Friday, October 15, 2021

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writing is about expressing yourself, creating art, making sense of the world, or sharing information and ideas.

It's also all about the money, honey.

A lot of us have dreamed, longingly, of making a living with the keyboard. Most of us haven't figured out how to do it. Do you even know where to start or what to expect to earn? That's where Scratch comes in. 

This series of essays and interviews focuses on the icy-cold brass tacks of making a living as a writer, but still finds room for the heart and joy of it, too. As you may have suspected, it ain't easy and it can take time to reach a point of supporting yourself by writing (if it happens at all). I did it once upon a time — as a reporter, which probably isn't what most people mean when they say they want to knock out that rent using nothing but their words and creativity. But my reporting provided a steady paycheck that paid all my bills. They were meager bills in a crappy apartment, because the pay was poo, but it was a living. I earned more when I moved on to editing and page design at larger newspapers, relegating my writing to a little freelance coin on the side. No matter which road you take to making a living as a writer, it's difficult and not always possible in the way you'd imagined.

These days, more than ever, it's harder to find paying outlets. Lots of outlets offer nothing other than experience, and they do find people willing to work for free. They want essays and articles that require a good bit of time, effort and skill, and pay nothing in return (or so little as to almost be insulting). Well guess what, bucko, some people have experience and are skilled writers, and what they need is for writing to be recognized as work and to get paid, son.

As Nina MacLaughlin says in her essay, ". . . when we agree to volunteer, to have our time and effort go uncompensated, when we buy into the lie on the hope that maybe something, someday, will come of this, we perpetuate a corrupt and broken system." Preach. But she adds, "I am guilty of it. In part because I understand the complications, the rewards, that compensation can sometimes take other forms than money, and that sometimes the act is enough."

To me, writing is something that, at times, makes sense to do for free (like with book reviews, or my blog). Sometimes you just want to share thoughts. And the options are dwindling to do that and get paid a reasonable amount, or anything at all, for your writing. But it also means that the more work, time, effort, heart and soul I put into a piece, the more I should think very carefully before I give it away. As when I decided to take a non-paying job at an online magazine, a job that involved research and interviews to write the articles. Then they put them up with misleading clickbait headlines; I was deeply disappointed. I bowed out, and realized it was never a good idea to take that job in the first place.

There's a lot of good stuff in Scratch. Even if you don't dream of making your living as a writer, this side of the writing life is fascinating for those who love to read as well. And as always, give yourself the favor of skipping past any chapter that doesn't grab you within a few pages. There's more to come, and much of it is a great read.

I took on the topic of pay and how writers earn less today than they did a century ago in a previous blog post.

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