Fuck Money? A Little More About Writers And Getting Paid

In today’s post about being a happy writer I put an admittedly provocative header on #16: “Fuck Money.” Now, I like to think the post explains itself okay, but maybe it doesn’t — and further, the graphic that accompanies the blog post is in some cases going around separate from the text of the blog post, so I figure I understand some folks balking at the notion that a writer shouldn’t care about money.

Which, to be clear, is not at all what I’m suggesting

I care about money.

I care about it. I like it. I’d lick it for the coke residue if it didn’t make me look weird.

I care about it both because it feeds my kid and because I can buy stupid shit like video games and good bourbon and because it puts the paint on the walls of our home and — well, dang, I don’t need to tell you that money is how we pay for stuff. And I pay for stuff via my writing. Full-time. My wife was full-time and now works part-time, so the lion’s share of earning is on yours truly. And, to be honest, I make a very comfortable living right now with the inkslinging.

Money is a lovely reward for a day’s writing and I have no intention of dismissing that. In fact, there’s little better than putting food on a table with the imaginary made-up seed-stuff that pours out of my ruptured head-pumpkin on the daily. Now, that being said —

I still think the point of the post still stands, which is, you’re likelier to be happier writing first because you like what you do rather than because you like filling up your piggy bank. And it’s true for things beyond writing: the things we do in this life will make us happier overall if we bring our interest and our passion to the table. Now, hell, if your interest and passion is purely in accumulating dollar signs, so be it. Go forth and dance a happy dance with your pockets jingling and cash floating out of your shirt like it’s a money blizzard. The point wasn’t about being an effective writer, nor was it a suggestion that anybody should be a starving artist or should feel bad for earning out with their creative endeavors —

It was just about cultivating happiness. And in my experience focusing only on money is done to the detriment to your own personal mirth meter. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Nothing wrong with getting paid or being a writer who wants to be paid.

Hopefully anybody who reads this blog knows that by now, but for you newer readers, there it is.


  • There is this weird perception that if you LIKE doing something AND get paid for it, you’ve compromised in some way. Or something. It’s weird, and stupid. If money is the only reason you do ANYTHING, well, you’re not going to be happy. Writing, or any other form of art, is no exception.

    • This is what makes it tricky. At least for me. The perception of what KIND of work you do ties into its commercial viability. I don’t know about the writing world, but I was on the fringes of the art world trying to make “insider” art as an outsider. The “serious” Fne Arts “Art in America” art world is mostly self-referential, with people creating stuff that is a commentary on other stuff created at different points in history. It’s work that usually has an element of social or political commentary, but takes place within a self-referential tradition, which is why people who don’t know about that tradition tend not to be able to relate to it very well. “Commercial” art is a different arena, where different rules apply: make something pretty that serves a specific purpose and/or makes people feel good, and they will buy it because it looks nice in their house, or cheers people up as they walk through the public square.

      It seems like there are similar division in the writing world between “literary” fiction that’s all deep and says something sweeping about life on a grand philosophical scale, and which also tends to be boring as shit accept in the instances in which it really is accessible, and “genre” fiction that’s theoretically meant to entertain people, is accessible to almost anyone who can read, sells very well, and may or may not say something profound about the delicate balance between our inner selves and society. Right? Two completely different attitudes and agendas. Neither is wrong. Neither is right. They just are what they are.

      But what happens, at least in the art world, is that a lot of people get all up in their attitude about the legitimacy of one type of work over another. People have fights about this stuff. If you do commercial art, you’re an ignorant sell-out. If you do fine arts, you’re an elitist snob. You can paint sailboats, but elitist snobs will say you’re a noob for doing it. You can paint screaming popes and giant crucifixions and ignorant sell-outs will say you’re a dangerous lunatic whose work should be universally banned. Usually these two groups don’t get along. Usually these two groups don’t cross paths. They care about and want different things. I’m pretty sure ALL of them want money, but they think of their creative mission in different ways. And they’re all pretty goddamn touchy about their agenda, no matter what it is.

      I find that shit to be pretty boring, actually. I mean, who the fuck cares? Do what you want, let me do what I want, right? It’s a lot more enjoyable to do work that turns you on than it is to sit around worrying about who will like it and why they might like it and whether or not you can get them to like it so they’ll pay for it. That takes all the fun out of it, as far as I’m concerned. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but if it becomes the driving force behind your creativity, how enjoyable is that? On the other hand, someone who’s developed their skills to a high enough level of competence that they can make regular sales maybe is going to spend more time thinking about sales than thinking about craft.

