.
In the newsletter game, broadly speaking, there are four ways to make money: Paid subscriptions, ads, upselling your own product, or a salary.
Paid subscriptions are the closest thing there is to having money *magically appear* when you hit send, but there's a tradeoff: paywalled posts limit how many people can read them. I want as many people as possible to share and read my stuff, and while I may one day consider adding some level of paid content, it just doesn't make sense with what I'm doing right now.
Using a newsletter to upsell your own product/business/service is a solid strategy if you have a product/business/service to upsell. This isn't really possible in my case, because the newsletter is the product.
And of course, a salary is a stable way to make a living, but the vagabond in me doesn't want to deal with editorial oversight and someone else's deadlines.
Which leaves us with ads. Ads are cool because they allow you to make money while publishing free content. Ads suck because, well, you have to find and negotiate with sponsors. Plus, no one *really* wants to read ads, but we have decided that they are a necessary evil in modern-day media.
To get ads, you have to reach out to companies to see if they want to advertise on your blog. After landing a sponsor, you often have to help with writing the copy, and if the ad didn't get enough clicks/engagement to meet their goals, they probably won't be interested in doing another campaign.
And there isn't some set formula for pricing ads. You'll probably want one price point, they'll probably want another one, and you have to negotiate until you settle somewhere in the middle.
And then you have to update and send invoices, register with a dozen payment systems that vary from sponsor to sponsor, and follow up with advertisers if and when payments are delayed.
All of these small steps collectively take a lot of time, but they are a necessary evil if you want to monetize free content.
And speaking of the content... sometimes you just really don't want to write.
In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield drops one of the biggest truths in writing:
You wake up on a Monday morning, and the last thing that you want to do is write. So you go to the gym. Call family and friends to catch up. Clean your apartment. Go grocery shopping. You handle your to-do list of sort-of but not all-that-important things, so you can feel productive without actually putting in the work.
We've all been there.
But at the end of the day, if you want to be a creator, you have to sit down and create. And then you have to do it again. And again. And again. Sometimes, sitting down and creating just plain sucks. But that's the cost of admission to this game.
And no, you don't really get off days.
I haven't taken a day off of writing in the last 18 months. In fact, this January will be the first time that I have intentionally scheduled a week off from Young Money because I'm going skiing abroad. But I'll still be writing a travel blog, so it's not really a break from writing.
With most "normal" jobs, you get X number of days and weeks off, and you probably get weekends off. Even if you work insane 100-hour weeks, there is still an on-off switch that separates work from the non-work parts of your life.
If you're a creator, that switch doesn't exist. You're always thinking about the next piece of content. Everything that you do and experience is a possible source of inspiration for your work. You can never "leave the office" that exists in your mind.
And if all of the above wasn't enough, there's this constant state of career anxiety. Most professions offer a career arc that you can follow. Analyst to associate to director to VP to partner, or whatever is your industry's equivalent.
If you're a creator? It's all on you, player. You can't get promoted up the food chain, you have to create your own pay raises, and if everyone collectively decides that your content is no longer valuable, your cash flow will disappear in a heartbeat.
So yeah, being a creator kinda sucks sometimes. But so does being an accountant, a chef, a lawyer, a pilot, a financial advisor, a football coach, a banker, or a teacher. The key isn't finding a career that never sucks. The key is finding the suck that you are willing to accept.
Thankfully, writing is a suck that I'm okay with.
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- Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Brian Luebben's Action Academy podcast is one of my favorites thanks to the high-quality entrepreneurs that regularly appear on his show. Brian also shares the key points from each guest in his weekly newsletter, check it out here.
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