Advice for getting through the moments where you want to quit?

I’m having a “I just want to quit this and write novels instead” moment.

This isn’t a “I want to change creative tracks to a more fulfilling or lucrative field” kind of emotion, but more along the lines of “I’ll be like Emily Dickinson and just create in secret, because interacting with the real world is too hard.” In other words, I want to give up.

I’ve felt like this pretty much solid the last two weeks, and each bit of hopeful “maybe this will help me feel better” thing I try has ended up being further ammunition for “I should quit while I still can.”

Any advice for getting through these phases? Has anyone felt similar?

I think most people who know me would be surprised that I’m struggling right now. I was a key speaker at the Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival’s big “May Science Be With You” event yesterday, and pulled off a rather fantastic demonstration with liquid Nitrogen:


Water goes in…

And 1 second later Science Mom disappears in a cloud.

At this “May Science Be With You” event I earned $30 from sales at my vendor table. I spent $32 on food at the same event to feed my three kids. And I spent $225 on supplies for the demonstrations and inventory for the table.

This kind of inabalance of spending almost 10x more than I earn has been haunting me all year, and I’ll be the first to own that part of my problem is reaching too big too fast. Last month I spent more than $1,000 hiring a professional makeup artist, because adding a Klingon alter-ego to my YouTube channel just called to me as being “the art I had to make!” After 5 hours in the makeup chair and a botched effort at fimling, I had to admit that I wasn’t ready and the concept wasn’t quite ready either.

But besides poor budget decisions like the above, I’m also feeling daunted/deflated by the shear size and scale of the funnel:


In the last 4 months alone I taught science lessons to more than 5,000 elementary age kids. The YouTube channel had more than 40,000 views and 500 new subscribers. I saw thousands of additional people at two homeschooling conferences I attended, and hundreds more at local events in Vegas. If the ratio of people who see me versus people who sign up on Patreon holds constant (50,000 to 34?), then I’ll literally need to reach millions of people before I’m able to pursue the creative projects I want without the constant stress of “Shoot! We’re going to be hit with another low balance fee in our bank account this month.”

I got notice this week that I didn’t make a fellowship I applied for and a different grant I submitted wasn’t funded. Bill Nye didn’t return my email. Yesterday I learned that the $350 Nevada Business License fee is an annual fee rather than a one-time fee, so there goes May’s budget.

All of this I could handle if I felt motivated to continue. But right now, I just don’t. I hesitated to post this because it is a bit of a rant/vent and complaining is generally not the most helpful of behaviors - plus I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the support I do have from Patrons - their contributions have been invaluable and they are the only reason I was able to make it through this year. But I thought perhaps it might be helpful to talk about. First, for others who are facing similar moments to know they aren’t alone, and second (and more importantly), I’m really hoping someone will have words of advice for how to keep going when you just want to throw in the towel.

Thanks for reading.

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Don’t get me wrong, i love my job (most of the time) but around this time of year, every year, i feel very much like this. Dealing with it right now. I put out a lot of content and try very hard to make my work appealing to both me and my fans but my patreon has been plateaued for a long time and my income outside of it has been rather meh due to being human and having limits on how much i can do in a month (especially with a repetitive strain injury on my dominant hand/arm from doing art. yay.) Due to this i had to pull back on some of my tiers and simplify my patreon. Of course, income dropped when i did this but i didn’t have a choice. My health is important.

Right now I’m trying to get my shit together but every time i try something that could be lucrative, it flops. Or I’ll take a change and go to an event, and while i make decent money, it only just covers travel because holy bajesus travel is pricey these days. (Being someone who’s got allergies of things that are in almost any kind of affordable food makes all that much more expensive too.)

I actually have a second project I want to start on patreon but because it’s primary goal isn’t to get me paid but be a community project and just cover costs for its production (until we reach way higher goals) I’m worried about starting it because i know some of my pledges will drop on my main patreon that supports -me- directly because some of those people are very into the project and want to support it too. (Of course the first project that seems to take off a bit i had 0 thoughts about paying myself with. It was just a labour of love for the art community to do in my spare time. Of course it’s becoming much more than i anticipated.)

