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It’s challenging to keep on making art in a world that views worth in terms of dollars. I make hardly any money as an illustrator and a writer – perhaps, if I were more ambitious, I would – but I feel like I am ambitious, just in all the wrong ways. I want what I do to have value but am constantly plagued with the thought that it doesn’t. Still, I keep on writing things and drawing things, hoping that they might bring someone pleasure, they might record something that others have missed, they might prompt somebody to think differently about the world. Or maybe art-making for me is some useless Pavlovian response. I see pen – I pick it up and draw. We will all soon be dead.

On Friday, it was reported that CNZ would have a cut in funding thanks to there being less Lotto money to go around this year. That made me feel depressed. Why is support for the arts dependent on gambling? Statistically more poor people gamble, and rich people in New Zealand are enjoying tax cuts. Large companies avoid paying tax, as so beautifully illustrated by Toby Morris. Couldn’t rich people pay a bit more tax and companies do a little less tax evasion so that arts, health, education, welfare and the environment could be properly supported in New Zealand?

Still, there’s that nagging feeling: if nobody wants to pay for my work, why should I expect the government to support it? I’m wondering if it’s some kind of Stockholm syndrome, the result of living for too long in a free market economy. I look at what my children want: YouTube clips, Netflix movies. They want stories but they want them to move and talk and sing. My son wants to become a YouTube celebrity. My daughter tells me that she never, ever wants to become a writer. What I make is too static, too quiet. Its value is too ephemeral and unmeasurable.

I would write more, but I have another load of washing to hang out.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. Jo Thapa permalink
    04/04/2016 12:42 pm

    Hang in there. There are heaps of people out here that value people like you, one of the people who make life more interesting and colourful. There is always a quandary – a creative but broke career, or a non-creative but well paid career…what can you live with? Let me know if you find a third solution, I’d be interested to hear.

  2. 04/04/2016 1:01 pm

    I fucking love this post so much and I love you! Please don’t ever stop. xxx Helen

  3. 04/04/2016 1:21 pm

    Oh I love this SO SO much too! It gets it. It gets that pointless point that needles as you work and wonder. Yes please to children’s graphic novel.

    We love your work. Can’t wait for KM!

    That fogclouddripping mist that sucks us up like a big black void needs to be sent to Mars.


  4. 04/04/2016 1:45 pm

    A cartoonist friend (the mighty Leela Corman) likes to say this: “Nobody’s watching and nobody cares.”

    I find it comforting and liberating, sitting down to write and draw in the knowledge that what Leela says is true.

    Of course, earning a living is a whole other thing… 😛

    • Diana Zadravec permalink
      05/04/2016 2:14 pm

      You say “I find it comforting and liberating, sitting down to write and draw in the knowledge that what Leela says {nobody’s watching} is true.”

      Ha, you wish.

  5. 04/04/2016 2:18 pm

    I am reading your novel The Fall of Light right now and loving every word and illustration. I know money matters because I am also self-employed but creating art is essential to our framework as a society and you have to find the rewards in small obscure places because they are there. And you have to take them out and polish them occasionally.

    • Sarah Laing permalink*
      06/04/2016 9:44 pm

      Thank you! And yes, I think creating art is essential too!

  6. 04/04/2016 2:31 pm

    So true. CNZ are also relying on everyone crowd funding to make their projects happen, and there is the pressure to apply for less money than you actually need. The system is broken but making art/writing/drawing etc is worth so much more that doesn’t pay the bills…and don’t get me started on people asking you to do stuff “for exposure”.
    Ps – you are awesome!

  7. William permalink
    04/04/2016 2:51 pm

    Keep it coming Sarah, we love your work

  8. Helen Hunter permalink
    04/04/2016 2:53 pm

    I so relate to this. I struggle to feel I am entitled to spend time writing when the house is a mess and I am not bringing in any money.

  9. 04/04/2016 2:54 pm

    I love this post. Find it incredibly comforting and inspiring. Keep doing what you do.

  10. Mary Cavanagh permalink
    04/04/2016 2:56 pm

    Please please please DO write another novel!!!!!! Your books are totally FABULOUS and I have been waiting eagerly for the next one 😍

    Sent from my iPhone


  11. 04/04/2016 3:14 pm

    This is my life! Yet we cannot stop can we? I too love this post so much. Thank You thank you thank you for creating it, on behalf of us all x

  12. Fifi Colston permalink
    04/04/2016 3:16 pm

    This is our lives! I am beset by doubt every single day, but not to keep doing what I do is unthinkable. Thank you thrice for creating this post. You speak for many and we love you.

