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View Full Version : The phrase "sell out" applied to those who get traditional jobs



jamiehall
06-15-2008, 09:25 PM
I'm actually bothered quite a bit by this, so if this is the wrong place, mods, feel free to move the thread to TIO.

I'm just finding myself more and more irritated by people who apply the phrase "sell out" to anyone who gets a job with an employer instead of immediately pursuing a self-employed lifestyle in the creative professions (mainly writer, but also artist, actor, fashion designer, etc.).

I mean, dreams that may or may not be long-term are okay, and can certainly co-exist with a traditional job, but in the short term bills do need to be paid, and I just feel like applying the phrase "sell out" is a way of dumping on people who are trying their best.

veinglory
06-15-2008, 09:28 PM
It also assumes those who have an arts income aspire to doing it full time. I don't. I have a career I am committed to.

Disa
06-15-2008, 09:39 PM
To me, a sell out would be more of a person who is not true to themselves. Be it writing, acting, music, etc- if they are going against what they are inspired to do, and go instead with what "sells" strictly for the sake of selling it.

For example, say you are a musician whose soul really resonates with loud, heavy metal music, but the "industry" says pop or country is what's "in" and you begin to perform that even when it brings you no joy- that is a sell out.

As for the rest of it, well, I agree- bills need to be paid, especially of you have a family to support. To ignore that to pursue your dream, have no income, and have to rely on others to meet your basic housing and grocery needs seems selfish to me. We all have to be self sufficient while pursuing our dreams, I think.

ChaosTitan
06-15-2008, 09:47 PM
I'm curious. Are those tossing around the term "sell out" folks living on a scant income, struggling to make their creative dreams come true, because they think they have to? And are annoyed that maybe, just maybe, they don't? It is possible they are trying to negatively label you, because you aren't their stereotype of a "starving artist?"

mscelina
06-15-2008, 09:49 PM
An artist who likes to...oh, I don't know...EAT is not a sellout. We do what we must to survive. Fortunately, writing is one of the creative professions where it's possible to maintain a regular creative schedule while still putting Hamburger Helper in the cabinet.

Working is a good thing. Getting to the point where writing IS your work is an attainable goal--and worth working for. :)

Williebee
06-15-2008, 10:02 PM
The job is what I do.

Writing is who I am.

The first is what I sell, whether it is my time or a product that I make.

The second is something that I will do whether it sells or not.

So, writing what someone will pay for, to me, isn't selling out. No more so than working in a convenience store/fast food/selling insurance to pay the electric bill that powers my laptop, SO I can write the things I want to write, would be selling out.

NeuroFizz
06-15-2008, 10:11 PM
For some people in the artistic professions, something comes over them so they are not artists, they are arteests. It's something mystical, with dancing unicorns and real-live, singing muses. They usually snap out of it when their diet of peonies and ponies gives them an explosive case of the realities.

Polenth
06-15-2008, 10:39 PM
I'm curious. Are those tossing around the term "sell out" folks living on a scant income, struggling to make their creative dreams come true, because they think they have to? And are annoyed that maybe, just maybe, they don't? It is possible they are trying to negatively label you, because you aren't their stereotype of a "starving artist?"

It can also be the opposite. You sometimes get people who think being poor is cool. It's the romantic vision of the starving artist. Those people aren't poor themselves, so they don't realise the harsh realities of what they're demanding.

Bubastes
06-15-2008, 11:02 PM
It's just another way for people to make themselves feel superior and to judge others for making choices different than their own. It says nothing about the person they're judging, but it speaks volumes about the person tossing around the "sell out" label.

There's nothing "cool" about being poor. The best of intentions fall flat without money to turn those intentions into reality. Money is an essential tool for any artist, and many times that money comes in the form of a day job. Intentions don't buy the groceries or keep the lights on.

ETA; The day job also allows you to write what you WANT to write rather than what will necessarily make money. So in that sense, the day job allows greater creative freedom.

Momento Mori
06-15-2008, 11:48 PM
jamiehall:
people who apply the phrase "sell out" to anyone who gets a job with an employer instead of immediately pursuing a self-employed lifestyle in the creative professions (mainly writer, but also artist, actor, fashion designer, etc.).

Yeah, but it all evens out because the people who bandy around the word "sellout" are generally morons.

If you've got someone willing to bankroll your daily living expenses so you can "focus on your art" then good for you. The rest of us have committments that have to be met and in the absence of a lottery win, I have to work to meet them. Anyone who tells me differently ain't living in the real world.

MM

Kalyke
06-15-2008, 11:57 PM
I've no idea who is saying this. We all do what we can to get by.

inkkognito
06-16-2008, 12:48 AM
Ya do what ya gotta do. I worked a corporate job for 16 years, and while the writing I did in that job wasn't the sort that makes my muse sing with delight, neither was it hell and it gave me a good income. Even now that I'm self employed, most of my work isn't what I would do in my dream life. But I don't consider it selling out. I consider it surviving, and doing it in a way that is at least halfway enjoyable to me.

jamiehall
06-16-2008, 01:37 AM
I've no idea who is saying this. We all do what we can to get by.

