The recurring topic of making a living as a writer has bubbled up in several locations over the past couple of weeks, prompting occasionally heated discussions in social media. Not that anyone cares what I think—nor am I saying you should care; this might all be a waste of valuable time you could have spent watching the Reince Preibus viral porn video—but a thought came to mind, and what are blogs for except as places for writers to vomit up thoughts?
The gist of these articles is that it’s hard to make a decent living as a writer of any kind, and getting harder. To which I say: get over it. That’s probably as it should be.
No one is owed a career in their chosen profession, be it writing, music, dance, sports, database management, accounting, law, space flight, or medicine. (Though it is sincerely to be hoped The Sole Heir’s medical ambitions come to fruition, as I’m getting old and some free medical advice will come in handy.) It’s a tough world, and jobs doing what people may consider to be fun are even harder, because everyone who suspects they have an iota of talent in that direction wants to do it.
The hard truth is, the world does not need more writers. If authors stopped writing tomorrow, life would go on pretty much as it does now. People who love to read would have no shortage of books to enjoy. More books have already been published than humankind as a species will ever have time to read. Readers will miss their preferred authors for a while, but they’ll find someone else, and will always have the pleasure or re-reading favorites.
This is not to say new literature is not important; it is. What it isn’t, is necessary. Air, water, food, and shelter are necessary; everything else falls into the category of “nice to have.” The point is, more people want to be writers than can be accommodated economically; this has always been true. It’s funny how freshly-minted authors seem to have forgetten the traditional notion of the starving writer working in an unheated garret.
No one makes us write. If the economic prospects seem overly daunting to you, find another line of work and write in your spare time. What’s that? Speak up. Oh. “I couldn’t not write. The desire consumes my soul and I could never be happy doing anything that steals time from my Muse.” Then shut the fuck up and write. Whining steals time from the Muse, as well.
There’s another thing to consider, the hoary axiom to “be careful what you ask for.” Doing something you love for a living is not at all the same as doing it for the love of it. I tried to build a career as a musician into my mid-thirties before I accepted reality. I returned to play in a community band about ten years later, and couldn’t remember the last time I’d enjoyed playing so much, even though my skills had atrophied. Playing had been satisfying, even rewarding at times, but not fun. It wears on one to be told when to play, what to play, how to play it, what to wear, which door to use, and to be a sideshow to the main event when you’ve dedicated your life to doing it. Sucks the joy right out of it.

So here’s my advice if you know anyone who’s thinking of becoming a writer, musician, dancer, athlete, or any number of other highly competitive professions: talk them out of it. If you succeed, they had no chance. If they do it anyway, they may likely still fall short, but they knew the risks and gave it their best shot. Both your consciences will be clear.

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Comment by Dan L. Coleman on August 4, 2014 at 11:33am

Right. If something is worth having or desirable, people are lining up to get it.

Comment by Jed Power on August 2, 2014 at 5:55am

I agree with most of what you say, Dana.  On the other hand, most of these writers are frustrated by continually dealing with small book publishers and non-paying or very little paying short story markets.  Why they continue to submit to them with the economic realities of business with these entities, even when their work is accepted, is beyond me.  I guess it might be the old saw about trying the same thing over and over again and receiving the same negative outcome.

I'm convinced there are only two avenues to make any worthwhile money in our field--1.  Publication by a large publisher who offers an advance and a healthy publicity push.  2.  Indie Publishing through your own publishing company.  The only people I see making any decent money at all today are involved in one, or both, of these routes.  

To deal only with small presses and non-paying mags (except possibly getting one story in to use the name) is a sure road to frustration and the writing of more articles like you spoke of.

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