Thursday, October 27, 2016

Questions America Wants Answered: "Do Writers Deserve to Make a Living?"

We get some of our best ideas reading the news so journos should probably be fed and watered but for much of what passes as writing, comme ci, comme ça. It's a tough world, what that Tennyson guy unsentimentally called "...Nature, red in tooth and claw".

From The Walrus:

Not everyone believes literary labour constitutes work

Illustration by AAGGraphics
I recently participated in a Labour Force Survey, and calculated my weekly time investment at about seventy hours, though I’ve never made more than $10,000 per year off writing. Relying on teaching and editing—and this year, a grant from the Canada Council—I’ve still never cracked $30,000 per year altogether. When I began writing seriously, my mom advised me to marry rich; I’m dating a grad student. Yet even against self-interest, I have an ambivalent view of whether I should be making a living.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Writers are the unacknowledged accountants of the world; get enough of them together, and the subject of money will probably come up. In my experience, writers either bemoan how hard it is to make ends meet, or stay silent. The silent sometimes have undisclosed sums behind them, or, I suspect, they also feel oddly unable to state a claim to a livelihood with any conviction.

Why? When I worked the graveyard shift at a bagel shop, I felt I earned every dollar. Even when I’m editing other people’s writing, the fact that I’m being paid seems only proper. But if I spend a few weeks on a short story, and never collect a cheque, I don’t feel I’ve been short-changed.
I can’t name a literary writer who would put their work on a level with that of doctors or firefighters—or even journalists.
A deep-seated anxiety about whether literary labour constitutes work has long pervaded the profession. In a rich critique of creative writing programs for the London Review of Books, Elif Batuman identified writing as a source of shame for many of its practitioners. How else to explain creative writing’s “fetish of ‘craft’,” she writes, “an ostensibly legitimising technique, designed to recast writing as a workmanlike, perhaps even working-class skill”?

True this may be, but writers are hardly the only ones who think their practice lacks some quality to distinguish it as legitimate work. I recall a relative once asking me what I’d been up to all morning.

“Working,” I said.

“What kind of work?”


She was visibly perplexed. “Did you have to do it?”

I said no....