4 Ways Money Can Support Your Creativity

This post is part of the Creativity and Money series.

4 Caryatid statues supporting a roof in Athens

You can’t buy creativity, any more than you can buy love.

But if you ignore money matters, as we saw earlier this week, it can seriously hurt your creativity.

The good news is that although money will never make you more creative, it can support your creativity indirectly. Here are four ways a little moolah can benefit your Muse.

1. Mental Bandwidth

As a creative professional, your imagination is your most precious resource. You need to be good at managing your mental and emotional state, so that you can get into the creative zone when it’s time to work.

Anything that interferes with your concentration or takes up unnecessarily mental bandwidth will throttle your creativity – money worries being a classic case in point.

From a creative perspective, the best thing about having money in the bank and your finances under control is not having to worry about money. It’s not a problem, and you are free to turn your mind to more inspiring subjects.

So when you walk into your office or studio, or step out on stage, you are 100% present and focused on your work. You are in the zone.

2. Time

If time is money, then money must also equal time. The more you have in the bank, the easier it is to take time off, or just take the time you need to do your very best work.

We all know that the best ideas often come when relaxing with friends, out for a stroll, in spare time or on holiday. So working all the time can seriously hurt your creativity. The good news is, taking a holiday could be one of the best investments you make all year, in your creativity and your business as long as you can afford it.

And works of genius don’t happen overnight. If you’re not earning enough, every job becomes a rush job. But if your finances are on a stable footing, then you can afford to spend appropriate time on each project.

I’m not talking about procrastination. I’m talking about the patience, diligence and persistence it takes to do something outstanding instead of merely adequate.

3. Equipment and Materials

As a poet, I’m lucky enough to be able to create without any equipment at all in Yeats’s phrase, a poem is made “out of a mouthful of air”. But poetry books cost more than fresh air, and it’s impossible to write good poetry without reading a lot of contemporary work.

And it would be impossible for me to run my business without my MacBook Pro. I’ve tried the cheaper options (a.k.a. PCs) and they don’t cut the mustard. In fact, they were a false economy if you factor in all the hours I used to lose due to crashes and faults, as well as having to replace PCs more often than Macs.

Depending on your creative medium, you may well need expensive equipment to produce your work. If you make physical artwork or products, you need raw materials. Even if you’re in the information product business, you’ll need to buy a lot of other information products as your raw materials! Not to mention web hosting, software and other online services.

Bad workmen may blame their tools, but good workmen (and women) take advantage of the best tools available, so that they have no excuse for not achieving excellence.

4. Inspiring Experiences

You don’t create something original by just recycling other people’s ideas and influences. Without a rich life experience, it’s hard to come up with anything particularly meaningful.

Money certainly won’t guarantee you an amazing experiences, but it definitely increases your options. Unforgettable holidays, magical dates, fantastic gigs, unmissable exhibitions and riotous parties – it may sound vulgar to say so, but all of these things cost money.

Yes, you can still spend the money and have a crap time. But if you’ve got the friends, the time, the energy and the inclination, then a little money can be a great catalyst towards a truly life enhancing experience. And it’s out of such experiences that inspiration is born.

If you’d like some practical advice on making money work for your creativity…

Then visit this page and claim your free copy of the audio seminar I’ve recorded with Sarah Thelwall: 5 Essential Money Skills for Creative People.

And if you want even more help getting on top of the finances of your creative business check out Money for Creative People, our new course for creative artists, freelancers and entrepreneurs, teaching you the mindset and money skills that will help you succeed commercially as well as creatively.

What Do You Think?

Has money had a positive effect on your creativity? How?

Can you think of any other ways money can support creativity?

About the author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach and the owner of Lateral Action.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post


  1. Great insights! I love the assertion that bad workmen blame their tools…good workmen (women) ensure they have the best tools available. Great food for thought.

  2. Dear Mark,

    Thanks a lot for this post and the former one on the money issue. Ironically, I am now in the situation to seriously have to think about money. Finally, I have re-shaped my business towards a purely creative approach based on writing, moderating, idea production. And at the same time, mone issues come up – and no project in sight.

    So, my reply to your question is that having enough money in the bank definitely can help my creativity. Not having to worry about money should help you concentrating on other things.

    On the other hand, being “poor” triggers creativity at the same time. You need to think about very creative ways to keep going and to make a living if you do not have significant income. Also, you consider every investment deeply and think if it is the right one to make. And I, too, just replaced my MacBook pro with a new model (as the old one broke down). This, for sure, was the right decision.

    Conclusion: Money does play a role in creative lives, yet having little money can be just as inspiring as having much money.



