Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are you writing for money or writing for the sake of writing?

A common misconception many non-writers have about authors is that they are millionaires. In fact, when I approached a paranormal investigator to interview him for Spook City, he lashed out at me for trying to make money off of his hard work with my book. I had to assure him I wasn't being paid a handsome advance for my book. In fact, I hadn't turned a single profit out of all the work I was doing in putting the book together. The money would come later, not right away. Still, many writers expect the money to come right away and, when it doesn't, they give up.

I was thinking about this sad truth this morning while I was reading Writer's First Aid by Kristi Holl. I read the chapter "Money Maxims" and noticed how the author touched on the fact that many writers expect to be paid handsomely for their first sale and, when it's not forthcoming, they give up. She reminded readers of how it takes a long time to earn a handsome profit from the work they do, and that this is time well spent, because they are given a chance to hone in on their craft and sharpen their skills as a writer. If anything, I think it's also a chance for writers to find that elusive "voice."

This really made me think. Earlier in the day, I'd been surfing various Web sites to see what kind of education and training are required for someone to be a psychologist. As many people know, a psychologist earns a good income. I was surprised to find out that this "good income" does not happen right away. In fact, it takes a lot of effort before that good money is made in psychology, but mostly, it takes time. A lot of time. There's the 4 years of a college education, the years invested in graduate school, the internship and time used for research and study. It would be a total of 12 years before anyone can become a licensed psychologist. If that. Then add 3 or 4 more years, maybe longer, before the tidy income starts coming in. One site noted that a psychologist could earn up to $80,000 a year, but not until after an investment of 20 years of training and working in the field. Twenty years before being able to live off the fat of the land. Twenty years is a long time, but worth it in the end. It gives our psychologist the chance to obtain further wisdom, experience, and a sense of professionalism in dealing with tough patients.

All of that time invested makes a person a good psychologist -- maybe even one of the best psychologists -- who has earned that very nice paycheck. The same can be said of the writer. If the writer puts in all that time, that effort, that practice and discipline to write every day even if it doesn't mean getting paid for that writing, all of it will contribute to the Holy Grail of writers: Good money.

So if someone wants to be a writer just to make money, then they'd better look into something else. The money will not come right away. Yes, yes, we all know of the first novelist nabbing that multi-million dollar book deal or the freelance writer who sells her very first article submitted to Good Housekeeping and gets paid $2,000 or more for it, but these cases are rare.

During the early part of your writing career, don't write for the money; write for the love of writing. And to hone your craft. For the desire to be a good writer and the dedication to put words down onto paper because that is what you need to have in place
first before you can expect to earn good money from your writing. Yes, you should definitely aim to make good money from your writing. As it should be, if you turn out to be a great writer who is deserving of that nice payout for your work. But above all else, be willing to put in the time, training and effort to reach that goal. Just because you don't earn money right away as a writer, it DOES NOT mean you won't earn good money later on. (Sadly, I know of some writers and authors who snub these very people who don't make thousands or millions of dollars early in their career.) You will make good money as a writer, just not right away. Meanwhile, keep writing.

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  • At 9:38 AM , Blogger Angie said...

    I definitely agree that folks who are here for the money are much better off elsewhere. [wry smile]

    At the same time, though, there's this insidious notion in our culture that anyone working in a creative field should be doing it only for the love of it, that any writer (painter, actor, musician, whatever) who expresses interest in making a living or getting more money is somehow greedy or cynical, and that the work they do is tainted by their interest in money.

    This is utter crap, of course, but the idea is out there anyway. It's an ironic dichotomy -- the belief that of course writers should make a bazillion dollars on their first novel, coexisting with the belief that "real" writers shouldn't care about money. While it's true that any writer who expects a lot of money, especially right from the start, is doomed to disappointment, it's also true that a writer who doesn't care about money -- or pretends they don't because they believe that's how they're supposed to think -- is ripe to be exploited and cheated by unscrupulous people who have no problem wanting a lot of money for themselves at others' expense. Writing professionally is a business, and approaching it in a businesslike manner, including expecting fair return for quality work, is the way to go.


  • At 8:13 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thanks for the very thorough comment, Angie. I apologize for taking so long to respond!