Myself and a few other close artist friends are all in the same boat. Hitting the point where we feel like it’s just better to get a stable job being someone else’s employee than trying to pursue our creative dreams because the struggle is very real.

As you said, i don’t want to say this and put some kind of negativity on my patrons. My patrons have allowed me a window into my dreams. Creating and learning and exploring the world through art. They have been absolutely amazing and yeah, the only reason why i’ve kept a roof over my head for the last 4ish years of being on patreon.

But i’ve been hitting that breaking point harder and harder. That this isn’t sustainable. It’s hard to come to that realization and i’ve been coming to it for years but pushing through. I’ve just simply been pushing through because i feel like what I’m doing is important in some way and that i love my work. I’ve ignored my health a lot which I’m trying to change but doing what i love and living well are very far sides of the spectrum right now it seems. So i totally feel you, ScienceMom. I think what you do is really important and awesome and i’m so sorry that things don’t seem to be going your way. :frowning:

I’m not sure this is really a helpful post. I push through because i love what i do and i cannot imagine a life without creating and all the other things that come with it. (meeting fans, teaching, making a difference in someones life.) But it is most certainly hard. Sometimes we need to take a step back and try something else. In my case, i think I’m going to have to get a stable part time minimum wage job doing something i hate, to continue doing what i love. I can’t do what i love without a roof over my head and food in my belly and right now my Patreon isn’t really making ends meet. Especially sucks that my content gets hidden from the patreon world because i delve into adult content with my art. When i had a general patreon project i was doing decently (and people could actually find my projects in the search) but it was so hard to manage two projects and make enough content for both without “double dipping” by making different versions of the same thing to suit each. I’m still mulling over that choice and trying to figure out if i should go back to that method since it was enough income, even if it wasn’t great.

Blah. Looks like i’ve made this a vent space as well. I hope you can find your motivation to go forward and figure out a plan that works for you. I try to pull motivation in from whatever i can. I think about when i make connections with people because of my work and all that. When i’m proud of my work. Experiences i’ve had because of my work and more.

:heart:

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Thank you @Temrin. Both for the sympathy and sharing your perspective. It is oddly helpful to know I’m not the only one who faces this struggle. Thinking about connections that have been made with individual people certainly does help. Perhaps I ought to start assembling a folder of favorite comments and thank you cards or something of that nature, something handy I can refer to when I’m feeling discouraged.

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I can really relate to what you’re saying and understand why you feel this way. I had over 6 months of similar “passage through the desert” last year and I really thought I would never get out of it and needed to change course. That said, my advice on this is pretty pragmatic:

  1. Yes, this happens. It’s a completely normal part of a creative career. But no, you don’t get to stop just because you don’t feel motivated: it’s a job, not a hobby. It’s your job. Unless you absolutely, deeply, decidedly want to give it up and do something else, you keep turning up at your job regardless of motivation.
  2. If you’re taking a hit-or-miss approach (spending $1000 because “the art I had to make”) and the numbers don’t add up, you need to reexamine the way you approach your work and establish a more grounded approach. Figure out the numbers. Put more energy where you will gain and less where it will cost you, unless you have money to burn. For instance, you said you were a key speaker – did you not get paid? If not, why were you doing this for free?? It’s a business, it’s your living. You can’t “just do the art” and wait for the universe to respond. Make a plan, calculate the costs, etc. You may find ways to make it work that will re-motivate you – or find that it’s really a dead end and you need a plan B.

I don’t know if this helps or is what you wanted to hear, but that’s what I can offer.

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That’s a great idea! I find that when I have to go looking through my folders I find things like that and it makes me feel better. :slight_smile: I find that certain music playlists also help me feel a little better too. Or watching cute or good feel shows on Netflix when I’m working.