    • Ah yes, necessity as the mother of invention! Very true. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to have to rely on it long term… 😉

      Maybe we could call it two sides of the same (ahem) coin?

  3. The one thing I have learned from years in illustration and design (and it took me a long while), don’t chase after every dollar and job, now I choose a job that I truly want, and I make as much money as I did just gobbling up every crappy small job just to make a buck.
    The bigger “dream” projects demand more time, thus pay more.
    In the long run I am happier and more creative.
    I choose my clients as carefully as they choose me. If I get that little voice in my head saying “I don’t know about this, sounds hokey”, or the person is a little too unrealistic as to what the real cost is of what they are asking for, I politely turn down the project.
    Picky, maybe yes, happy, absolutely.
    I tell all my clients, “it’s not always the money, but who you work with”.
    That’s my two cents, does it help anyone, maybe not, but it sure works for me.

    • Picky, maybe yes, happy, absolutely.

      And wise, I’d say. It takes a bit of self-control not to chase every job, but as you’ve pointed out, being picky can earn you just as much, with less effort and more satisfaction.

    • One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is that it helps enormously if you like your clients and they like you. I mean more than just professional respect.

      I would argue that life is simply too short to put up with crappy clients. Now admittedly crappy clients often equals bad paying clients (too long to pay you is as bad as low rates if not worse as it screws up cashflow unexpectedly).

      If you and your client like each other then not only will you both understand that you need to get paid properly and your client needs the outcome they’ve asked for but going the extra mile won’t seem like a marathon.

      The way this translates into negotations about a project costs looks something like this:

      scenario …. we’ve discussed a project, agreed that I’m the right consultant for them and they are the right client for me and now we have to talk budget:

      Me: Ok, I’ll kick this off by saying that if it’s not reached you on the grapevine already I’m expensive. More expensive than most of my competitors, £1k a day in fact. So I’ll happily cost this project, I’ll do my very best to work with you so that you only get the amount of time you need from me (actually neither of us benefits from my adding ‘padding’ to a project) so when we get to a budget and project plan you’ll know that not only will you get my best time, best new ideas, access to my contacts etc but also that you’re not paying for more than you need. Equally, because I’m being well paid if it needs a bit of extra to get the job done I’ll just do it and we won’t be renegotiating the costs.

      the response from the client is one of two things:
      1) ok, well of course I’m not necessarily thrilled at the day rate but if we get what we need it won’t be an issue and I’ll be holding you to the project commitments and if things change along the way I’ll be expecting you to be proactive in finding solutions that work for us

      2) hmm, that’s going to be an issue. Frankly we don’t ever pay more than X per day so I think that day rate will have to come down or we’ll have to look elsewhere.

      Of course the former is fine. There’s an easy solution to the second … which is that I’m being brought in to add value to their business, make it more sustainable or grow it and yet the first thing they are asking me to do is take a hit on the sustainability of my own company … just doesn’t make sense … help them become better but makes me worse off. I usually tell them this fairly straight and if they don’t like it then I figure that I’d rather know now than have them be difficult later when it comes to signing off the project and paying invoices.

      Really what I’m doing is putting a bit of a hurdle in front of the potential customer and if they jump it then we both know that they really want the work doing and nobody’s time is being wasted.

  4. Thanks for your articles, Mark- they are a consistent, bi-weekly, brilliant nugget-of-truth in my inbox. 🙂

    I love your thoughts on the correlation between time and money- we are constantly making decisions to make/lose money whether or not we engage in working. Sometimes taking time away ensures any logged on a project is extremely productive. I cannot begin to count the late nights I spent on a contract, only to redo it later, as it broadcast my creative exhaustion.

    We should constantly be asking ourselves whether or not the time we spend makes us money long term.

    • Thanks Danielle. Yes working longer doesn’t guarantee being more productive, let alone more creative.

      We should constantly be asking ourselves whether or not the time we spend makes us money long term.

      Yes – you and Ron have hit on a similar point. The hard part is remembering the long term/big picture when we’re faced with decisions in the moment.

  5. Great article as usual, but I’ve found (for myself at least) that it’s also possible that having even a slight surplus of money can be a distraction. My creative career finally got some traction back in 2008 when my job was put on furlough for about 1/5th of the time (resulting in a 20% salary cut). While furlough days gave me much-needed free time (I embraced this more than most of my co-workers), I found a more powerful impact came from the fact that having less money limited my options. This forced me to focus. I could no longer afford to go out with my current group of friends as often, or plan 2-week long trips to Africa and India, or buy more musical instruments than I had time to learn, or head out of town on holiday weekends. Writing, and creating music, however, are two things that can be close to free, and I discovered that I enjoyed these activities as much as things that cost more money. I rediscovered the public library as an excellent place to explore music and books I didn’t know enough about to otherwise pay for. I spent less time worrying about gear and recording and more time just writing. At the same time I also gravitated more towards “starving artist” types in my social circle.