    I agree that there are negative perceptions about writers who have made writing their trade, but there is a reason, I think, for these perceptions. For one, many writers writing for money seem to throw themselves at job opportunities they are not exactly qualified for. As an example, I used to write for eHow, and MANY of the topics they assign to writers are best left to someone who KNOWS their stuff and can competently write about that topic. Many writers believe if they do enough research or ask around enough, they can position themselves as an expert -- even when, on the surface, MANY of the things writers were assigned to write about (such as horse care and carpentry) were better left to someone who had actual experience in that field. Their failed attempts to do this can tarnish the perception that writers can competently write about something if they put enough research into it. Also, a writer who will take on writing a book just because the money is good likewise contributes to that negative perception of writers who call writing their trade. Finally, because of their skill with words, that negative perception of writers "in it for the money" is strengthened when writers write something in an email or article luring readers into buying their books or hiring them for their services. All such writers are seen as hacks who sell their souls to the highest bidder. While SOME writers may indeed fit that description, many do not, because they know and understand that writing is a business, and so they see it as just business.

    You have to ask yourself what you are interested in getting, in the long term. A writer being paid for their work WILL put in that extra effort, but a writer who is not being paid will either pass or give very minimal effort to the amount of time, research and craft they put into their writing. On the other hand, I see writers devoting their time and efforts to writing articles for sites where they are only being paid pennies for their efforts, and where their income depends on whether or not someone clicks on an ad or comments on their work, and it's just heartbreaking. They put so much of their time and effort into those articles for practically nothing at all, when they could do so for sites and markets that will at least pay them a decent sum.

    The drive to earn money from writing can cloud the writer's perceptions and make them forget the real goal of being a writer: To perfect their skill with words. The more the writer writes, the better they will write. I support a writer trying to earn money from their writing, but I don't support the writer who makes it ALL about the money. They need to have that love for writing, that desire to be better writers, and that motivation to keep writing even if it does not mean getting paid for it. By maintaining the discipline to keep writing even when times are bad, the writer will reap financial rewards for their efforts to perfect their writing craft when times are good.

  • At 8:34 AM , Blogger Angie said...

    I think we have two different issues here.

    On the one hand, there are plenty of places -- like those article mills you mentioned -- which are essentially set up to take advantage of the newbie writer's burning wish to be paid something, anything for their work. They're also taking advantage of the idea floating around that of course all writers have to "pay their dues," by which is usually meant placing work with non-paying or extremely low-paying markets before they can expect a decent return on their efforts.

    To me, these kinds of set-ups are only half a step up from the vanity presses that pretend they're some kind of new marketing paradigm, preying upon the baby writer's desperation to get published. They're both scams IMO, taking advantage of the fact that there are more writers out there than there are legitimate, reasonably paying market slots for them to sell to.

    And if someone gets caught up in that kind of scam, I can't honestly blame them for figuring, "Heck, they're only paying me five bucks -- I'm not about to put ten hours of research into this." Seriously, who would? :/

    The other issue is that of honing your skill and learning your craft. Writing is one of the few crafts where it's widely believed that your first efforts should be published. If someone just handed you a trumpet, you probably wouldn't go out to a public park at lunchtime to make your first honks on it, or practice your first scales down in the subway with a tip jar in front of you. But far too many writers finish their first story or article and then try to sell it -- expect to sell it. Or at least get it published somewhere.


    Writers have to serve an apprenticeship just like anyone else. I've heard rules of thumb citing both a million and two million words of apprenticeship for writers. Another one took a different angle and said a thousand rejection slips. But the point is that it takes a lot of working and learning and practicing to get to the point where your writing is fit for public consumption. If a baby writer doesn't have the determination to work through that period of learning and practicing, then they're not cut out to be professional writers, period. It's like someone taking a Red Cross first aid course, then expecting to be hired by a hospital -- it's a crazy idea, and everyone knows it's a crazy idea, in just about any field except writing.

    Sure, anyone who's here just for the money is frankly stupid. There are much easier and surer ways of getting rich. Writers need to love to write, and want to keep doing it even in the face of those thousand rejection slips.

    At the same time, though, they should expect that when they've learned and improved to the point where they are ready to be published, they'll be paid a decent amount for their work. It's up to each writer to decide what "decent" means, but five or ten dollars for hours of work isn't anywhere in the same ZIP code as "decent" IMO. Selling yourself that short results in 1) being taken gross advantage of, and 2) having work out there with your name on it which really shouldn't be out there yet. Neither case is of any benefit to the writer.


  • At 6:37 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thank you for commenting further on this. :) I agree with a lot of your points.

    "But the point is that it takes a lot of working and learning and practicing to get to the point where your writing is fit for public consumption."

    Yes, this is VERY true! No writer just starting out will have this writing thing honed to perfection to a point where they sell the very first thing they write -- or have it in acceptable condition for publication. Though many do go about their merry way all the same, using sites like Lulu or their blogs to publish their work. Bad idea.


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