“He only needed a little salary.”
“No man only needs a little salary.”
—Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
I attended a writer’s workshop recently with Detroit Working Writers, where the unspoken theme became money. As in, how do I get paid for my writing? Where can I get paid? I want somebody to show me the money. What sells? Where? How? OMG money money money.
I get it. The keynote speaker got it, even as he took the ol’ Oprah-eque tack: Write for love/joy/whatever, just write, and the money will follow. His talk was better than I’m making it sound.
I want money, too. I’m old enough to know that not only does money not grow on trees, but my actual trees ended up costing a horrendous amount this year. To be cut down. Because they were dying. Do you know how sad and ass backwards it is to shell out big bucks to get rid of something you actually like? Ugg. I tried to complain about this to my brother, but he’s a dentist and extracts teeth that people want in their mouths and money they want in their wallets for a living, so I just got a funny look.
I’d like to get paid for my writing, and here’s the rub: I have. It’s nice. But has it been enough? Made me rich? Constituted an income? These are all different and interesting questions, important ones, even. Wouldn’t we all ideally get our income from something we really enjoy doing, something we find intrinsically a part of ourselves? I think most of us would say “yes.” And then we find reality is something a bit different. More complex and nuanced. Publications have budgets, and then budget cuts, and then die. Online stuff is more confusing, full of penny-scams and never meeting the people who run the show. I’ve said “yes” without asking enough questions. I’ve felt like things are risky when maybe they were not. I’ve been outside my comfort zone with subject matter, which can be both good and unsettling. I’ve had as many times in which I’m not getting paid for my writing than when I have been paid, something that fuels what a friend calls “imposter syndrome”, which I suspect holds me back in some way, along with other stuff, valid and otherwise.
I also think most of us that identify as writers want something other than money. Yeah, I know it wasn’t the unspoken theme, but here’s what I think we really want: We want to know our words matter to someone.
Hell, we even want to know we matter.
Right or wrong, money is a big currency of worth. It’s been established for quite some time as the primary means of exchange, as opposed to beads or beaver furs or bushels of grain. So, duh, writers should get paid, especially if they are going to print and helping someone—a business, some advertisers, an organization—get more business, or money, or contributors (probably of money) or movie-goers or ratings or whatever. Our skills—and ourselves–feel dumbed-down if we are giving the milk away for free, so to speak.
Still, money is not the only currency of worth. Money says “Hey, your skills and talent matter and are worth something; they are worth $XXX much.” Yeah! My tree needs that cash. But money doesn’t say “I feel that way, too. You are not alone.” Money doesn’t say “That really made me laugh.” Or “That was great to enjoy on the beach,” or “Those characters really resounded with me”, or “Your writing got me through 4 hours in a hospital waiting room.” Not directly, anyhow.
People say those things.
Lots of people are needy little things, and I think writers are no exception. In some ways, we are the worst. Like other artists—yes, I’m calling us that–we express ourselves best through are craft, and we want to know we are heard. On some level, being heard is our worth. I’ve read intros by authors that invite their readers to reach out to them…once upon a time via mail, now somehow through websites or comments. And while I know that online comments=stats=sponsors=money=worth, I also think that the actual comments themselves matter. We want to connect. We want to know our words matter, that they moved you in some way.
So while yes, I too grapple with the money/getting paid thing, I also grapple with knowing my words matter to people. That they make a connection. That they are important to human existence, even if it’s in some small way. I’m still trying to figure out how and when and where and why I can get some of those words out.
So if this speaks to you, feel free to comment.
Or…you can leave me some cashJ