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That’s very helpful advice @joumana. Thank you. I have done a lot of work for free over the past year (speaking and presenting at a half dozen events, doing science lessons for more than 200 elementary school classes). None of it has been paid. In the beginning, perhaps I could argue that it was a sound business practice to do events for free because of the exposure and that I was working on building my audience. But at this point, it’s not sustainable and I need to approach it with a more pragmatic business-like method instead of this vague hope that if I do what I love, the world will pay me for it.

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Oh gosh, you deserve better than this, no wonder you’re feeling burned out. Two more thoughts:

  • Exposure is a LIE, DAMN LIE. Only cash is real.
  • Your time has cash value. You’re free to offer lower rates when you feel it’s worth it (charge people what they can afford), but nobody has a right to any amount of your time. Don’t be afraid of driving “clients” away by demanding pay, what you’re in fact doing is reclaiming precious time for yourself that you can spend updating your business. The right kind of clients will take you seriously when they see you value your own time and expertise.
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I have to second @joumana here @ScienceMom! What you’re doing has a huge value, especially for schools. I would start asking for payment for these classes/lessons to start. This could be a whole additional revenue stream for you.

Speaking as a parent and not a Patreon employee, I also know some schools here do after school enrichment programs specifically like the things you’re doing that people have to pay to attend. That could be something interesting to offer. That may not be something you want to do long term, but it could be a way to engage folks.

Also, Jenny, you’re doing great! You’ve been thinking about this really hard and you’ve really grown your page a lot in the last year. It probably feels slow, but just think of the people that look up to you and what you’re accomplishing too. Kudos to you from me!

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Thank you so much @carla. That is validating and encouraging to hear. I will charge for school visits this coming year and set a speaking fee for events. There may be a drop off in demand initially, but I think @joumana is correct that giving away art/time for free unfotunately has a tendancy to devalue that service. This should pay off in the long run (I hope).

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I don’t mean to be critical, so I’m just going to put this out there, and please just ignore it before getting offended. So: I don’t think you’re respecting your own time and costs in your patron rewards as well as in your extra-patreon activities.

The stuff that costs you nothing or even has a low cost for a large scale is all given out at the $1 level. For nearly any pledge above that, you’re saying you’ll teach students, give out printed books, come up with artwork, write personalized letters, and etc.

But (from what I can tell) you’re not in the business of printing student books or designing cartoons or writing letters, so all that kind of stuff is like extra cost or headache besides what you (presumably) love to be doing. I’m a little less sure about the offer to give a lesson to a student for each patron – but from your comments above I rather suspect there is a cost of supplies to that which might again largely eat up the modest pledge involved.

It might be worth your while to brainstorm other pledge options, with even a complete revision of pledge levels on the table.

I consider a $1 level to be “I just want to support you” and I don’t think you probably need to offer anything at that except access to the feed. You can probably split up your back catalog of workbooks and videos into a couple levels – “elementary” and “advanced” or whatever, and have a couple higher levels grant access to those (how high? depends on how often you publish more of them). Maybe you lose some $1 patrons, but if you position those workbooks and videos as having greater value, I would expect some people to agree, and it won’t take much to “break even” on that kind of change. Plus, I am assuming it’s the kind of content you’re generating as your “main operation” so it’s not an unrelated additional effort or expense. I’ve found quite a few patrons want “stuff”, and just as an idea, if you can put out a video or workbook each month in the normal course of operations, they will pledge at the relevant level to get it. Could be a $3 and $5 level, could be a $5 and $10 level, but whatever – let the people who want that stuff make a meaningful contribution!

On the higher end, maybe you can record outtakes or trial runs of your experiments, and offer “insider access”. Such as, the general public gets the klingon promotional photo, insiders get the botched film with a little holy-crap-was-this-not-worth-it commentary. Maybe you can use discord or slack and just drop a few notes on what you’re up to from time to time instead of making firm commitments to deliver specific stuff. Maybe Lens. I’ve found quite a few patrons like to be in that “insider” group – but writing a letter to them is one-way whereas something like discord or slack would let them make suggestions or requests and feel more involved. Yet possibly also be something you can ignore or address on your own schedule.

I think having $50-200 levels available is great, since it lets people with big budgets support you to a higher degree.

