Words on a Page Writings about writing

It's OK to write for money

Various denominations of money

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

— Samuel Johnson

You can talk about being an artist. You can talk about the purity of your work. But ask yourself this question: if you’re not writing for money, what are you writing for?

Are you writing for yourself or your circle? Are you writing for an audience you hope to have? Or are you writing because you want to make your living with words?

As you’ve probably guessed, I agree with Samuel Johnson. I’ve been making my living by my pen (keyboard, actually) for well over 20 years. All that time, I’ve been writing for money whether it was for a newspaper or a magazine or for a corporate master (either as a full-timer or a freelancer).

Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with writing for money. By writing for money, you’re combining two essentials: paying your bills while doing something you enjoy.

Let’s be honest: most of us who put fingers to keyboard aren’t artists. It’s unlikely many of us will write a bestseller or highly-regarded short story, novella, or poem. We’re not going to sully our hands or our art by taking a cheque or a PayPal payment for our work.

On the other hand, we can all tell an interesting story, can organize information, can turn ideas into words, and can write in a compelling way. Why not use those skills to earn your living?

There are so many ways to do that by writing. Gigs like professional blogging, writing articles for newspapers and magazines, copywriting, technical writing, and more. Gigs, whether full time or contract or freelance, that will pay your bills. You might not get rich, but you won’t be pecking away at your keyboard in a cramped, cold garret while wondering if you’ll be able to make your rent or trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from.

Even if you’re not writing what you want to, the writing day job or paying gig can fund your other work. In a talk he gave in the 1970s, Harlan Ellison told his audience that he’d signed a contract for $35,000 (around $175,000 to $200,000 in 2016 dollars) to write a script. The six or so weeks he’d take to write the script would fund the rest of Ellison’s year. That $35,000 gave Ellison the space to write what he wanted to write, for whomever he wanted to write it.

There’s nothing wrong with writing for money. The right gigs can give you a comfortable life and give you the time and space to tackle other kinds of writing, too. How many careers can offer you that?

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