3 reasons you shouldnt be writing for money

3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Writing for Money

Why do we write? Is it for the fame and the fortune? The respect of family and friends and peers? The goal of making a positive impact on the world? Or is it because of that soul-deep gnawing of creativity that refuses to let us go?

Although all of these factors undoubtedly come into play at one point or another, I’m certain the biggest reason we write is that gnawing in our souls, that inability to express that most integral part of ourselves in any other way than through our art.

Are You Writing for Money?

Now I’m going to make a pretty educated assumption and say that the second biggest reason is the first one up there in my list: money. What author doesn’t dream of somehow making their art pay? Who among us doesn’t hope to not only sell our work, but to sell so much of it that we end up on prestigious shortlists in the New York Times? If such a person exists—this artist who is so absorbed in his craft that he is able to detach himself 100% from the practical side of things—I have yet to hear tell of him.

Nope, we all harbor ambitions of writing so well that some poor fool will actually pay us to do this thing we’d do for free. And so, not unnaturally, somewhere along the road of writing, somewhere between Beowulf and Boccaccio and King and Koontz, money has become the ultimate validation of an author’s prowess. That first paycheck is a coming of age of sorts. In fact, if you haven’t made any money on your writing, the general consensus maintains that you don’t have any right to call yourself a real writer. Until the money starts rolling in, you’re nothing more than a pretender.

In the unavoidable balancing of art and business, it seems to me that the business end is definitely winning out in the writing world. Or attempting to anyway. And that is pitiable, because when you take a long, hard look at the statistics and realize how marginal a number of writers actually make any sizable amount of money—much less enough to warrant calling it a “career”—it becomes clear that this craft is not about the numbers in your bank account.

Reason #1: Writing for Money Can Create Wrong Priorities

The emphasis on writing for money is overdrawn and leads to false expectations at best, or at worst to uneven priorities. What talents God has given us, He has given us for a reason. They are gifts, but they are also responsibilities. For some of us, I have no doubt that one of those gifts—and maybe even one of the responsibilities—is to put that talent to work making money. But it’s a fact that not all of us are going to be able to feed our families and put clothes on our backs thanks to our mighty pens.

In light of the fact that only one in thousands of writers will ever make any money worth noting, why do we insist upon money as the pinnacle of our success? With such a strong emphasis on “publishing to prove our worth as writer,” it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. No doubt some of us are meant to publish (and maybe even hit the bestseller list ), but some of us may best serve our purpose by drudging in the trenches—blogging, freelancing, churning out short stories for e-mags, or even self-publishing.

It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves or less than worthy because we’re not up there on the shelves with Janet Evanovich with a readership of millions. But frankly that probably isn’t what’s in the cards for most of us. In the overall scheme of things, being marvelously successful and wealthy—nice as it may be—isn’t what matters. Staying in the center of God’s will and fulfilling His purpose, however large or small—that’s what matters.

Reason #2: Writing for Money Can Lead to Disappointment

If your emphasis is on money, you’re probably going to be disappointed, at least in the beginning. Writing has to be about something more, whether it’s the intent to minister to or entertain others–or just to ease that gnawing in our souls. Vinita Hampton Wright, in The Soul Tells a Story, says it just about perfectly:

…it helps to remember that creative work is worthy whether it’s paid or not. The fact the creative work is entangled in the world of commerce shouldn’t ruin your artistic life. You have to be pragmatic about the money part. If you make a good living at your work, that’s wonderful. But you can’t dismiss the work that doesn’t bring you money. I never made a dime off the one hundred-plus songs I spent nearly two decades writing, and I’ll never be known for them. But they did a certain work at a certain time. It was work I needed to do and others were glad I did.

Any art worth its salt is worth doing for free. Heck, when it comes down to it, many of us would empty our own pockets if that’s what it took to be able to keep writing. And the fact of the matter is, a freebie here and there isn’t such a bad preface to making money as one might think.

People like free things. Even beyond the immediate gratification of the freebie itself, it builds a relationship between consumer and author. Give enough stuff away for free and eventually people will start buying. Unpublished-at-the-time horror/thriller writer Scott Sigler posted his book Earthcore as a free podcast on iTunes. He not only established a sizable following, he also snagged the attention of a major publisher.

Reason #3: Writing for Money Can Blind Us to Other Types of Success

Isn’t it a little radical to suggest that writing success can be measured by something other than money? Crazy, even? I’m certainly not downplaying the efforts or success of those who make a living off their writing (of whom I’m one). But just because earning money has garnered some authors the title of “success,” this doesn’t mean that those who don’t experience the same monetary fortunes, are “unsuccessful.” Finding fulfillment beyond a paycheck—not to mention trying to convince others of the validity of your work—certainly isn’t easy. As Charles Baxter comments in The Art of Subtext:

In a materialistic society, to devote oneself to non-material ends requires quite a bit of energy and resolve. If You Want to Write [a book Baxter references] is actually full of good sense about writing and life because Brenda Ueland could see through the hypocrisy of gentility quickly and easily.

In short, while I encourage and applaud those who pursue and garner a paycheck from their art, I also encourage everyone—paid and unpaid alike—to find a niche they can fill and be fulfilled in now. We each need to take responsibility for using our skills to touch readers now, and in so doing perhaps we’ll be able to use our niche-work to polish ourselves for whatever bigger projects lay beyond. Whether or not, the validation of money is waiting at the end of your next story isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you make the best use of the gift you’ve been given in whatever way possible.

