May 24th, 2012

Writing and Money

Something cool happened in April, something that usually happens to me a few times a year but never loses its thrill: in the course of the month, I earned from writing endeavours slightly more than I pay in rent. That’s always exciting, even though it’s far from a sign that I could earn my living as a full-time writer: aside from it only happening a few times a year, rent does not a living make. If writing had been my only source of income in April, I could’ve sat in my paid-up apartment and slowly starved to death. But the idea that I’m even close, even occasionally, is neat-o.

I included this fun factoid in a presentation I was making to high-schoolers, who were quite aghast that that’s *all* I make. But then I told a fellow writer, and he was aghast in a good way, and congratulated me. The expectations for a writing life, monetarily speaking, are so various–and the more you know the less you expect.

I worry about both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, I think there is a crazy rumour floating around that writing a publishable book equals a lifetime of generous income. That’s hilarious, but I encountered yet another aspiring writer recently who had decided–knowing little of the publishing world–that it would be worthwhile to quit her job in order to write a novel. I quiver in fear for her. But on the other side, I worry about getting too anti-materialist, too hippy-dippy, “I have to write to be happy, payment or not!” I once got a rather stern talking-to from a fellow writer when I said that I would write my book whether or not my grant application was successful; the grant would just make that writing a lot easier and more pleasant. She said not putting monetary worth on my work *causes* it to be under-valued. I say putting a pricetag on work sets me up for disappointment (and not working) if no one wants to pay…but I take her point: artistic creation is hard and it matters, and in our society, the way we appreciate what matters is with money.

So…I try to care about money, but not too much; to treat writing as something that brings me personal fulfillment but also has a market value; to know what is disrespect and what is budgetary constraint. If you say you’re going to pay me and then don’t, I will politely nag you over the horizon; but there’s also situations where I’m more than happy to work for free. It’s complicated.

A further complication is that folks don’t talk about this stuf enough, because money is weird and awkward (unless you’re that girl who yelled at me). Novice writers–or writers doing it for money for the first time–don’t know what to expect and thus feel disappointed when they’re actually being treated generously, or else don’t speak up when they’re actually being treated poorly. So I’m going to do a post on what writers can and do (and don’t) earn. It was actually going to be a part of this post originally, but it’s getting really long, so I’ll see you back here in a few days.

5 Responses to “Writing and Money”

  • Carrie says:

    I also was recently approached by someone who wanted to devote himself full-time to novel-writing as a money-making venture. He was very serious, yet had never published anything. Honestly, I have a hard time being entirely polite when people say things like that to me (and it happens quite a lot).

    I’m looking forward to your next post, Rebecca.


  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks, Carrie. Yes, I am baffled by such people–where are they getting their information? Where are these rich-writer rumours coming from???


  • Carrie says:

    Maybe we writers don’t really want to admit how little we earn, when we put so much effort and time into it.


  • Scott Watson says:

    I think its because most people have no grasp of statistics. They see the “tall” trees and not the entire population. If you graph the incomes of writers, it is rather depressing (I think the Guardian recently did a survey of e-book writers that reflected this). There are a couple of “lottery winners” at the top and a long curve going down to zero. Although my wife pointed out that is the case in almost every field. She also jokes that no one really knows how much other people make and that the more money you have the more you have to spend it on.

    my Dad always said the key to life is choosing your work, understanding that no matter what you choose, its work.


  • Rebecca says:

    Scott, I think your last sentence is key–folks are looking for a job (income) that isn’t work, and writing (sitting around in your pjs thinking about interesting stories) sounds close. It isn’t, but it sounds like it is.


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