Why and how being paid makes a difference

There is an editor’s letter in the current Poets and Writers Magazine in which the editor takes issue with the idea that it makes a difference whether you write for money. He seems to think that there is such a thing as writing for writing’s sake. I know what he means but I wonder.  I wonder if he realizes that the reason he can afford to entertain the notion of not writing for money is because he himself is writing for money. I wonder if he sees this — that writing not for money is a romantic notion.

To me, writing not for money is a privilege and a romantic notion. I don’t mean that one ought not write simply for the joy of it. But at some point, if one is writing for publication, economics becomes a central issue. It is a material issue. Because if your money is not coming from writing then it is either coming from a store of money that has passed on to you or been given to you in some way, which means that you view the world in a certain way, or it is coming from an occupation that drains you of resources that would otherwise be devoted to your writing, and deprives you of the time you need to fully do your job as a writer.

So I think we would all be better served by talking openly about the economic challenges of being a writer, and about the rewards we receive.

I have always tried to make my living as a writer. I tried doing other things and they took too much out of me. That is why I didn’t have children. I could not see how I could do that and still devote every waking hour to writing and reading and getting better at doing this craft.

So now I am at a crossroads. I would love to write the column as I was before. But writing it for a job, like playing for a team, makes a difference. I do not want to shortchange people. I do not want to do second-rate work. If I do it, I want to do it right.

Tomorrow: If I had enough faith, would I just keep doing it regardless?