The Message or The Money

Recently I wrote about musicians, labour and payment – Making Money from Creativity. In summary of the previous post: it’s the choice of the artist to be paid or work for free, but they have a right to earn.

Cool creative type Deane @ReceiverITW, someone whose perspective and creative endeavours have inspired me for years (check out his ideas and thoughts here) commented and something within it resonated. I will give you the full comment for context: 

“I have over 20 years invested in what I do, and still people think that the fact I know them gives them the right to ask for a freebie for their charity, their church or their [insert thing they don’t want to spend money on, but will benefit them].

I have found an export business (online sales) that lets me bypass most, if not all, of the locals. I sell to businesses who understand you pay for things, add value and on sell them. 

Is what I’m selling art – absolutely. It can be done.

Do I get paid for all of my art? No. An audience is reward enough for me – and that is my greatest weakness, that it’s more important that the message be sent, than payment. But it is also my greatest strength, because I can ignore the money and say anything, with no thought to pleasing people’s wallets – only challenging their thinking.” (emphasis is mine)

An audience is reward enough for me… that’s it’s more important that the message be sent.

 To address the issue of money briefly: it gives you more opportunity to deliver your message; to get your work to a wider audience; it allows you to continue to do what you are passionate about. Every artist has to come to his/her own decision on this topic because an artist will create regardless of recompense.

Fundamentally, every artist must examine his/her motivation: why am I creating this piece of work? What is its purpose? What is its message?

The sense of having a purpose, and of having a message (some would label it a “calling”) is the focal point of a creative person’s existence.


Purpose is the reason for which something is created or for which something exists. An artist’s PURPOSE is to create, just as it is the teacher’s purpose to teach and the nurse’s purpose to heal. It is the reason we do something. In the act of creating we find purpose.

I see two types of purposeful creativity.

The first purpose is to create for ourselves. It is practice and dedication to the discipline of the art we have chosen. The act of creation gives the self a great sense of satisfaction. As writers, artists, musicians, painters, sculptors, filmmakers it fulfils a basic and fundamental need in our lives.

The Book of Genesis puts it this way in relation to the completed work of creation, “And God saw that it was good.” Beautifully understated.

The second type of purposeful creativity is for the benefit of someone else. Returning to the Book of Genesis, the creation is given over to mankind, to replicate the creative act by caring for the creation. And for mankind a helper is created (there’s a reason why sex is so much fun – to quote Shakespeare, “There was much sport at his making”).

An artist must create. It is our purpose.

I am a writer. My purpose is to write.

An artist must have a message. But what is my message? 


Having a purpose requires the clear articulation of your message. A creative work without a message is static, a resounding gong or clanging cymbal, a discordant noise shouted into the maelstrom of pedestrians streaming past.

You have to ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?”

As a writer, it is not enough to “tell a good story.” I want the story to have a purpose, to have a message, framed by good narrative technique. I practice, draft, edit, rewrite so my message is clear.

The individual message may vary from project to project, yet underlying your corpus is a core foundation of beliefs and values that will influence your creative endeavours.

Is your message:

  • the redemptive power of love and sacrifice
  • encouraging others to speak for the voiceless
  • to rally people to bring justice where there is injustice
  • the power of light to overcome the darkness
  • the strength to have hope even in the midst of hopelessness
  • to demonstrate laughter is indeed good for the soul and a subtle way of making a political or social point
  • the undeniable pain of grief, and in doing so, to mourn with those who are grieving and to help them find comfort and solace
  • the healing power of reconciliation where there is division


But a message with no audience edifies no one. Creativity requires an audience. Even if it only an audience of one.

As artistic and creative people, we want our works to be appreciated by others, for others to gain enjoyment from what we have created. Writers, artists, filmmakers turn to blogs to share their work and find an audience.

Our purpose is to create works with a clear message that arrests the attention of our audience.

Our work should be something that causes people to harness themselves, tie onto a secure tether and help them navigate their way through the treacherous digital abyss that seeks to swallow them whole.

Our creative works should give our audience meaning through its message. They should be a lighthouse in their darkness, a compass in their distress and a fellow traveller’s hand to hold for security, comfort and companionship.

 The purpose for our creating sustains us and gives us life.