Tell me your opinion: Are you writing for money, personal fulfillment, to connect with readers, all of the above, or a different reason?

3 Reasons You Shouldn't Be Writing for Money

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thanks. This is something I feel very strongly about. Not that we should shun monetary remuneration, of course (a laborer is worthy of his hire, after all), but the lack of money shouldn’t stop us from using our work any way we can.

  2. Absolutely a WONDERFUL post!!! As I was reading along, I kept thinking about how this applies not only to writing but to life in general. We should use our talents and fill the gaps the Lord puts in our path regardless of monetary incentive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Opportunities for serving Him are everywhere–not just in writing, but certainly in this sphere as much as any other.

  3. Katie, I’ll play the (I was going to say “devil’s advocate” here, but I don’t like the devil and would turn down his case) contrarian.

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to write for money. It’s an honorable profession, just like plumbing or dentistry. If someone has the ability to write and entertain a large audience, and it brings them substantial income, that’s aces with me.

    The writers I really admire (and try to emulate) are the pulp writers of old, pounding out stories for a penny a word, and getting through the Great Depression that way. For them it was a matter of feeding their families.

    Along the way, several of them produced stories of exceptional quality. Hammett, Chandler etc., and later John D. MacDonald and others like him.

    Certainly, writing (esp. fiction) has never been an easy road to riches. So no one should go into it thinking so. You have to love this craft. You have to honor it by working hard to be the best you can be. You have to manage expectations so you’re not shot down emotionally if something doesn’t sell like you expected.

    But I have to guess that 95% of people who pursue writing seriously want to make serious money at it. I think that’s okay to admit.

    The old time writers were called “pros” because they wrote for money, treated their careers like a business, and kept getting better at their craft. Not a bad formula. It’s even biblical (1 Thess. 4:11)!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Oh, I’m all for earning money with writing. If we can make a living doing what we love, what could be better? I wake up every morning feeling insanely blessed by this lifestyle God has given me.

      So, really, I’m just playing a bit of devil’s advocate here myself, because I see so many writers who have yet to “make it” and who feel they’re failing in some way simply because they’re not getting a paycheck. If we write for the love it, *while* putting in the time and effort to work toward fiscally-rewarding publication, then the money, when it does come, is just icing on the cake. I have a feeling you’d agree with me on that. 🙂

  4. thomas h cullen says:

    I’m spoilt for choice – regarding the response “I” give to this question.

    In the most powerful way, telling of the most powerful situation ever imaginable: this was ever in fact “the reason” for The Representative…

    To give to all of the people, of this planet, the most final, eternally highest-reached text ever created – Croyan and Mariel’s.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We all have to write for our own reasons–and that starts by knowing what those reasons are.

      • thomas h cullen says:

        It was always there, in some form; the scale would’ve increased with time, yes (especially once the story’s nature became enhanced, and I realised actually how far I could take it), yet it was there, always in fact:

        My “knowing” Croyan and Mariel’s life history to be game-changing.

  5. Thanks for the post, which can apply to any facet in life.

    I write because I need to get these characters, their dialogues, and stories out of my head. LOL!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      And if you get paid for it in the end, that’s some pretty awesome gravy! But, in the meantime, you’re finding your fulfillment right where you are.

  6. Steve Mathisen says:

    I love this line: “Staying in the center of God’s will and fulfilling His purpose, however large or small—that’s what matters.”

    Whether we are being paid (a penny a word) or not. Being true to what God calls us to is the single most important thing we can do in or with our lives.

    You nailed it.

    Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Contentment and thankfulness bring so many blessings. Goals, and even ambition, are important. But being at peace with wherever we’re at and seeing the beauty in it is also crucial.

  7. I write for money and am not the least bit ashamed of it. Not only that, but I’m able to provide for my family thanks to my ability to string words together. However, I’m not writing fiction or DIY books or investigative journalism or any of the other stuff that people think of as “writing.”

    What is more interesting is that few people in my profession (Instructional Design) would think of themselves as creative writers. But with the rise of scenario-based training, there is a cadre of us who are finding a niche in writing fiction in a new medium for a noble purpose (training and development) that pays a lot better than fiction.

    However. And this is the BIG however. The itch is there. A number of us really do want to see our titles in print. We are honing our craft and practicing on the side because even though we write all day, we are happy to come home and write what we WANT to write, not just what we have to write. I’m privileged to have worked with an Instructional Designer who has had her romance fiction printed. It is a validation that writing is not just a way of life, but also a way to make a living.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is actually an old post, one I wrote years before I started making any money to speak of off my own writing. Now standing on the other side of that divide, I’m almost startled by how much of a validation money really is. Is my writing significantly different from *before* it started making money? Am I different? No and no. And yet there is definitely a feeling of self-worth that comes from a paycheck. Even now, a good-sized part of me dislikes that. I don’t believe the worth of people or art is based on finances. But the validation money brings is an undeniable fact.

      I still believe what I wrote here back in the day. If we’re writing *just* for the money, we’re missing out the joys of writing for other, arguably more fulfilling reasons. But if we can write for those other reasons right from the start, any money that comes our way is just icing on the cake.

      • thomas h cullen says:

        It’s the target idea: that people’s worth isn’t derived from finance…

        That they’re treated according to a financial status is however the current truth – one which The Representative’s been designed to stop.

  8. Thank you! I write because I must. So appreciate the reminder that a writer is a writer because she must write not because she earns money. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Money-making writer” is a nice title too – but it’s a totally different title.

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