    I’m not saying money is a bad thing, but there’s a fine balance between having enough to survive without worry and having too much (at least for types who are easily tempted by having too many options in today’s world). Since the furlough I’ve refused to go back to full time.

    • I’m with Rob Reid on this one. Money is great, and we need a base amount to survive, however, too much can get in the way.

      Great art and design require constraints. If we had all the money and time in the world, I don’t think any of us would produce anything.

      Personally, I find that the busier I am, the more I accomplish. Having money, and the free time it enables just makes me lazy and procrastinate more. The happiest times in my life were always when I had the least and was working really hard to accomplish something.

    • Thanks Rob, John, very interesting perspectives. I guess the key is knowing ourselves – especially weaknesses – and adjusting work habits and lifestyle to nudge ourselves in the right direction.

      And I’m with you on the creative value of constraints

  6. Hi Mark!

    I just wanted to say thank you so so much for this post. I’ve been following your blog for a long time but the timing of these two money posts seemed particularly perfect.

    A couple of creative friends and I formed a money club six months ago because we were neck-deep in the struggle and needed support in the ceaseless challenge of trying to balance our creative entrepreneurship with mortgages and groceries.

    I’m happy to report that after taking the plunge and working through some really big and scary stuff, having control of one’s finances has truly freed me and allowed me to focus on the work that really matters. I’m experiencing a sense of freedom that (in the 10 years I’ve been self-employed as a photographer) have never, ever had before. It’s allowed me the ability to focus on work that I’m passionate about but may not necessarily be profitable (because it now doesn’t need to be!).

    While it has meant some short-term compromises (ie. choosing a stay-cation instead of an all-inclusive trip somewhere hot and beautiful), I do love knowing that the next time I travel, I’ll be going without that little seed of worry — the one buried deep in my tummy, mentally counting every time the credit card gets swiped, making that dinner or show or pina colada on the beach just a touch bittersweet.

    To me, having money means having freedom and I’m real glad that I figured that out sooner, rather than later.

    Thank you!


    • My pleasure Michelle. The money club sounds a GREAT idea! Really glad it worked for you.

      And I love your description of the little seed of worry – painfully vivid. (As a poet, I appreciate these things. 😉 )

  7. Here’s the reality: If I had all the money I would ever need without working, I could then just let my creativity run wild, unconcerned about paying bills, making ends meet and having to continue to find clients. In fact, if I had all the money I would ever need, I would probably be doing something else entirely. I have always dreamed of writing a romance novel…and am about 4 chapters in. But, because I have to use all my creativity to do things that pay me, I can’t spend the time I would like (and I have little to no mental creativity left) to work on the book. I 100% agree that if you didn’t have to worry about money you could be more creative.

    • That reminds me, one of my favourite poets, Elizabeth Bishop, had an inheritance that allowed her to travel the world and devote her time to writing. She was famous for perfectionism and taking years to get every last syllable right before she allowed a poem to be published. (Quite a few never made it into print.)

      Now, you could say this was an indulgence, and it would be nice if we all had that opportunity. But when I read her poems, I’m grateful that she had the time to write them. It feels like she earned every penny.

      • “Elizabeth Bishop, had an inheritance that allowed her to travel the world and devote her time to writing… I’m grateful that she had the time to write them. It feels like she earned every penny” – sounds like a creatives paradise on earth to me. Great article, as always…

  8. niek Milder says:

    I know all of these and thats why im working my ass off doing a regular job in order to spend my money where there is more time for less money. I feel like being a creative person is more about being a realistic person in order to make a business profitable.

  9. Love your list, Mark, and the whole reframe here: that money supports creativity, rather than being something to avoid dealing with, be scared of, etc.

    As a performer, it took money to buy a decent PA & microphone & stand. It took money to buy a guitar, and my current fave, a ukulele. I didn’t get my chops by accident: money paid for lessons. And every summer I do my damnedest to get to a couple of different music camps that re-energize me to keep at it over the coming year.

    As a visual artist, it took money to buy all the supplies that fill my studio, from natural media and storage furniture, an industrial drafting board, my iMac, etc. etc.

    Nope. I’d be nowhere as an artist without money.