Maybe the “fund me giving lessons to students” level could sit between the “get free stuff” level(s) and the “be an insider” level(s). So the schedule could be something like 1. tip jar, 2. make yourself feel good, 3. make someone else feel good too, 4. be an insider, 5. Just throw money at this thing

Anyway, good luck, whether this was helpful or not. :slight_smile:

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Oh, and – duh – May the Forth be With You! :smile:

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May the 4th be with you! We made bubble lightsabers this year to celebrate :slight_smile:


I’m super grateful for your feedback @ammulder. Not offended at all. Thank you for taking the time to look at my reward tiers and offer your thoughts.

I think you’re right that giving the $1 patrons access to everything may be counter productive in the long run. And I probably do have the “give a student a free book” amount too low. It’s a “feel good” reward for patrons who want to support science education, but it’s not really putting any cash in my pocket - what comes in goes right back out when I donate the books.

I’ve spent a lot of time debating about what my reward tiers should be and have experimented with changing them several times. I’m going to go back to the drawing board and consider again. I like how you broke it out to categories of support/tip jar, get free stuff, and insider levels. I think that’s a really useful way of looking at it. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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I think @ammulder is right. You seem like a generous spirited person, @ScienceMom, and you’re giving people extras in order to make them feel valued. But, beyond a certain point, you’re doing this at the expense of valuing what you do. Certainly, I agree with @joumana that unpaid speeches and workshops, etc, in fact any unpaid work at all, is just a no. Whenever this topic comes up, I like to share this (which is hilarious - and above all true):

http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com

or for those with sensitive dispositions, the expletive deletive version:

http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com/clean.html

Not earning a living from Patreon yet is not necessarily a sign that you should give up. You’re doing pretty well, it seems, and you’ve grown quite quickly. Maybe it’s just a question of plugging away and being patient. Or of getting feedback on what you do offer and seeing if that can be tweaked - @ammulder made some good points regarding paying for art, etc. So, there are definitely practical steps you can take.

However, I sympathise totally with your frustration. I’m in the more humble position of trying to rebuild my page after finally deciding what I want to do with it. I’ve chosen something that will fit with my professional work, so even if it ultimately fails to take off I will still have benefited from the experience (I can use any illustration I create for my portfolio). But I know I’m in it for the long haul, and while it would be nice if I could do it full time, I have no expectations. You can’t force people to give you money! Well, ok, you can, but it’s legally frowned upon.

But I would say: as long as you’re still enjoying it, don’t give up. Just don’t go all out in the hope/expectation that it must happen soon or it’s a failure.

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I’ve been writing for nearly 4 decades, and the burn-out still happens occasionally - especially when I have too many balls in the air and no money to pay someone to play catch. Most recently, I found that it helped to write out my mission statement and my core values.

Mission statement: I constantly seek out art that’s inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don’t have time to search it out. AND THAT MEANS: If I think of a really cool thing that somebody OUGHT to do, but it’s not within this scope … then I remind myself that “somebody” doesn’t always mean “me”.

Core values (you can tell the burn-me-out mistakes I habitually make from these!):

  1. BE DISCRIMINATING about projects: measurable results in fame or finances.
  2. KEEP SOME CONTROL of projects, either the time frame or the compensation.
  3. BE CONFIDENT in the financial worth of myself and what I create - don’t lowball value and don’t work on spec.
  4. SEEK BIG-PIC PROJECTS: those that require integration of art, history & philosophy, and words + pics, and that need to be presented in clear, jargon-free language; because these are the ones that make me roll out of bed in the morning.

Because I’ve made errors in one or several of those so often, I’ve put them in a reminder that pops up every single week in GQueues, so that I remember to evaluate every. single. project. in these terms.

Hope this helps!

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@gareth.southwell I LOVE the flowchart at shouldiworkforfree.com. Made me laugh out loud a couple times. But beyond the humor, it makes a really good point about what types of personal interactions should involve unpaid work and which one’s shouldn’t.

