Saturday, 11 May 2013

Writing and Money

 
 By Ashley Lister

 "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
Dorothy Parker (attrib)

I echo the sentiments that have been shared this week. It’s Saturday and each day so far this week on the Dead Good Blog there’s been sage and erudite advice from the team of regular writers here: all sharing their insights into the mechanics of our vocation. Now it’s my turn and, as the sub-topic doesn’t seem to have been covered so far, I may as well touch on the subject of writing and money.

I could repeat Moliere’s thoughts here: “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” Or I could reiterate Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I could even cite Twain who advised: “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.

But these are cynical mindsets, driven by a capitalist ideal where financial success equates to achievement and accomplishment. And, as a writer, I’m aware there is little money fairly distributed to writers in the publishing world.

As an example, consider the fact that Edgar Allan Poe received the grand total of $24 in his lifetime for ‘The Raven’, and this was after selling it twice. Compare this paltry amount with the Fifty Shades trilogy, which was making its author $1,000,000 dollars a week at one point after its release. If we compare these two financially, E L James’s fiction is vastly superior to ‘The Raven’.

However, I don’t think there would be many critics who would agree that judgement reflects on the comparative quality of the two works.

If the measure of success in writing was solely determined by financial reward, this would mean the ‘best’ writers of our generation are Stephanie Meyer, Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown.

That’s a heady concept to digest. If, for one instant, I thought that was true, I’d cite it as compelling evidence that capitalism is a flawed system and should be abandoned immediately ad I'd advocate rioting the in the streets and unstoppable anarchy.

But what would I know? I’m a writer so I know nothing about the subject of money. A writer talking about money is like the pope talking about contraception. An outsider can look at either of them and ask: What the f**k would he know about that subject?

So, to develop Twain’s maxim, I’d say: “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, carry on for as long as the vocation still entertains you.”  Or, at least, until one of Dorothy’ Parker’s well-meaning friends puts you out of your misery and shoots you whilst you’re happy.  

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3 comments:

Colin Davies said...

Again, very well said. It's like, I know I'm successful in my writing because other people enjoy it. It has taken me years to get to that point, but it is so true. Everything else is gravy.

If you get paid to write anything, the feeling is amazing, but so is getting a good reception at the BDGPS monthly meeting.

Don't get me wrong, someone offers me a 5 book deal and I'm all over it. But like Ash say here, I'm no lesser writer without it.

It's been a great week on the blog, finished off with this great post.

Thank you all.

Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks Colin. I'm looking forward to seeing Shaun's take on this tomorrow :-)

Lisa McFleeca said...

50 Shades books were on sale in the window of the book store at Lancaster University. This sends me into a spiral of depression.

Stephanie Meyer did better with The Host - although now it's been turned into a film I dread to see where that franchise heads off. She's not a bad writer as such but if she was going to write fiction for young people she really should have avoided all the sadistic behaviour and paedophilic intent....

Thanks for finding yet another book I now need to track down and purchase ;-)

L x