    • Thanks Melissa. Yes, reframing is my bread and butter. 😉 And yes, I spent a lot of money learning how to do it…

      I don’t have a cool ukelele though. 🙂

  10. Yes, for me, having sufficient money to feel confident to say “No” to crappy jobs and yes to leisure time is a wonderful feeling that I didn’t have for many years. In the years of ‘scrunting’ I would begin to have a very negative feeling about the work I did because I had to do jobs that never paid enough and cost me way too much time and effort and often ended up not being as creative as I’d like them to be…and then you still can’t afford to live decently…nah! Starvin’ Artist is not for me.

    I’m not sure though, if I was independently wealthy if I would be super-creative…I suspect I would enjoy the luxury of being able to be creative just for fun, but I might be lazy about it…hopefully one day I’ll get the chance to find out 😀 In the meantime though, I’m enjoying having just enough money to keep me happy and keep me hungry…

    Good article as usual Mark!

    And Michelle…some of us dream of going somewhere cool and beautiful…lol! or as we say here in the way too hot n humid Caribbean, BAL! (Buss a laff!)

    • ‘Scrunting’! What a fantastic word! Where’s it from?

      And I too would like to discovering whether independent wealth inhibits creativity. So if there are any generously-funded social psychologists out there…

  11. “Anything that interferes with your concentration or takes up unnecessarily mental bandwidth will throttle your creativity – money worries being a classic case in point.”

    I find this to be especially true for me…anytime I sit down to write, I’m thinking of everything else I need to get done, or what I should be doing instead to get money into my starving bank account…and then am consumed with guilt, thinking that if I could just finish this one script, it could open so many doors, and then I wouldn’t have to worry so much about money! Grrr….

    It also boils down to “fear,” which we’ve discussed on your boards before!

  12. I would have to agree with Gaby (and that’s as far as the comments as I got). I, too, have hit a critical ‘do-or-die’ point, financially, and not only is it causing me to get very creative quick, but also to deeply and honestly reflect on my values, and see where I am out of alignment, because that seriously drains energy, time, … everything! Having my back slammed against the wall this week cause a moment of justifiable panic, followed by some intense soul-searching, and okay, it’s time to get busy and bring all those lovely ideas to life that I’ve been lazily sitting on.

    I do not like having the wolves at the door – their howling keeps me up at night – but I’ve found them often to be my friends, spurring me on to be what I’ve always wanted to be.

  13. Money gives us options that ultimately empowers us to do more creative work.

    Top on the list of these options is personal development. As creatives we are our own instrument. To do more, we’ve got to know more. And knowing more certainly takes some moolah 🙂

    We need training, we need information, we need skills and we need mentors/coaches all these are not cheap!

    In the end, we as creatives must come to the brutal reality that without money, our creative work faces the danger of extinction. Since we can’t do more, unless we know more!

    Thank you for this post Mark, it made a lot of sense!

  14. I also believe that when you do thiings you love, you’ll definitly get paid for it, if not now, may be in the future. Great success is born out of true passion. When I chose this carea path, it was out of shear love, eventhough, it is still in iits infant stage in my country. My Boss do sometimes owe me for months, but that doesn’t inpaire my productivity, cuz I see it as an investment into the future. The love for the job keeps me going. So my take on this is, love the job first, then the money will follow. Great inspiring article though. Love it.

    • Ummm, I would say “you’ll potentially get paid for it”!

      The money may be keen to follow, but sometimes it needs to be taken by the hand and led, if you see what I mean. 🙂

      Doing what you love is great for our own fulfilment and making the work sustainable, and it also means we tend to get REALLY good at the work. AND we often need to bring a bit of business nous to bear to figure out a way of earning money from it.

      Jonathan Fields’ book Career Renegade is full of excellent advice on earning a living from your passhion.

  15. This is a phenomenal article. I’ve been following this site for nearly a year now, but never commented on it. I have really enjoyed the last two articles.

    I completely agree that money empowers people by giving them back the most expensive commodity: TIME. Anyone who says that they don’t want more money is generally lying (imagine if their boss came to them and offered them a 100K raise… would they really turn that down?)

    That said, it’s worth noting that many creative people over the years did not have much money. Take most of the hallmark composers of classical music. Many of them were very poor (even for their time). J.S. Bach’s creativity was not even fully realized during his lifetime, but rather due to the consistent persistency of his wife who helped to preserve them.

    The image of the “starving artist” is somewhat of a false misrepresentation, but I think the important concept to keep in mind is that adversity can be a powerful driver of creativity. Sure, having money in the bank and that buffer zone can help people focus more and work more carefully/thoroughly when producing something. Yet sometimes that intense desperation and urgency can spur us to create truly inspired work that we may not have otherwise been able to make.