Expectations can be tricky, I think. While working without them is more zen and less likely to lead to burnout, there’s something to be said for aiming high and having specific goals. I guess the focus needs to be on keeping them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acheivable, Realistic, Time Limited). Reaching 100 patrons isn’t an acheivable goal for me unless I’m engaged in dubious behavior… But inviting 100 people to join is something I can do, and once that’s done, it’s important to be content with accepting the results. I think part of my issue this spring was that I was REALLY set on reaching a funding goal so we could do some summer travel and make a series of videos about national parks… That kind of single-minded ‘make or break’ attitude hard on the ego when you don’t reach goals, and it also encourages rash decisions (like sinking my budget with the Klingon alterego because surely this new thing would be the breakout moment).

As an aside - I think the new angle for your page looks like a cool idea. As an avid reader who has been missing being involved in a book club, I have a couple quick thoughts: Do you plan to have a discussion when the book is finished? If I had a musing about Jane Eyre or a discussion question I was thinking over as I read, I’d be hesitant to pen it down in a comment on a patreon post. But I’d be SUPER interested in tuning into a livestream book discussion (especially if said discussion coincided with the cover reveal for the book). If you found a couple people to join you, then you wouldn’t be relying on comments to carry the discussion - but could certainly incorporate them in as people participated. Anyway, best of luck with rebuilding your page and getting the Illustrated Book Club up and running!

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That’s a very helful mission statement @durantedianne. Thank you for sharing! I particularly like the focus your core values have, and that you revisit them to be sure your workload is staying in balance. This gives me a lot of good things to think about. Thanks again.

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My life would be so much easier if I were the type of person who could front up Youtube videos! But alas, I am an introvert, so while it’s a good idea, not one I could easily undertake. I’ve thought maybe about doing art process videos, discussing technique, but that’s a little way down the line, I think.

However, I appreciate what you’re saying. There is a discussion group on Goodreads, but the chief and only discusser so far is me! And the tone is too academic. As you say, people probably feel a little nervous about adding to the discussion - the tone needs to be gossipy, I think, for people to chip in. But the truth is, I’m not actually that bothered about the discussion aspect of it. I just want to draw! It’s a problem. Not sure what the solutions are.

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Sorry, I meant to say: yes, it’s important to have SMART goals - and yours seem to be exactly that. I guess what I was saying is that you also need a backup plan if those goals aren’t met. Mine is simply that the art I produce will serve some useful purpose, even if it’s only for me to improve my craft.

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It is a challenge to promote and engage with an audience as an introvert. But it gets better with practice. I wouldn’t worry about the tone being too academic - go with what’s authentic to you and you’ll draw the audience that is the best fit for you.

Good thought about having a backup plan if goals aren’t met.

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My only advice is this:

Stop trying so damn hard.

Those that want to support you, will. Those that don’t or won’t? Don’t expect to change their minds no matter what you do.

After two years of breaking my back, trying to figure out how to increase my pledges, spending a ton of time doing extra (for nothing or costing me), doing contests, give-aways, extra content, and everything else we all attempt to draw a larger audience, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not worth the extra effort, money and time.

Do what you do. Promote yourself as much as you can. But, don’t break yourself. Don’t make yourself lose money. Don’t waste your time trying to attract those that aren’t really interested in supporting you.

I have been at a plateau for over a year now, and I have come to the conclusion is that no matter how much you try and ‘sell’ some one on your page, or supporting you, their mind is likely already made up.
Trying harder, and doing more than what you already are, is not worth it.

All it does is make you feel like you’re doing it all for nothing. Or very little.

I just make my videos now and post them, and make sure I mention Patreon and you get some extra perks for supporting me. More perks are gated behind goals, because I need to get paid a decent wage, before I can take more time, money, and effort to do more. If that funding never comes? Then I just keep on doing what I do for what it pays.

Working for nothing or less is never worth it. And it’s even more important when you’re the only one running the show.

And believe me, I am ready to toss in the towel and go back to work. So much so, that I am currently looking for a job so I can shut my page down.

In some instances, it might be best to cut your losses and end the struggle.

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