A follow up post inspired by Sara Glancy’s post
My name is Christopher Gabriel Núñez, I am a writer / actor / rapper and I haven’t worked a survival job in over a year.
Let’s be clear about one thing: The “starving artist” myth was invented by people with a different value system than you, if you are, in fact, an artist.
The starving artist myth was invented by the ancestors of people who spend seven hundred dollars on white noise alarm clocks at Sharper Image but would tell Itzhak Perlman to get a job if they saw him playing violin in Grand Central Station.
Fuck those people.
“…The only thing that I’ve ever known and the only thing that has ever worked for me is being obsessed with my craft and if you’re obsessed with the thing that you love, then you’ll get better at it…The whole point is that: you don’t wanna get into a business, you want to enter into a creative space that you can stay [in] because the rest of the world is a grinding, spinning wheel of gerbil death”
Which leads me to my first point: before we talk about not starving, let’s talk about what you actually want to do.
Then let’s contrast what you want to do with what you are actually doing.
If we concede that the average person is awake for 16 hours a day, that leaves 112 waking hours in a week. If you spend 40 of those hours making coffee, and 3 of those hours writing, you’re not a writer, you’re a barista.
If you’re not interested in being a barista, then maybe stop making coffee.
You will only ever get good at the thing you do the most.
When I first heard that Kanye West line on Space Ship…
“Lock yourself in a room doing five beats a day for three summers / that’s a different world like Cree Summers / I deserve to do these numbers,”
… that was the realest shit ever to me, because I was like: of course that’s how he got good. That’s how anyone who’s ever been good at anything got good.
But in order to get good at one thing you have to AVOID getting good at other things…
Because people will make you do the thing you’re the best at.
I have friends who are incredibly talented actors and musicians who end up doing other things because they are just all around smart, talented, competent people who can do most things well.
I have never had that problem because I’m bad at most shit.
“The bartender says, kid one day you’ll be famous / Which is lucky cuz honey I hate to say it / you aint much of a waitress / even on the day shift / clumsy as you are it’s like we’re paying you to break dishes”
For the most part, most of my job experience outside of art has ended with me being fired dramatically on some “get the fuck out and never come back” type shit.
It took me a while to realize that this was a gift. Because the things that I’m actually good at, writing, acting, rapping — any time any one has paid me to do one of those three things, they come back for more. Like, the next day.
So the first rule that I learned to live by was:
DON’T GET GOOD AT SOME SHIT THAT YOU DON’T LOVE.
Because here’s the thing: if you get good at being the manager at Starbucks, then they ask you to be the regional manager, then you’re making decent money and then you say “I can’t quit this job because I make too much money”
BUT YO: STARBUCKS IS PAYING YOU DECENT MONEY BECAUSE YOU’RE GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO AND YOU’RE GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN DOING WHAT YOU DO (AKA MANAGING STARBUCKS) FOR SO LONG. IF YOU SPENT ALL OF YOUR TIME WRITING INSTEAD OF BEING A MANGER AT STARBUCKS YOU WOULD BE REALLY GOOD AT WRITING.
But you need to pay rent, yeah?
That leaves only one option: pay your rent DOING the thing that you WANT to get good at.
I have a double major in Dramatic Writing and Drama from NYU and in a week I’ll be finishing up the two year Meisner program at Maggie Flanigan Studio which literally changed my life.
That being said, I’ve been in “student mode” for like six years and in order to make this shit work you can’t be in any mode that’s not “hustler” mode.
A year ago I was in my first year at Maggie Flanigan Studio and I was working at a chocolate factory. Literally. A factory. With a degree from NYU.
Until one day a thought occurred to me:
“HEY IDIOT! You’re good at something aren’t you??? Then why THE FUCK are you getting paid ten dollars an hour to ship chocolate to rich people?”
Artists like to think that you’re either “making it” or you’re a waitress. But that’s simply not true. I mean come on yo: are you trying to tell me that I can be a good writer and there’s no middle ground between being the creator and show runner of my own HBO series and working at a fucking chocolate factory like a goddamned Oompa Loompa???
So I made a decision.
People were always trying to get me to write short films for them or give them notes on their scripts so I decided, you know what?
I am gonna write short films for people, for 500 bucks a pop and if people want notes from me? Great. They can get them for 50 bucks an hour. That’s how much I decided I was worth. So I wrote up a pitch, sent it out to three perspective clients and in two days I booked my first client, quit my job, and now nine months later I charge 1 k for 15 pages.
Here’s the second rule I made for myself: if it’s not ART I don’t want the money. If someone’s like “baby sit my kid” I’m like “No. I’m not a baby sitter. But if you’d like to pay me to rap to your infant child, that I’ll do.”
The final transformation I had to make was changing my starvation impulses.
Back in the day, when I was behind on my rent or I needed groceries, my first instinct used to be “Time to find an odd job!” or “Maybe someone will pay me to help them move!”
But I had to change that instinct to: “Time to find a new client. Time to call up a bunch of people and pitch to them. Time to take a script I wrote on spec and try to sell it for half price.”
The thing that you do when you are at the point of desperation that’s what you do. That’s who you are.
And here’s the obvious-no-shit-thing-about-it: after all of this writing and coaching, I’ve gotten better at writing.
And the better I get at writing the more I can charge and the more clients I get.
In life you do things over and over again and you get better at them, the trick is to pick the right thing to do over and over again and get better at.
Here are the steps that I took, steal them, or make up some new ones, but for the love of all that is Hov, don’t internalize this “being broke is romantic” bullshit that motherfuckers keep trying to feed us.
- Decide what you want to do (I want to write short films)
- Decide how much you want to get paid to do it (1 K)
- Go find the people that need your service.
- Do the job really, really well.
The last thing I’ll say is this: if you’re an artist, hire other artists.
Lead by example and contribute to the economy that you want to be a part of.
**Thank you, Christopher, for contributing your considerable writing talents to this blog! If you want to learn more about Christopher (and you should!) check out his website at the link above.
AND remember to save the date for Tuesday, June 23rd from 7-9:30pm when I will be teaming up with the kick ass ARTrepreneur Melissa Robinette of The Biz of Show for our first joint workshop: “”Brand Your Book.” Join the best B&B in NYC as we teach to you how to build your book and brand your business!
Location: Young Playwrights Inc (431 5th Ave # 5, New York, NY 10016)
Admission: $40 at the door.
Attendance will be limited so email your RSVP ASAP to firstname.lastname@example.org