  13. Breton permalink
    04/04/2016 4:09 pm

    It’s grim… a character in Damien Wilkins’s new book says, ‘Never in our history have we been run by a greater bunch of Philistines.’ Or something close. Have they infected the public with their smug ignorance? Despite that/them are we not in the midst of a boom in New Zealand writing? Knox, Wilkins, Catton, Perkins, Shuker, Smail, Patchett, Coventry, Adams… And that’s just tip of a great iceberg of fiction writers. Not to mention the poets, essayists, graphic novelists. So what the fuck?
    Today my royalty check arrived for my two books. The last six months have netted me -6 dollars… And we’re out of bread… Still, imagine life without writing/drawing… My wife would divorce me. I might go mad… I can’t stop. It’s like my mum and her exercise. Anyway, I’m optimistic. If humans are going to remain on the planet there’s going to have be a shift away from this dreary right-wing greed… so keep at it, I say. Shove it up the bastards.

    • Sarah Laing permalink*
      06/04/2016 9:48 pm

      So true! So many great writers out there at the moment. And yes – I think it is a compulsion. And a bloody good alternative to making money regardless of the environmental consequences (although then I begin to feel unsure… books, paper, rampant internet consumption… also bad for the environment?)

  14. Rhapsodie permalink
    04/04/2016 4:36 pm

    It enrages me that anything not profit-driven, whether it’s the arts or scholarship, is unsupported and unrecognised.
    Please don’t give up: you have a vocation. New Zealand is a better place with your work in it. I’m really looking forward to ‘Mansfield and Me’.

  15. 04/04/2016 4:41 pm

    It may be selfish of me, but I do hope you keep writing and drawing because I enjoy your books, writing, and art immensely. But I do totally get how difficult it is to make a living as a writer, especially in NZ. If it’s any consolation, I make a point of always buying books by NZ authors rather than getting them from the library. Maybe it’s enough for a wee cake to go with that well-deserved coffee 🙂

  16. 04/04/2016 4:48 pm

    I’ve given up on earning a living. I’d be happy knowing anyone read what I wrote — or at least that’s what I imagine would make me happy. But I don’t see it happening among all the world’s chatter and convenience. So.

    Anyway, I appreciate what you’ve expressed here, especially with respect to the moving talking singing stories kids seem to love. Nonetheless, I decorate my child’s bookshelves with classics and we read them together and I gush about the texture of old book paper and the scent of a thousand readers’ hands and the thickness of real ink and the beautiful imperfection of a cl bled to a d.

    There’s hope yet, I reckon, at least for the art.

    • Lucy permalink
      04/04/2016 5:47 pm

      Oh Sarah, if it’s any consolation I am so pleased you are writing here again (and I would PAY to read this!) and I bought a copy of Three Words solely on the strength of your involvement (& Sharon Murdoch, she’s awesome too).

      Believe it or not, some of us who have sold our souls to pay the mortgage – and who must keep our households ticking over (I suspect this is a woman thing, I’d be happy to hear otherwise) – look back over the fence at our friends who are gutsy enough to pursue their creative endeavours with some envy and much respect. So please don’t think you’re doing this for nothing. And I would write more but the dinner, the washing, the lowly paid yet creatively fulfilling freelance gig and those other things that glue up our days await.
      Hang in there x

      • Sarah Laing permalink*
        06/04/2016 9:49 pm

        Thank you, Lucy x

  17. Jules permalink
    04/04/2016 6:54 pm

    A friend lent me one of your novels over the summer vacation – I loved it! So much so that I went and borrowed the rest of your collection from the library… Sorry, I know that none of my prolific reading will have netted you any cash, but I do want to say that you have a gift. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Sarah Laing permalink*
      06/04/2016 9:50 pm

      Thank you! And getting them out of the library is just fine – NZ writers get a bit of money from the Public Lending Right if people keep borrowing their books – borrow way!

