Money

I come from a long line of accountants, so the question of money is always interesting to me.

I think most newer writers–and not-so-newer-writers–have this dream in their heads that one day, when they’ve Made It and they are a Real Writer ™ they will also make their daily living from writing. But most–particularly the not-so-newer-writers–are keenly aware that writing pays peanuts. And so how exactly does that work?

There are some people, who through a combination of writing, freelancing, teaching writing, grants, credit, residencies, supportive partners, debt, cheap living, prize money, the kindness of friends, selling stuff, the kindness of strangers, luck, etc. managing to make their living solely from writing and writing-related activity. Here’s a fun article about Michael Crumney winning the Giller Prize and only having $411.46 in his bank account. What’s he using his prize money for? Credit card debt. Rent. Food. Glam life, right?

We tend to see these people as Real Writers ™, but I am here to tell you that this is bullshit. It’s hard to concentrate on your literary career when you can’t make rent or buy food. Lots of writers have full-time jobs that aren’t writing. Or part-time jobs that aren’t writing. Or other ways of making a living that aren’t writing. Still Real Writers ™.

In the context of all the recent sexual violence issues in Canlit, I think this idea that we must make our living solely from writing becomes particularly dangerous for those of us who aren’t regular ol’ white guys, because it puts you at the financial mercy of predatory people, and the systems that support them.

Fair? No. Reality? Yes.

I’m not saying don’t do it. I don’t know anyone who feels like they have enough time to write, and so the idea that you don’t have to take 8-10 (or more) hours out of your day to deal with work, commuting, etc., is definitely tempting. Also, as a person with the tremendous privilege of being able to not have a job, I can confidently tell you that jobs suck and life is better if you can get your bills paid without one.

But I am saying, don’t feel like you have to do it if you want to be a writer. Chekhov was a doctor, and considered it his principal profession his entire life, and I’m still waiting to hear someone claim that Chekhov was not a Real Writer ™.

You do what you need to do to get fed and clothed and sheltered. You write anyway. That’s how you become a Real Writer ™.

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