  • That’s what throws me, in general, when I listen to people talk about writing. I was an artist, and no one becomes an artist to make money. That would be ridiculous. It would be like becoming a panhandler to make money. In fact, so much like that, that the two career paths are practically indistinguishable in terms of financial benefit. I would guess that no one writes to make money, but an awful lot of people talk about how to write in order to make money, as if that’s why they’re writing.

    • I care about money, mostly because writing & associated promo tends to take AT LEAST 20 hours a week out of my schedule (often much more). Writing is my passion & I’m just too into it to restrict it to hobby status. If I could swing it, I’d write 50+ hours a week. I have that hunger.

      But, at least at this stage of the game, I don’t sit down and dream up a concept for a book *because I think it’ll be lucrative*. I write darkity-dark-dark horror stories with unlikeable characters (or, at the most sympathetic…characters who are a mixed bag). It might seem better, commercially, to go with likeable characters…but reviews (for the most part) seem to think I make it work.

      So, I CARE about money & I’ll always try to find the most lucrative publishing opportunities for my work….but it’s damned sure gonna stay MY work.

      Balance, y’know. Ying/yang. Middle path & all that stuff.

      • Kudos to you, then. I like what you say about how it’s still YOUR WORK.

        I hate marketing. When I was painting, I wasn’t promoting my work much at all – but I wasn’t a hobbyist. I sold a few paintings, I was in a museum’s group show, I was in a bunch of juried competitions…but I didn’t make promo a huge part of my life. I hated having to write an “artist’s statement” – here’s my statement: “It’s a picture. Look at it for a while. See what it does for you.” I know my work was good. I also know I’m a competent graphic artist. A normal person would do the marketing. I’m not normal. I don’t like self-promo and don’t like talking to clients. While there are number of things I’d love to DO full time, I don’t have the will to do the marketing stuff that would make it possible.

        People think “hobbyist” means “shitty,” but it doesn’t, necessarily. It might mean lazy, or just wanting to be left alone, or having other priorities, and being willing to put up with a crap-ass day job so as to be unencumbered during the free hours of the day when doing something more meaningful is possible. Or it might mean needing to learn how to do self-promo more effectively. But marketing sucks the life out of my universe. It depresses me. It makes me feel like I have to lie, cheat, manipulate, distort, hype, embellish, and play some kind of game that I don’t like and don’t understand in order to convince people to believe things I don’t believe myself. In other words, it seems like so much bullshit. Plus, it just freaks me out. It’s like going door to door saying, “Do you like me? What about now? Do you like me now? What if I put on this hat?”

        If you’re going to put yourself through that exhausting ordeal, hopefully it’s worth the time and effort. In the scenario you describe, your “day job” IS the marketing stuff. Never really thought about it that way. I think I’d have to pretend I was promoting someone else’s work.

        • Sarah, maybe I’m ridiculously naive, but can’t marketing be being yourself, but more so, and in public? Not lying, cheating, distorting, all that stuff, more like doing your hair and make-up before a hot date. You’re not changing yourself, being false, being who you’re not, just putting the best you out there.

          Forget if they like you, forgot contorting yourself to fit what they want. Recipe for disaster. If they don’t love you as you are, they’re not your people anyway. Ever made the mistake of pretending you like something someone you fancy does, or prtened to be different to who you really are, and then got stuck with that as long as you’re with that person? I have, in desperation to be loved, and it wasn’t fun. The relationship felt so fake and plastic, and it was, because I was fake and plastic. I don’t do that in my relationships now, and I don’t want to do that with my marketing either.

          Be autehntically yourself, give out what you can (not paintings, obviously, but information, support, whatever) and build a community of people who love your work and what only you can provide- your truest self. Okay, that takes time and work, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. But it’s not fake or spammy or used-car-salesman-ish either.

          This blog is the only way I’ve seen Chuck marketing his writing, and it seems to work for him!

          I love the simplicity and directness of your artist statement, BTW. Sometimes people do just want something to look at that pshes them to them think and feel, without all the philosphical BS.

        • I’ve had to do (and redo, and redo) a couple of artist statements very recently (BFA and external), so your postings got my attention. I dreaded writing mine for the same reasons you gave, but my advisor explained that the purpose behind the statement is more to direct viewers around your work and to give them a reasons to look deeper or longer. The longer someone does that, the more it’ll make an impact on them, which is always good. In the future I’ll probably “market” my paintings through a combination of galleries, juried shows, and have my portfolio on a website for reference – beyond that, probably not much else. I’m not a schmoozer or extrovert, but I do care about money, so I’ll need to work for a balance between the two. Regardless, I’m not putting on a fake face for anyone, with my paintings or my writings.

