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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Possibly Inappropriate

If you haven’t caught the latest Canlit controversy, go Google. Look up The Writers Union of Canada and “The Appropriation Prize.” I’ll wait.

I may be the worst person to talk about cultural appropriation, because frankly, I’m not much of an activist. I’m more of a sedentarist, really. (Did that pun make sense?)

Owing to a pretty privileged life and having not had significant exposure to major publishing, cultural appropriation as it affects me, personally, to date, seems to largely boil down to a lot of eye-rolling and general irritation. (I swear, if I read one more story about a magical spiritual experience in India….) But I get that it affects other people and other cultures much more deeply and painfully. Maybe I don’t get it on a gut-wrenching level, but I can see that this has happened to other people.

Here’s the part I don’t get.

In all the crying and hand-wringing over “I’m a writer, and it’s my job to put myself in other people’s shoes, and why can’t I write about whatever I want to?”, who exactly is holding an actual gun to people’s heads and saying “Writing about a marginalized culture, eh? You feeling lucky, punk?”

No one is actually stopping anyone from writing these things. Hell, by most reports, no one is actually stopping anyone from publishing these things, either. Write whatever the fuck you want, there’s no pen and paper embargo preventing you from doing so.

But, more and more, people are saying, hey, stop that. You are hurting me with your words. You should not hurt people with your words. You should be careful with those things. Maybe instead try writing things that don’t use and damage and hurt people, mmkay?

Is that so terrible?

I mean yes, there are other power dynamics to this, and people are losing plum jobs because when the are in a position where they get to amplify certain voices, they are picking (and sometimes celebrating) the ones that are hurting other people…. but at the base level, we’re still down to looking at the words. Which ones did a writer choose?

Seriously, is all of this because some people want to write what they want to write without being held responsible for the words that they put out into the world?

They don’t want to face criticism for what they’re doing? (Clearly none of these people have a mother like my mother.)

I’m trying to understand who writes and publishes so cavalierly that they don’t understand that words have power. Art has power. Why else do we do this if we don’t think words can do something real? So when we use that power–even unintentionally–and hurt other people with it, why disbelieve that the words hurt?

Like, I get that nobody likes to be told their wrong. And the 140 characters on Twitter from people who are so damn fed up with all this that maybe they don’t have time or energy to stay it nicely anymore can be harsh. It’s upsetting. I can see why people get huffy or defensive…. heck, if I were in the midst of a tweetstorm, that would probably be my first reaction, the reaction that’s emotional and easy instead of the more reflective “Damn. I fucked up.”

Nobody likes to put their precious words out there and get told that they used their words wrong. In writing this post and putting it out there, maybe someone is going to reply and tell me that I’m privileged and naive and that I used my words wrong. But I’m still responsible for my words.

And it continues to puzzle me, in all of the “Isn’t this censorship?” and “Writers can imagine themselves in other people’s shoes” and “This my artistic choice!” You are being held responsible for your words. You may be shocked to discover that your responsibilities are much larger and more wide-reaching then you realized when you hunched over your laptop and first tapped them out. Your use of words might result in major consequences for your life. This may suck.

But you do not have a special calling that absolves you from responsibility for your words.