One Question Can Transform Your Hobby Into a Career

I always wanted to be a creative professional. I never wanted to be a starving artist. There's a misconception that creative people can't build a career, that they have to follow their passions, socialize at art events, and blindly hope to get discovered. It's not true.

When I was in college, I decided I wanted to be a freelance graphic designer. But first, I wanted to work at an ad agency for a few years to build some experience. My junior year of college, I got a part-time internship at a local agency. When I graduated, they hired me.

After a couple of years, a colleague referred a freelance client to me. I hadn't started freelancing yet, and wondered if it was premature. But, I checked with my supervisor for approval to freelance in my spare time (some agencies don't allow that), and with his nod, forged ahead.

Less than a year later, I quit my job to freelance full-time.

I'll be clear, I didn't have enough clients to keep me busy full-time. I didn't have a safety net. The economy was slow. The agency was struggling. I had tried to get another job without luck. I decided, if my finances were going to suffer, I wanted to be responsible for my income (having become quite irregular). I gave them two weeks notice and started panicking.

My first home office. We gotta start somewhere, right?

Work was very slow at first. I had one client and contacts at a few local vendors. I asked everyone to keep me in mind and spread the word. I organized my home office, bought a few supplies, and hoped I wouldn't have to move in with my parents. Then, something enormous happened. A new client found me. They were not happy with the agency's service anymore and wanted to work with me—shiny, new freelancer me.

From there, work became much more steady. Word-of-mouth referrals grew my clientele. Here I am, years later, supporting my family entirely with freelance design.

Most people attribute my success to the quality of my services. I know that's a big part of it. But there's another part no one really talks about, and to me, it's more influential than anything else. I took a chance, a huge chance. I leaped into this scenario without knowing it would work. I saw a goal and moved toward it, unaware of whether it would be attainable.

If you have an artistic hobby, and want it to be your livelihood, start treating it like one. Ask yourself this one question:

Where do you want to be in five years?

You need goals. You might need more education. You need a functional workspace. You need a schedule that provides recurring work hours. You need an online presence. 

Come up with a career plan. Figure out what your next goal is, and take steps to get there. As long as you treat your creative endeavor like a past-time, that's how it will remain. You have to treat it like a profession before it will become one.

Living in a Fantasy World

Jesse Teller is a dynamic writer working toward a publishing career. He's turned writing from a hobby and outlet to a daily endeavor. In addition to his focus on fantasy novels, he runs a weekly writer's group, manages a blog and Facebook page, and continues deeper development of his original fantasy world.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?
It may sound strange, but not working helps me recharge. When I grow close to the end of a book, I usually make a break for the end. I call this End of Book Mode. My wife gives me license to work as often and as long as I want to in order to get the book done. It may last a day, or two weeks, but I write with few breaks until it is finished. When I finish a book, I take two weeks off. They are usually torture for me, because I feel most alive when I am working on a project. But by the end of EOBM, I'm pretty burned. I have found that denying myself for two weeks makes it so that when I do get back to writing, I am chomping at the bit. The ideas just come flowing.

What motivates you to keep writing?
My motivation to write comes from my absolute love of the work. The content, the genre, the characters and the process, all make me so excited and happy that I can't stop. I have a unique relationship with each of my characters. I know things about them that no one will ever know and that knowledge drives me to keep working, to get back to it, to never give up on them. The money and possible fame that might follow is not really the point.

What reaction do you hope to inspire in others?
I hope that others, when they read my work, will find the strength to go on. When I was a teenager, and into my young adult life, I was pretty miserable and falling apart. Fantasy provided an outlet for escape, but also a forum to discuss what was going on in my life, and the issues of my background and childhood. I hope my work reaches the lives of people that are going through the same emotions and experiences. The themes I deal with most are hope and despair. They are wrapped into every word I write in one fashion or the other. I hope these themes infused in my work help other people past the hardships of their own life. A truly great book can change a person's life.

Why do you prefer your genre?
Fantasy is a beautiful genre. It allows for anything, anything at all you want to talk about, anything you want to see happen, or anything you want to describe, can be done with fantasy. If you want a creature from ancient time, so terrible as to give a reader nightmares, where else can you go but sci-fi and fantasy? If you want miraculous beauty, intense enough to save a world, look no further. True and pure innocence can be set next to absolute debauchery, and neither is out of place. Fantasy gives me the colors vibrant enough to paint whatever I need to paint. It is freeing and life-affirming.

Any personal experience or moment that brought you to this craft?
The moments that brought me to writer are plentiful. When I wrote my first story, and my teacher, Mr. Olsen, told me I had a talent, I became a writer. That had almost died, when my freshman teacher in high school, Mrs. Hegg, discovered that I wrote, and pumped the love of it back into my life. Writing for the high school newspaper, work I did in college, bad poetry I wrote in days gone by, all of these things brought me here and kept me here. But the moment I decided to really take it seriously, the moment I became who I am today, was when I decided I was in love with a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and I needed to take my life and myself more seriously to get that woman to see who I wanted to be, instead of who I was. That was the defining moment for me. Without it, I'm a hobbyist.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would tell him to take it all more seriously. If I had really worked and cared about it all ten years earlier than I did, I wonder what I would be doing now. If I had worked before I did, it blows my mind to think about what I would be doing now. If you are dabbling in art, or writing, or any creative field, really judge whether it is something you want to invest yourself in, and get started as soon as possible. Find a reason and cling to it. Let yourself grow around it like a tree growing into a fence. The fence is now part of something that is natural and enduring. Art can change a person's life. It can give a person direction and purpose. If you are at all interested in it, embrace it as soon as you can, and get to work!

For more about Jesse Teller's work:
Facebook: Path to Perilisc

Additional creatives featured on Kreative Joose:
Mark Montgomery, illustrator