I've heard it from numerous people over many years, both in real life and online.

There seem to be two major categories into which most of this falls:

(1) People who label themselves as sell outs (but by implication insult a lot of people around them as well). For example, people who say things like: "Poor me, I'm a sell out because when I graduated from college I got a job instead of maxing out all my credit cards in order to create low-budget independent films."

(2) People who label others as sell outs, but not themselves. Most of these seem to be "arteests" and a few of them also define as "sell outs" anyone who is pursuing the dream full-time but is able to live comfortably on it. In other words, some of them view any sign of commercial success as proof you've sold out.

I've been hearing more of this stuff lately because a number of friends are involved in (or trying to break into) various creative professions, and because I'll graduate from college in slightly less than a year and there has been some speculation about whether I'll "sell out" or not.

Mr Flibble
06-16-2008, 01:41 AM
people who apply the phrase "sell out" to anyone who gets a job with an employer instead of immediately pursuing a self-employed lifestyle in the creative professions (mainly writer, but also artist, actor, fashion designer, etc.).

Personally I'd put on my best Princess Anne accent and tell them to Naff Orf. *cough* or words to that effect. Unless they are offering to pay my bills :)

HeronW
06-16-2008, 01:51 AM
What people say tells more about them than they want: if they use the term sell out--then that is their fear.

Is it 'selling out' to keep a well paying job that provides the means for lodging, food, clothing, health care and use the time outside of that to write? or is it more 'noble' to live in a vermin-infested ruin, in rags, with poor health to 'write the Next Great American Novel'?

Sounds like a lot of horse hockey.

Matera the Mad
06-16-2008, 05:15 AM
I once took some flak about not being a "full-time writer" from a self-published dork who claimed to be retired AND who turned out to have a few sidelines he wasn't talking about (Google and I make a killer team, so look out!).

It was hilarious, because he can't write his way out of a paper bag anyway.

I need a roof over my computer, and I am not ashamed of the honest work I do. Two-facers can eat my smoke.

eveningstar
06-16-2008, 05:20 AM
I have this odd fondness for being able to pay my rent, bills, and student loans. I've done the day job thing, did it for years and pursued my arts career on the side and got to the point where I am now (thanks in part to an extremely supportive spouse) able to pursue my art & writing full-time. And my loans will be paid off in full later this year.

I like to think I'm more practical than sell out. And I think I'm in a much better position now than people I know who did the self-employed arts thing right out of school and are now 30 and living with their parents because they're in so much debt.

C.bronco
06-16-2008, 06:00 AM
Most of the living Pulitzer Prize winners for poetry have day jobs. Many of them are college professors.

William Carlos Williams was a medical doctor.

I think people use the phrase "sell out" to puff themselves up a bit and get over the jealousy they have of those who have some financial stability.

jamiehall
06-16-2008, 06:11 AM
I like think I'm more practical than sell out. And I think I'm in a much better position now than people I know who did the self-employed arts thing right out of school and are now 30 and living with their parents because they're in so much debt.

I see a lot of that. Jumping in too soon leads to enormous debts most of the time. And I can't help but think that a slower, more practical approach lets you do more when your skills have improved, as opposed to doing more when your skills are still developing and then being forced into a day job by debt during the time when your skills are more developed.

wordmonkey
06-16-2008, 06:21 AM
Memorize and repeat as required.

"Your opinion of me is none of my business."

blacbird
06-16-2008, 07:13 AM
Rex Stout was a genius at accounting, invented a bookkeeping system still used by educational institutions today, and made a fortune at it. Which permitted him to pursue writing full-time.

Harper Lee became a legend from a single novel, which has made her enough of an income that she's never needed to write anything else her entire life.

Terry Brooks was a highly successful corporate lawyer, which afforded him enough income to pursue his love of writing fantasy fiction without much angst.

Herman Melville was a customs officer who never made much off his writing.

Charles Dickens was an instant success as a fiction writer and never had to do anything else again in his life.

Edith Wharton was a rich kid who never had to worry about money and could pursue her writing free of such burden.

Philip K. Dick spent much of his life near destitution, and only began to reap monetary benefits right before he died suddenly at the age of 53.

Walter Van Tilburg Clark made his living as a college prof, and crafted only three novels and a slim volume of short fiction in his life, but all of it of the highest quality.

Jack London was a sailor, longshoreman, gold-prospector and general alcoholic reprobate who died at age 40, having produced some of the finest fiction any American writer could aspire to.

William Faulkner was a drunk who couldn't even hold down a postal delivery job, but managed to write a body of fiction rivaled by no one in American literary history.

J.D. Salinger produced a first novel of transcendent success, both critical and financial, and a minor number of short stories, and then quit.