  • I completely agree. If you’re doing it for the money from the get-go, I think you’re taking the wrong approach, predominantly because there are way better, and faster, ways to make money. But there comes a point in time where you’d love to get paid for doing what you love so that you can do what you love more.

  • You can do that if you want to be a copyrighter. Maybe that’s who they’re speaking to. I think what Chuck’s saying is, when you set out to become a writer, realize you most likely won’t become an overnight millionaire. You’re going to have to pay your dues, just like everybody else, so you might as well pick something you enjoy doing while you pay those dues, otherwise you’ll be miserable and envious of everyone higher up on the ladder, and who wants that?

  • You bring up a very good point that is almost always on my mind, especially when I find myself in dire financial straits. I love writing and I put down at least a few words on a piece of paper every day for the sake of keeping myself going, but I do sometimes lose track of my passion, I think. I feel as if the money becomes the bigger picture when it should be the passion.
    Then again, I’m a poor as hell and in college. I just want to focus more on “I fucking love doing this” rather than “how much can I get for this?”

  • On a slight tangent (but still about money), oh Chuck of all knowledge (in Australia chuck means vomit so that phrase works); if I buy a book from a bargain bin — say $5 instead of $20ish — does the writer still get all their money? Or pro rata from the actual sale price?

  • As a writer, I’m a poor statistical processor. That’s why the possibility of making a living at it – a good living, even – seems far more likely than it actually is. Far more. And that’s why the dream has stayed alive for forty years despite having always had a “day job”. If I’d had any sense, I’d have spent my leisure hours buying and selling scrap metal – or something – instead of scribbling stuff and yearning for recognition.

    I’ve just signed a 2-book deal with a rather large publisher. At sixteen I’d have been out there putting a deposit on my new Aston Martin. Sadly, I now know that the trip I’m taking soon to a far-away writers’ convention to help promote the books, will almost certainly cost more than both books will ever earn. Yet, as soon as I stop reading the morning’s RSS feed, I’ll be back to scribbling and yearning.

  • Knitters and Writers have a lot in common.
    1) You do what? (people side stepping away quickly hoping your not catching)
    2) You want me to pay what? People not realizing that time 80 hrs+ for an adult sweater unless you knit on speed, and the cost of good yarn is anywhere between $60 and over $200 (talking cashmere here)
    Hell a pair of knit socks yarn + time is over $80 a pair.
    3) lack of sufficient appreciation

    I knit cause I like it. You write cause you like it. Nuff Said

  • Not all of us get paid doing something we love. I’m envious of the people I work with that absolutely love to fly. It’s a job to me and pays well.
    My passion is writing, and I’m in the process of transitioning to doing that full-time. But I’m not kidding myself. I’ve become accustomed to my present lifestyle and the timing of the transition will be dependent on how fast the money rolls in. It will be sometime between two to seven years before the transition is complete. (Faster if I win the lottery)
    With my children, I encourage them to find what they love and pursue that as hard as they can. The difficult part for them is finding out what that actually is. My eldest is studying journalism and loves to write creatively as well. She will make a living slinging ink. The other three are in various stages of trying to find out what they are passionate about.
    I don’t think there is any vocation that’s better than being paid to do something you would do for free, which is the current state of my writing. I wish I had discovered earlier in life that I could be happy writing novels, but perhaps it’s taken this long to get my mind right.

  • Head pumpkin!! Ha! Shit, I do this for NO money (so far.) I also hate the idea that if you make money doing something you love, it’s “wrong.” How the hell did that ever get started?

  • I hate it when people say that writers shouldn’t care about the money. Of course we should. If we don’t get paid, we don’t eat. And I like eating, and being able to afford a place to live. So yes, I do care about the money. I didn’t become a writer to rake in the dough or anything, because that’s an unrealistic expectation, but I have a skill that I worked hard to develop, and I decided to turn that skill into a career. Not a hobby or a little side job, but a career. What makes writing as a job any different than developing software or planning a building? Just because I love doing it doesn’t mean that I don’t expect some sort of compensation for the time and effort I put into making the thing readable. What I’m trying to say is that money isn’t exactly the most important thing in life, and you shouldn’t write if you want to be super rich, but it’s not at all unreasonable to want to get paid for doing something that you love.

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