    It seems the goal to shoot for might be to develop the ability to call on such inspired potential when your life situation isn’t on the brink.

    Just some food for thought. Fantastic articles!

    • Welcome to the comments Colin. 🙂

      I find it interesting that we can find plenty of examples of great starving artists (Van Gogh etc) AND examples of well-fed and prosperous great artists (Picasso, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan) etc.

      Which suggests to me that creativity and business success aren’t mutually exclusive – you can be good at either, or both. But being good at one doesn’t guarantee you’ll be good at the other.

      • That’s absolutely right! There are great artists on both ends of the spectrum, just as there are people in our personal lives.

        I know many creative people who love being creative solely for their interest in it and for fun. They shy away from anything entrepreneurial. They just don’t have the thought in mind of turning that creativity into a venture that might earn them a living.

        And then I know people who cannot separate creativity from entrepreneurship. They actively look for ways to direct creativity towards something with the potential to bloom into a business.

        • I can relate to both of those. I love writing poetry as a completely noncommercial activity, but I also get a buzz from the entrepreneurial drive to build things and get them out there in the market…

  16. I think a little hunger can aid the creativity, but when you are starving you can’t think about anything other than food.

    So money is nice, although I have found that when I am comfortable I have to fight the urge to be lazy and satisfied.

    But starving is full of anxiety, lack of resources and a feeling of total displacement.

    Still some people say the greatest art comes from the starving artist. I guess it’s real, when you are on the street. Hunger does put you in touch with your soul.

    Geoff Talbot
    seven sentences

  17. Great article Mike, as much time I spent in LA blog make me starting to feel my self like I am in some of my favorite pub`s but in virtual world. It’s a good place to be, reading all that post of creative’s all around world writing about similar problems and pleasures that we all share somehow.
    What to say about topic, in my opinion, the most important thing is to have not a plenty of money but having enough to completely cover your real life and professional needs. As an artist who dedicated his carrier to working in hard materials (like stone, ceramic, mortar and similar) the hell-good I know how tools and general working conditions are important if you want to make something really good (or to make something at all).
    Its not about the best tools you can afforded to yourself (although is quite ok for me), but its about having all necessary tools and working space that are must, and in the same time it cost a money. Not to mention need for having reach life experience that means traveling to see works of art on different part of the world (usually the ones I looking for are not in the local museums of my country), meet and get know different cultural inheritance and job practice that is relevant to my work.
    Not having enough money makes you more creative it is absolutely true, but only to some line, below that line there is no opportunity to be creative, there is only bare existence, and nobody likes to be below that line, I believe some of us know that weary well.

    • Thanks Aleksandar, the pub is a very important element of British culture, so that’s a nice compliment. 😉

      And great point about the ‘line’ – especially in a field like yours where you need some heavy-duty tools and raw materials.

  18. You can buy creativity.

    You can’t buy – for yourself – the wellspring or the spark of the divine.

    But you can buy creativity and people have done it since time immemorial.

  19. There’s a quote I LOVE, attributed to Will Smith which says: money doesn’t change you. It makes you who you really are.

    In this respect, having money lets you express your true self, be more generous, more supportive of just causes (assuming you are this sort of person 🙂

    According to this theory, becoming (more) creative is just a natural evolvement….

  20. Great post, Mark! Its unfortunate that a lot of artists tend to have this ‘black and white’ thinking of focusing on making money vs. focusing on their art – one has to be ignored while the other is happening, and vice versa. I really like your post because it brings both of these things together to state that they are not mutually exclusive, but are actually dependent upon one another. This is so important for artists to understand – I cannot focus on making my singing career grow if I’m worrying all the time about not being able to pay for my vocal coaching or cd production, etc.

    I always like to think of money as tickets to hidden opportunities. By paying for my cd production, I wouldn’t have been able to promote the music that I’m so passionate about. Or even just having money to go to a networking event for creative entrepreneurs to connect with other like minded individuals, or to travel to an international singing competition to perform and meet other producers and agents – these are extremely valuable connections that are way worth what I paid for and have led to positive things in my life – I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if it wasn’t for the money.

  21. I’ve just experienced #1 in spades. Accepted the idea of paying the bills with web work while I create a business around my writing, and had two of the best financial months ever.

    And published two books (one business, one fiction) in the same two months. With major progress on three more books.

    Less worry about money = more art from me, in part because it equals more support from my wife/business partner/writing assistant, who is also less worried about money.