Tom Heggen produced a first novel of transcendent success, then killed himself.

Ditto Ross Lockridge, Jr.

Tom Clancy and Jean Auel labored long and hard to produce first novels of transcendent sales success, and have followed those with long series of successful name-driven drivel.

Franz Kafka produced three novels and a number of short stories now regarded as the apex of literary achievement in the 20th Century. Then died young, with the request of his editor that his remaining manuscripts be destroyed, a death-bed request happily ignored.

Joseph Conrad was a highly successful seaman, rising to be a captain, who spoke not a word of English until his 30's, published his first novel, written in English at age 39, and followed it with a long and honored career as a fiction writer. By all accounts he found the act of writing an agony, but couldn't quit.

L. Ron Hubbard produced a series of huge SF tomes of miserably quality, then founded a "religion" still causing controversy decades after his death.

B. Traven hid behind a pseudonym all his life, and produced a long string of successful novels.

J.R.R. Tolkien was an academic who pursued fiction writing more or less as a passionate hobby, and has now become an icon as a consequence of that writing.



Ya does what ya has ta do.

caw

TPCSWR
06-16-2008, 01:55 PM
Thanks for that blacbird. Very interesting.

Atlantis
06-16-2008, 04:00 PM
The job is what I do.

Writing is who I am.



Couldn't agree more. I'm in child care and like/dislike it. I'm terrified of the idea of spending the next 10 plus years in it. Even though I have not sold a story yet, I consider writing my career. Child care is just something to put cash in my pocket. I find getting out of the house for a few hours gives me time to think about my book so when I come home I immediately turn on my laptop to type up all the ideas I got at work.

Bubastes
06-16-2008, 04:06 PM
(2) People who label others as sell outs, but not themselves. Most of these seem to be "arteests" and a few of them also define as "sell outs" anyone who is pursuing the dream full-time but is able to live comfortably on it. In other words, some of them view any sign of commercial success as proof you've sold out.


I've been accused of being a sell out by an attorney who didn't do a whit of creative work himself. He believed that anyone who held a day job wasn't truly serious about pursuing their writing dreams. He was really, really angry about it too and said that I was setting a horrible example for young people by not quitting my job and pursuing writing full-time.

He was probably a frustrated closet artiste or something. His anger over the whole issue was quite weird.

L M Ashton
06-16-2008, 06:02 PM
Yeah, I tend to think of people who get jobs or otherwise support themselves and their families - regardless of whether it's in their dream field or not - are responsible. I would *not* call them sell outs. I would call them responsible.

Birol
06-16-2008, 06:24 PM
One should never look down on another person for doing what they must in order to meet their obligations. Whether it is writing what the market demands so that there is freedom and time to work on other projects or keeping a hated day job.

It's also necessary to remember that it's quite possible to have more than one passion in life. One can love writing and love doing and being something else, too.

As long as it's not illegal* or infringing on other's free will, what business is it of anyone's what you (or I) do to pay the bills?


*Even some of what's illegal really isn't anyone else's business.

mscelina
06-16-2008, 06:33 PM
Good point, Birol. It's NOT.

Tirjasdyn
06-16-2008, 07:16 PM
the daughter has to eat.

Writing comes after that.

Phaeal
06-16-2008, 09:15 PM
Who said that working a day job was a sell-out? How ignorant! The great artistic tradition is to have a miserable day job*, so that one could suffer for one's art! In fact, if you don't have a miserable day (or afternoon or night) job, then I say you're overcoddled, and I say the hell with it.

* Stay-at-home mom or dad counts. I refuse to rob you of your rightful claim to misery. ;)

SPMiller
06-16-2008, 09:28 PM
Phaeal thinks I'm overcoddled, for the time being...

But I'm a sellout and proud, thank you very much. I design everything I write to be as entertaining for my target audience as I can possibly make it. That means deliberately selecting characters, plot, premise, setting, etc. specifically to appeal to my readers. And I'm willing to change any and all of it, if I think that'll make my stories better.

Gotta pay the bills somehow!

Phaeal
06-16-2008, 09:37 PM
Add to blacbird's list:

Stephen King, whose miserable day jobs included laundry work and maggot-infested linens.

Anthony Trollope, who rose through the ranks of the English Post Office.

Phaeal
06-16-2008, 09:41 PM
Charles Dickens was an instant success as a fiction writer and never had to do anything else again in his life.


Prior to literary success, Dickens worked in a bootblacking factory, as a law clerk, as a stenographer, and as a journalist. He paid his dues.

ajkjd01
06-17-2008, 04:02 PM
Wow...if I'm a sell-out, would that work as an excuse to not pay the massive student loan debt from going to law school?

I guess public service law is a sell-out? Huh. If I'm a sell-out, I'd make more money than this.

I agree with williebee. Work is what pays the bills, and sometimes gives you fulfillment in other ways. Writing happens whether you get paid for it or not. Getting paid for it is a bonus, but it's a reward in and of itself.