The message of our creation sustains and gives life to our audience.

As a creative person: What is your purpose? What is your message?

8 responses to “The Message or The Money

  1. There is so much to comment on here – but I still with answering the end questions.

    When I was set the task of writing my first bio, before I had any kind of publishing history, but had quite a bit of stuff written, I pondered were the common threads in my writing: themes of love and loss, injustice, power imbalances, time travel and the itching questions “what if?”

    In just about any story I write at least one of those themes/ideas is present (sometimes several of them are). Writing those thematic banners down helped to solidify my vision for my work.

    Over time I’ve added to the bigger theme of medical advances and their intersection with humanity… what does it mean to be human when XYZ exists in a world.

    And every story brings with it it’s own themes. My story “Blinded” in “The Hope” anthology feels like it has so many themes in it, but one of the more understated ones is the damage of unchecked development.

    I write spec-fic because it affords me permission to strip away the society and show it for what it is. It allows me to explore a plethora of social, cultural, economic and medical issues that are “too close to home” when explored in contemporary fiction.

    So much for this being a short response. I need to go put my publisher’s hat on and come back and answer about message and money! (No wonder my headspace can be so chaotic at times!)

    • I write suburban realism for the same reason you write spec fic, except I have to be far more authentic to real life while spec fic allows for an emotional distance, the “too close to home” you mention.

      • Writing spec-fic doesn’t afford me emotional distance – unfortunately. A lot of those gut-wrenching themes in “Blinded” are pulled straight from contemporary society and writing them really bothered me (especially unchecked permission for medical staff to do whatever they wanted and to have legal sanction to do so).

        What is me as a writer is permission to extrapolate it beyond its current confines. And in doing that, in setting in in the “not too distant future” it affords emotional distance for the reader to inject the message. Perhaps in a way it also refines the message? Or maybe I’m just talking bollocks.

        I still enjoy writing contemporary fiction and I have to say, the years of writing spec-fic, of there needing to be a strong subtext has rubbed off on the contemporary fiction. No more telling a story just for a story’s sake. There has to be much more to it now for me to invest the time and energy into it. (Now I sound like a pretentious git!)

  2. I suppose I should add that “because I can” never created a legacy. “because it benefits others” creates legacy. Cue ‘The Emperor’s Club’. Message is about bringing something useful to others – those are the stories and the art that inspires and compels us all. But if someone wants to pay me close to $1M to put an inflated cow wrong side up in Brisbane, I’ll gladly volunteer.

    • Legacy is a great aspect to explore. The “because I can” perspective is for the individual, the practice and training. I hope to leave a legacy with my writing.

    • The “because I can” is because if we waited for a third-party to give us permission to do what we do, we’d never start. “Because I can” creates momentum.

      I believe regardless of how big or how pervasive our message is, how many people we touch and inspire across a life time, that in writing and putting it out there, we leave a legacy regardless. I don’t believe it has to be to the benefit of others (if it does, that’s excellent). I just has to exist in the first place.

      (is this me playing devil’s advocate again?)

      • Probably 🙂 What I see from Deane’s point is “because I can” relates to the message and legacy an artist leaves, whether it’s for one, one hundred or one thousand. We do leave a legacy regardless, but I want to be deliberate in the legacy I leave.
        As an artist, “because I can” does create momentum when we give ourselves permission to create. And sometimes we create “because I can” just because it gives us a sense of fulfilment and purpose, practising and developing our craft.

      • “We do leave a legacy regardless, but I want to be deliberate in the legacy I leave.”

        I don’t disagree with working toward what you want to leave, but in the end it is fallible pursuit because regardless of our intent for what our message is (big and small), or the legacy we aim to leave, in the end once it leaves us it is open to interpretation and reinterpretation by others. It will be left to others to define, articulate and discuss what the legacy is/was. And even if we ourselves articulate what our message it is still malleable (I’ve had enough interviews with journalists now to have my words warped to know the deal).

        I guess what I’m trying to say, deliberate legacy or not, it will be others who have the final say on what the legacy was, so perhaps its better to enjoy the small moments on the journey, focus on producing the best work possible to leave behind, behaving with grace, compassion and empathy, helping others were possible and let others to work out what the legacy is once we’re gone?

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