When I first sold my book to Candlewick, a few people asked me if I would be quitting my job to write full time. My reaction:
Most people I know who are artists–writers, illustrators, actors, musicians, etc.–don’t make a living from their art. Most have day jobs or do temp work or freelance. Recently, I came across a couple of posts that brought this issue to mind.
The first is more from a theatrical perspective, but I think it holds true for writers of any genre. Long talks about how a successful society values its artists and, although I’m not sure that we can recreate the Renaissance, it’s good to remember that people like Michaelanglo weren’t “dangling from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ‘for the experience.'” Artists, just like anyone, need to eat and have a roof over their heads and maybe wear a sweater when it’s cold out. As much as society loves the image of a tortured, starving artist, I think most of us do our best work when we’re not stressing about if we can afford to go to the doctor.
Similarly, the second article looks at the financial realities for writers and how we talk about these financial realities. Bauer says that we can’t pretend that having a financial safety net (like a successful spouse or family fortune) doesn’t matter for artists, and that it’s detrimental to pretend that all it takes to survive as a writer is a little gumption and selling a magazine article every so often.
I remember talking with a couple of fellow kidlit authors recently, and this exact issue came up–if your only job is writing, you’re either a) wildly successful or b) in a position where you don’t have to worry about where your health benefits are coming from. That’s not to say that this is bad or somehow makes you less of a writer. If your family can do it, that’s fantastic. But we need to acknowledge that this is the reality for writers, and maybe consider what that means for writers and artists who don’t have that kind of safety net.
Last year, Laurie Halse Anderson (a hugely talented YA author and, in my opinion, one of the leaders in the field) had a great post about money and writing. It was a major relief to see that, even after publications and awards, didn’t quit her day job to write full time for years. I like seeing writers be honest about this kind of thing. It’s a hard job and most people don’t get rich from it. (And if you do, more power to you.) The reality of being a writer is far removed from the idea most people have of being a writer.
Right now, I’m really lucky to have a job that is generally fulfilling, enjoyable, and lets me go to the dentist every so often. I also have a very supportive husband and family. If I ever get to be a full time writer, that would be fantastic. But for now I know that I’m a lot better off than many extremely talented writers.
I don’t have any answers for how we can reallocate more money to the arts or how we can help writers who are struggling to make ends meet. But I think the more honest we are about these issues, the better. In the meantime, more power to all of you who keep writing, no matter what your financial realities are.