  18. Jacqueline permalink
    04/04/2016 6:54 pm

    And it’s not just about your writing and illustrations. I’ve enjoyed immensely hearing you speak – I go away entertained, re-energised and with a new slant on many things in life. Whatever you do, keep on being you.

  19. 04/04/2016 9:16 pm

    Yes to all of the above! Don’t stop, I’m waiting for Mansfield and Me as well.

  20. Justine Fletcher permalink
    04/04/2016 9:22 pm

    I think you are extremely important and valuable. Lots of us with similar values would give you money if we could – and how unhelpful is that comment?!

    With much admiration indeed – we need you to keep filling your role, don’t stop ever – particularly if the ideas keep coming. Proof indeed of your value.

  21. 05/04/2016 2:29 am

    Reblogged this on Progress.

  22. 05/04/2016 3:56 am

    You are inspiring because you keep on doing it! And in being creative, you are being true to yourself, and that is priceless! And you make a lot of people smile! So, Thanks! 🙂

  23. 05/04/2016 7:37 am

    Yes, this is the perennial problem of being a writer. I’ve struggled with it all my writing life and still struggle even though my kids have grown and left home. I note my husband who’s been self-employed as a writer for 40 years now, has a much greater sense of purpose and self-belief, i.e.everything else is secondary to his job. However, he too falls into despair at the reality of writing fiction. I do not think there is any neat solution to the money dilemma. Clearly there is value in your work, you just have to keep at it, and put aside the idea that there is any correlation between the worth of your work and the payment received. Maybe it’s not so dissimilar to care workers who get paid peanuts. This is why most writers teach or have other part time jobs. As my mother said once, “you can’t eat poetry.” Once I said to a friend, “I think I’ll give up writing it’s just too hard,” She said, “fine,” which is the opposite to what people are saying here but the shock of it made me realise I can’t and so I and, no doubt, you will carry on. As you must because your work has meaning and gives pleasure.

  24. 05/04/2016 8:49 am

    I feel like this sometimes too, thank you for writing !

  25. 05/04/2016 10:23 am

    Well said, girl!

  26. Diana Zadravec permalink
    05/04/2016 2:12 pm

    I often feel like this too, and that’s without the creativity and the children! It’s a demon that one, and only you can conquer it, or better still, give it the cold shoulder. But as you can see from the number of responses your work and thoughts and creativity is read, appreciated and respected. It’s refreshing to see a blog so – frank! Who else calls their blog “angsting” – and pulls it off without being pathetic??
    Actually, I can’t say that because I only follow one blog and that’s yours 🙂 I ordered Three Words a few days ago (it was shipped today – so looking forward!) and the reason I know about it and decided to buy it is because of your blog. Please keep doing what you are doing, and keep the blog coming, a love seeing it appear in my Inbox.

  27. 05/04/2016 4:09 pm

    Yep, very well said. I ask myself almost daily why I put myself (and my family) through this shit! But what you do is beautiful Sarah – and there are many of us out here who treasure it xx

  28. Vicky permalink
    05/04/2016 5:20 pm

    Keep doing what you are doing (as long as you can afford to) there is sanity in the doing and great pleasure in the results – not everything has a dollar value, tho the value of art and creativity always seems to be reaped by someone other than the artist

  29. Sarah Laing permalink*
    06/04/2016 9:54 pm

    I started off trying to reply individually to people but it got too much but thank you for your incredibly encouraging, insightful comments! And I’m so glad that I am not alone in this quandary, although I wish for rewarding creative lives for everybody. Thank you once again for all your wonderful thoughts!

  30. joyridernz permalink
    07/04/2016 8:42 pm

    Keep up the great work! I love reading your blog posts and your books. You’re my hero!

  31. 23/05/2016 12:45 pm

    I was clicking through the bloglist on my blog and was so happy to see you’d started blogging again. I’ve always loved your comics.

  32. 27/07/2016 7:02 am

    That was beautiful and it makes me crazy how our world seemed to put less and less importance on the written word. Our world is very fast paced, with little interest in sitting down with a good book. The Internet and YouTube definitely have their place in our world, but it is great that you are reminding us to slow down. Thank you so much!


  33. identitydenied permalink
    12/09/2016 9:46 am

    my best friend Becky is a beautiful and amazing artist but she’s having trouble with tuition costs. Any donations are appreciated, thank you so much ❤

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