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I was reading this really great piece in Essence about protecting your creativity the other day, and like the author, there have been many times where friends, acquaintances and family members have hit me up because they wanted to “pick my brain” about a project they were trying to pursue and wanted to know how I was able to manage The 94 Percent, my full-time job and other creative projects I had going on. 

What I’ve realized is that while I feel validated that people find my work and experience valuable, I have to admit that it becomes time consuming and sometimes even draining to meet with people and give my advice away for free. While I’m meeting with others, or editing your essays, or spending creative energy helping to make your project marketable, it takes time away from my own projects and ultimately, my time and energy. 

This year, I stopped giving away my intellectual property for free. When people wanted to collaborate with me, I made sure The 94 Percent or my personal projects would benefit in some way. It wasn’t that I was greedy, I was preserving my talent and time by not just giving it away for free. At the end of the day, I had to realize I had to pay my own bills and foster my own creativity in order to be able to fully accomplish my dreams. If I didn’t, all my creative thoughts and ideas would be living in other people’s projects, and I couldn’t let that happen anymore. 

Don’t get my wrong, I love meeting with people and chatting with them about their projects, but my time is valuable. And, I had to create some very strict boundaries in order to have enough energy at the end of every day to be able to work on my own side hustles. 

So, here are three things I did in order to protect my intellectual property and my energy when people wanted to pick my brain about their ideas: 

Stop giving away your creativity for free – Consultants make money for a reason. If you want my opinion, you have to pay. You can set aside time for pro bono work, but be straight up about how much it costs (and how they would benefit) from paying you for your expertise. 

Set clear boundaries on when, and for who, you will offer your expertise to for free – This was a MUST for me. And, while I haven’t put together a package of consulting services I could provide, I have made it clear to people when I can or cannot collaborate on a project that wasn’t going to benefit me in any way. But there are specific people I will always brainstorm projects with or hear ideas from. I just had to be clear with myself about who those people were.

Protect your network – This is a must and something that I struggled with a few years ago. I knew a lot of people in the writing business, but just because I knew people who knew people, didn’t mean they wanted to introduce me to those people and for good reasons. Your network is your NET WORTH. If you’re willing to give away information for free, or make introductions, make sure you benefit in some way. And don’t get me wrong, relationships should not be transnational, but I do want to caution you against becoming the person that’s always hooking others up with connections and not building connections from those people you’re giving your connections away to. You should protect it like you do your other assets. 

What have you done to preserve your creativity and protect your time? I’d love to hear from you.