There’s a lot of talk at the moment about earnings in the arts – or to be precise, the lack of them. This article from The Guardian is particularly whiny. It literally does depict an author in his garret. If it weren’t for electricity, you might imagine him setting his fingerless gloves on fire whilst trying to light his candle stubs.
Apparently, we are supposed to be sorry for the literary fiction writer who wants to write full-time, but can’t make a living from writing alone. Now, I had a mild dig at this before – but I’m in a different mood today.*
There are 3 types of writerly whinging, coming from both published and unpublished authors, and 2 of them need to be outlawed immediately. (When I am President of the World, it will be my second directive; right after I institute compulsory halitosis screening for everybody working in computer retail.)
The first type is that of The Guardian’s article above – the “stupid commercial authors are writing populist stuff which isn’t a quarter as intelligent as my work, and getting all the money” refrain.
The second type is the “stupid commercial authors are writing populist stuff which isn’t a tenth of the quality I am producing, and getting all the publicity” refrain.
Both types can go and starve in their garret, for all I care. The only literary moaning I will countenance is that of Lionel Shriver, here: the “stupid publishers are making me spend so much time in dubious promotional activities that I’m hardly ever getting time to write” refrain. (The world would be a better place, quite frankly, if certain writers were barely (or not at all) involved in the hard marketing of their work. Nothing will turn you off a book more than bad sales techniques from desperate authors who may well be able to write, but are hideously inept at marketing.)
So, here are my top 6 reasons why writers need to
(i) shut up,
(ii) live in the real world for at least one half hour per day.
And as an added bonus extra freebie, for some reason they all begin with “P”.
Your writing time is your own. You alone can allocate it. You alone can fill it with either productivity, or pictures of cats. If you’re going to sit there staring at one sentence for six hours, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Some people can complete a task in 20 minutes. Some people take 20 days. I know the sort I rather work with.
Anyone who says that they’re passionate about accountancy, retailing, or brand management, is either interviewing for a new job, or trying to cover up the fact that they’ve sold trade secrets and could be facing jail time. They are lying. But if writers weren’t passionate about writing, they just wouldn’t do it. Writers are always banging on about how much they love writing. How many people get to do what they love every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes? They should consider themselves lucky.
You write because you love it. But perhaps you want to be remembered as well, that your art may live when you may die. While it is highly unlikely that anything the majority of us do in our day job will be remembered 5 days after we cease working there, let alone 5 or 50 years after we’re dead, writing is the legacy which could go far beyond the realms of a salaried job.
For mid-list and literary writers this can mean big money and beautiful sales spikes; for emerging writers it can mean publishing contracts and a very decent foothold in the industry. Either way, they can boost your career like no ordinary job promotion could, and offer gorgeous opportunities unavailable to people in said ordinary jobs. At least writers have the life-long potential to win something.
There are precisely ZERO reasons why a workforce-age writer cannot hold down a separate paying job in lean times, unless they have other non-writing related reasons for not working (such as rampant unemployment, being a full-time parent, caring for a sick relative, trying to get a business off the ground, etc).
Why is it a bad thing, that writers might have to do something else, besides writing, to make a living? Do accountants get up every day, jumping for joy that they get to spend another day in the office, trying to decipher the questionable wisdom of European banking regulations? Of course they bloody don’t. And yet they might have spent up to 7 years in training to become an accountant in the first place.
What about the courier whose garage band is playing six gigs a week to promote their album? Or the actor who waits tables 45 hours a week?
Writers deserve no more sympathy than anybody else who has to leave their house every day to do something which facilitates the feeding of themselves.
A significant minority of highly respected writers will tell other writers that writing purely for commercial gain is selling out, selling their soul, or at best, lowering artistic standards.
I really have no time for this sort of rubbish. If an artist paints a picture which nobody wants to buy, do we think she has the right to unlimited public funding in order to keep on painting pictures which nobody, besides herself, might want?
Come on, guys. Change the record. You were boring before the Internet.
So there you go. Another Tantrum Tuesday in the bag! Thanks, folks. I feel MUCH better having whined about whining.
*Disclaimer: as an unpublished writer, I’m obliged to get all my whining out of the way before I grow up. Once you start charging people for stuff, integrity as regards being this judgemental pretty much goes out the window.