by Lillian Csernica on September 17, 2013
When I was growing up, my father’s idea of motivational career advice was the sarcastic question, “Do you want to end up flipping burgers?” It’s become a standing joke in American culture to refer to being at the bottom of the food chain employment-wise if you have to say, “Do you want fries with that?” The current controversy over raising the minimum wage is further evidence of the general attitude toward unskilled, low-paid work.
People think writing is unskilled labor, right up until they find out how hard it really is to write well. People think science fiction is a challenge because you have to know some science to write it. Fair enough. Other people think fantasy is really easy because all you have to do is “make it all up.” That remark never ceases to raise my blood pressure. Do such people ever consider how much effort goes into “making it all up”? I don’t care if we’re talking about twenty pages for a short story or four hundred pages for a novel. When there is often so little respect shown toward writing, is it any wonder how hard it is to make any serious amount of money doing it for a living?
This is a very complicated subject because there are so many aspects to it. Do you care about making any money with your writing? If so, how much, how often, and through what types of writing? Do the opinions of other people regarding money and your writing impact your decision-making? More importantly, do their opinions impact your feelings about your work and/or yourself? Do you have the “That’s not a real job!” argument with yourself or anyone else? Money is a symbol in our culture for so many other things, both tangible and intangible. The general standard being more is better, of course.
I am in the fortunate position of having a husband who pays the bills, maintains the insurance coverage, and in general handles all the big expenditures. I can stay home with my kids and write. This does not mean I get to live the fantasy of writing eight hours a day while other people take care of the boys. I do have nurses for Michael and aides for John, but there are always decisions to make and problems that come up and the joys of living with teenagers to endure. I make enough money at my writing to fill out my taxes every year. I pour it all right back into the career in terms of travel and hotel expenses for conventions and the occasional software treat. (I love e-mail submissions. For the most part the days are gone when I had to go to the post office, get the manuscript weighed, then plaster stamps across that upper corner of the 9×12.)
Do I make as much money as I’d like to? No. I want to be able to build Michael his own custom-designed house with a pool and stables and a room for OT/PT and an art studio and whatever else he wants/needs. I want to take John to all the events and places he wants to see. And, as I’ve said so many times before, I want to go to Kyoto for at least two weeks.
The really critical think to remember when it comes to any kind of art is that the amount paid for it is not and should not be an empirical standard for the quality of that art. Once people start confusing art and money and quality and creativity and genuine worth, we end up with trash like Paris Hilton‘s music videos.
Ask yourself how much money really matters to you when it comes to the subject of your writing. Does money just complicate the process and rob it of the pure satisfaction of creativity? If you’re in a position similar to mine, don’t worry about the money. Just create art for art’s sake. On the other hand, one of my favorite writers, Florence King, started out writing for the confessional magazines. She made her living by her writing, and when the “belles lettres kitty” started to run low, she took temp jobs to pay the bills. It can be done. Let’s do it according to our own personal standards, not according to the six or ten names we see on the grocery store paperback rack every week. Let’s write our way, telling our stories, rather than try to hit the jackpot with the next blockbuster. Those are a matter of timing, luck, and promotional skill more than they’re about quality writing.