There are very few writers, even those with published work on the shelf, who can say that they earn a living wage solely from that writing. A few articles, the novel-in-progress or in my case the fund-raising anthology don’t pay the mortgage. Very few websites or books advising would-be authors suggest you throw up employment before you see how far your work will take you. I was made redundant almost two years ago now, and if it hadn’t been for a husband on an average to good salary and a couple of freelance administration jobs I couldn’t even have afforded the proverbial garret to starve in.
A poem I love, but which I find a little troubling at the same time (possibly because I don’t understand it well enough, or am not a middle-aged slightly alcohol dependent man) is Aubade by Philip Larkin and most particularly the last lines:
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Although the poem involves wider themes, these lines so perfectly express that feeling we get as we wake, perhaps too early as Larkin has done in this poem, knowing that the day ahead may be like every other till it becomes too late for us to make any change to it.
For years (well since 1997 anyway) I have worked in economic and community development on the research side, pulling together the documents necessary to make bids for funding to government and develop the strategies necessary to deliver the projects on the ground. I sat in Brighton, one day using statistics to show that the City was a wonderful place to relocate a business because of its enthusiastic and skilled workforce and the next using the same source to highlight shocking levels of long-term unemployment. Most recently I have focused on social exclusion, the voluntary sector and on evaluating projects given grants to support disadvantaged groups. It isn’t always interesting, it is frequently frustrating (generally when you see one new government initiative after another fail to support those most in need to the money handed out) and with tight deadlines it is occasionally stressful. Going freelance again also meant having to market myself at a time when funding was being cut from every direction. Frankly it is quite obvious to anyone to see where local economies are heading at the moment.
Recently though I was lucky enough to be involved in the evaluation of a project that genuinely surprised me. Local government money was available to support small creative businesses in Somerset to ensure that at a time when the local economy is shrinking what is still a vibrant sector can take their products – be it film, painting, sculpture, music, photography, writing or a myriad other creative skills – out to a wider audience, within and beyond the county boundary. These are businesses which interact well with young people, can inspire and promote excellence and can, quite simply, make a local area a nicer place to live. A sector of small businesses, they can and do take on apprentices and offer learning opportunities to those who can then pursue similar careers for themselves.
Now workplace or life coaching is something I probably need but would never pay for. From self-help books and a general willingness to engage with psychotherapy and counselling I know what I should do in order to get my life in order and working in project management highlighted all the steps necessary to ensure I know how to remain focused, motivated and aware of any risks I might choose to take in my business. IT savvy, spreadsheet aware and with a postgrad diploma in business research I have no excuse for any inability to engage with the market.
However, many creative people may never have been thrust into offices where process and IT was more important than the imagination and the nature of ‘beauty’. If they have they probably left them precisely because they couldn’t graft without the freedom to work on their own terms from their own ideas. Looking at the objectives set by the participants lucky enough to be offered ‘Creative Coaching’ as part of the project, designed and delivered by Becky Wright at New Leaf Life Design, it was obvious that many felt that the only way to get their work known to a wider market was to stop avoiding social media and IT in general and embrace them as a means to ensure their business survived. If they hadn’t ‘given up the day job’ completely they could look to doing so as sales and commissions took off.
I know from the time I spend on Twitter and on Facebook, as well as the growing communities on LinkedIn and Google+ that the really successful writers and artists, photographers and designers are finding support and business opportunities amongst like-minded people. These people produce things that enhance the lives of others on these networks, those that don’t perhaps have the time or inclination to be so creative but who love to be surrounded by inspiring, interesting work.
I have just undertaken the main evaluation and produced the final report for New Leaf, which you can read here New Leaf Creative Coaching. It is clear that from the one-to-one sessions and mentoring made available to the participants even those cynical about the value of such coaching have to admit that it has been very successful. Artists are inspired, work has been exhibited and networks established that simply weren’t available to them before. It might not mean that 18-hour working days are a thing of the past for some of them just yet, but it is undeniably a step towards a sustainable and vibrant business and more of such businesses is just what Somerset needs. Tourists still drive through the county on the way to Cornwall and Devon without a thought to the beauties it contains. Somerset Arts Weeks, run by Somerset Art Works (SAW) , and local arts festivals and craft fairs are vital to showcase not just the art work but the county as a destination worthy of at least a short break stay.
This is beginning to sound a little like a tourist brochure or, God forbid, the local council propaganda paper which drops through our doors in an attempt to convince us the local authority is cutting services to do us all a good turn. However, this project was funded by Somerset County Council and I hope it will not be a victim of the next round of cuts creeping up on us all.
The Creative Industries employ around 1.5 million people in the UK and latest figures available showed that its share of the nation’s Gross Value Added actually increased slightly even in these tough times. It is a sector that often sets out to give people pleasure, enjoyment and yes, perhaps, escapism; not just for the audience but for those that work in it. I seek to be one of those lucky people and good luck to us all….