Why monetizing your hobbies is totally okay

Art needs to be supported concretely, not just raved about at parties.

We squeeze our hobbies into the last section of our resumes1 — we want the person reading to think we’re well-rounded individuals with interests outside work2.

The attack of productivity culture

Applying to jobs right now? You might be asked, “What did you do during the pandemic?” and “Survived,” is not the answer they’re looking for. If you had hobbies before the pre-’rona, there’s an implicit expectation that you should have used the downtime (???) during the pandemic to turn it into something profitable. Otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity. 

This isn’t new. In the last few years, people have been forced to replace simple and enjoyable hobbies with ‘hustling’ and ‘upskilling’. There’s no dearth of LinkedIn posts or tweets announcing a new startup that began from someone’s bedroom, something that started as a hobby and turned into their whole job. 

Previously, back when people were able to finish work at sundown and go back home to rest before another workday, hobbies existed to help you connect with yourself and others, something purely for the joy of it. Overwhelming evidence tells us that employees are more productive with adequate time to rest (aka paid time off) built into their lives. But explaining that to companies who stoop to tracking your hourly input because they don’t trust you to work from home is an impossible feat. 

The privilege of having a hobby

All of this to say, people have precious little opportunity, time, and resources to indulge in their hobbies right now. It’s more evident with some hobbies, like golf. Golf is not something you get into one Saturday afternoon after watching a YouTube video. 

Some hobbies are easy to get into and relatively inexpensive to get into. Others, you need to put in time and effort to enjoy them better. For instance, if you only wanted to paint once in a while, you wouldn’t need to invest much to get the right paints or canvases. Your one-off artwork can be hung in your house or gifted to friends for the right compliments. 

But what if you’re really into painting? You might need to keep buying paints, brushes, canvases — all of them can cost a pretty penny. Then, there’s the question of where are you going to keep your numerous artworks? At some point, you’re going to run out of space and friends for your paintings. 

How do you fund such a hobby? 

Some use what they earn from their jobs, others use their savings, and yet others sell their paintings or accept tips & contributions from those who consume what they create. Unfortunately, for many of us who’ve accepted non-creative jobs for financial stability and career progress, hobbies are the only way to express ourselves. Sometimes, they’re stepping stones to the type of work we want to do but cannot risk going for before we know it will be profitable. 

“You’re a sellout!”

For some odd reason, our society doesn’t want to pay creatives. But I haven’t seen a single landlord or a bank accept a song or a painting instead of money for rent and bills. 

The moment a creative asks for money for their work, especially for something that’s not their full-time job (and even then), people are quick to label them a “sellout”. 

The phrase “You’re not a real writer!” is easily thrown around by those who want to assume a moral high ground. You’re not a real writer if you’re not pushing the starving artist narrative. If your books are commercially successful and not after your death, then you’ve sold out — you’re not a true writer, you don’t write for ~ yourself ~. 

Now, if your hobbies and your professional work often blur the lines as mine do, it’s a very tricky balance to maintain. Suddenly, you feel the need to separate the hobby, so it’s not tainted by “money” because, god forbid, creative people, want to be paid fairly for their time and effort. 

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We should have appreciated Van Gogh earlier

No, apparently, great art is born from pain and suffering, and society has convinced us to marvel at Van Gogh’s tortured existence and the work that came from it.

But here’s the thing: Van Gogh painted because it was what he liked to do. That’s the definition of a hobby. But he was also good at it and needed to make money off of it to survive. That’s a job. Unable to put the two together in a way that appealed to the public, he died in poverty because his work was underappreciated and undervalued when he was alive.

For many, paying for what looks like (and probably is) someone’s hobby is baffling. Making money and having fun is an absurd concept because do you deserve it then? How can you earn that money if you were having fun when you were doing it? 

Ironically, the consumption of these creative things should be free, according to the same people. They’ll happily download the artwork off Twitter to use as wallpaper or spend a cosy afternoon reading a well-written (free) fanfic. But, the minute the creator adds a Buy Me a Coffee button or starts accepting commissions, “it’s just not the same anymore”

Creators thrive with support

As human beings, evolution is literally part of our DNA. Similarly, hobbies can evolve from being a one-time thing to a full-fledged interest that demands time, money, and effort to keep up with. 

Hobbies exist to distract us from the ephemerality and mundanity of our lives. Most hobbies spread happiness among the consumers, because creators love their efforts being appreciated. 

Here’s the thing though, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for those creators to ask for payment from those who might be enjoying their creations. But, unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn’t reward creativity and straying from the grind. 

To engage in a hobby, continue with it, and become good at it, creators need support. Monetary support. 

Remember when I said the lines between my hobby and my work are blurred? I write for myself and clients. I read for myself and paid projects. I have to decide which of those I want to pay for and which I want to be paid for. 

I’ve been reading newsletters for years now. It’s a great way to find out things that I probably couldn’t with mindless browsing on Twitter (although that has a certain charm to it). So when I decided to start my own two months ago, I went to war with my own beliefs. On the one hand, I wanted to be paid for the work I’d be putting into this newsletter — it takes time to write and edit, it takes money to pay my illustrator, and it takes effort to do it consistently every week. 

On the other hand, I didn’t want to ask for money for something that was not “work-work”, you know? Or, at least, I didn’t know how to. I’ve seen other writers do this; I’ve supported them in the past too — but I didn’t feel like I deserved to be paid for something that I was doing for myself.

So, when a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while reached out to tell me she loved my newsletter, I was pleasantly surprised to hear her ask about if and when I planned to monetize Perceptive Madness. She was super tactful about ensuring I knew that she didn’t think my content was only valuable monetarily. She didn’t want to disrespect my work/my art (writing is art, fight me) but wanted me to know she found my content worth supporting.

When I asked her why, here’s what she said, which I think many people around the world need to imbibe.

“I think it’s because I am a firm believer of the notion that art deserves to be concretely supported, and not just raved about at parties.” - Pratha S.

It takes a lot of unlearning. It took time for me to be okay with asking for and accepting monetary tips from my readers. It still feels hella awkward. But I guess I have to lead by example.

Just because it’s a hobby and it’s enjoyable doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve support.

So here, if you’ve enjoyed this issue or any of my past ones and would like to show your support, you can buy me a coffee.

I have big dreams for this newsletter, and I’ve been floored with the feedback I’ve received so far — any tips or coffees will help me make this a sustainable initiative and offer more value to you, my readers.

If you can’t support me with money, that’s totally okay. I’d appreciate your feedback with words then — it’s free and makes me feel like people value what I have to say.

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1

Some experts even advise you to match your hobbies to the type of job you’re applying to, as though you have the time to enjoy more than one or two these days.

2

But, of course, whether or not we have time to indulge in these hobbies is another thing altogether.