Thursday, January 14, 2010

Filthy Lucre

WRITING UPDATE: I have a strategy. That's the same as doing work, right? ;)

Natalie Whipple is doing a Q&A on her blog at the moment that's worth reading. One poster asked her about the financial side of writing - specifically, when a writer can reasonably expect to make money from writing, insofar as a writer can expect anything beyond repetitive strain injury and bitten fingernails.

Her response is sobering and probably accurate (not that I would know). It takes a long time. You can't bank on it. You can't keep your minimum-wage low-stress job and tell yourself the advance on your first novel will buy your first house.

I live in one of the best countries in the world for creative artists as we have massive tax exemptions, so an Irish-resident writer sees more of their pitiful windfalls than most. We're a lucky bunch, even if our former Taoiseach is exploiting this rather a lot.

Once someone's name is in the public arena, there is a perception that they're wealthy. The reality TV generation are changing that somewhat, but my old creative writing teacher Claire Hennessy joked once that the first question everyone asks a writer is 'Are you rich?', and it's fairly widely known among aspiring writers that this isn't a shortcut to easy street. Even so, I think we would all secretly like to believe it will happen for us.

But that isn't why we're here, and every blog post I read about the financial realities of a writing career (and there are lots out there) reminds me of that. I do occasionally fantasise that I'll be one of the few who can write full-time someday. I'm only human :)

It all comes back to one thing, though - we do this because we want to. We're not here for the money, the glory, the fact it's easy. We're here because we want to be. It's not always fun, and sometimes we do have to switch off the instant messaging software, the mobile phone and the TV, turn down invitations from people we love and resign ourselves to an evening shuttling between the couch and kettle. Some of us aren't lucky enough to have evenings to set aside (I have no kids and work regular hours in one job), but we dig notebooks out of our bags in the doctor's surgery, or on our lunch breaks, or on the train. And yes, I am deliberately saying 'we' even for the statements that don't apply to me, because we're all in this together. We're all on the same path.

And we'd do well to remember this when we can't make ourselves write, when we wonder why we're adding an extra ball to the things we're juggling, and when we work out what a six figure advance is when you deduct everything that needs deducting.

No one made us do this. We're here because we want to be. And not everyone gets lucky enough to say that about something in their lives.


  1. Loved this post, Ellen! And I didn't know that about Ireland supporting its writers. I wish the U.S. was the same about the arts, but no, not unless you're a celebrity, then all the doors will open for you.

    Writers making money is similar to actors--there's a lot of actors out there, but only a few "movie stars" who make bucketloads of money.

  2. It's one of the very few things that we occasionally get right! It used to be a blanket tax exemption for all artists (which is why a lot of celebrities maintain homes in the posher suburbs of Dublin) but it was changed recently due to the economic situation, which has hit Ireland a lot harder than most European countries.

    I'm actually in favour of getting rid of the blanket exemption because I feel Bono ought to pay at least as much as tax as I do, but I like the new measures. Better than a slap in the face with a wet fish, anyway :)

  3. If I wrote for the money, I'd live on the streets in a cardboard box. I love writing stories. I love working out the plot issues, meeting other people who understand character arcs and the writing process, and I love being in the world them (virtual and actual). There's a great intellectual and emotional satisfaction that is derived from the process and living the writer's life.

    Lovely post--

  4. Hear! Hear!

    Writing has saved my sanity so many times - even if its just blogging or responding in a writer's forum etc.

    Now that's priceless.

    p.s.Tax exemptions for super duper duper rich artists? Has the world gone mad??!

    Take care

  5. What a great post, Ellen. I agree with Old Kitty's comment: writing saves your sanity, but I don't think anyone does it to get rich, (which is why I call myself a penniless writer, lol!)

  6. Christine, I'm glad you mentioned the writer's life - I didn't, and it is such an amazing compensation for the bad bits of being a writer. I have a writer friend who texts me when songs on the radio remind him of my characters and you can't put a price on that!

    Don't worry, Kitty, the whole world hasn't gone mad. It's just Ireland :p

    Donna, I have always liked your blog title. I was just surprised you didn't have to call it MusingsOfAPennilessWriter42761 :D

  7. :) I think people also forget that a six-figure advance can be the only income someone sees for a couple of years, or that it comes after alrady having put in years of work on something. Not that I'd turn down 100 grand if anyone was offering it to me, mind, but for, say, four years' of work it's not quite the stunning windfall that it seems. (I mean, still. Wouldn't say no. At all.)

  8. Glad you added that last bit, Claire - wouldn't it be terrible if someone stumbled on my blog and it cost you a hundred grand? :)

    Then there's the fact advances are often paid in installments. Very far apart installments.


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