Writing for a Living

A couple of weekends ago, with a couple of hard-won hours of free time on my hands, I watched three dudes talk about the intersection of making art and making money: John Gruber of Daring Fireball, Jonathan Mann of Song a Day, and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose.

What I walked away from these talks feeling was:

  1. Creative people are happiest when they are making things;
  2. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” —Samuel Johnson; and,
  3. The way, right now, to make money from writing (or any creative endeavor) is to ask for support directly.

All three talks emphasized passion, consistency, and experimentation, but Gruber summed it up best by quoting Kenny Rogers: “You've got to know when to hold ’em / know when to fold ’em / know when to walk away, know when to run.”

Wednesday morning, thanks to a link from Gina Trapani, I got to watch another talk from the same conference where the three others came from, a talk by Justin Hall, whose links.net was the first Website I ever obsessed over. His story of experimentation was more of a cautionary tale, but the throughline of honest and consistent reevaluation of one’s creative output carried through.

All of this has got me thinking. And yes, LeFou, that’s a dangerous pasttime. I know. But, bear with me.

On Tuesday, I found myself wanting to favorite nearly everything writer Lincoln Michel said on Twitter. News broke that Knopf is going to publish a short story collection by actor Tom Hanks and Michel was on fire in the aftermath of that. My favorite of his 140-character bits of wisdom was this:

We do need to talk more about how the "who cares if artists gets paid?" mantra means only rich privileged people will create our art

It was also on Tuesday that Amanda Palmer, an independent musician I admire greatly, tweeted this:

brain bend: rewind 15,000 years. imagine a tribal human singing/drumming/channeling god for ritual; now imagine how they were "paid".

I replied to that one with an unintentionally nasty, “Food or shelter probably. Certainly not exposure.”

If you haven’t seen Palmer’s TED Talk “The Art of Asking,” (basis, I believe, for her upcoming book of the same name), that’s worth a watch. Though it may seem like she and Michel are on opposing sides of the spectrum on this, her next Tweet on the subject proves that there is a common ground:

art/music remains a vital part of the human experience. our method of supporting the artist shifts according to the times. that's all.

Her tweets were prompted by an article about musician Taylor Swift’s decision to pull her music from the streaming music service Spotify, a decision that I applauded on Facebook by writing:

Though you may chafe at the notion that what Taylor Swift does is art, I hope you'll agree that if you want artists to keep making art then you better fucking pay them.

Or, to put it more succinctly: fuck Spotify. Fuck it up its stupid ass.

So, 500 words or so in, what’s my point? Here’s a stab at it: I want to write short stories and I want to make a living doing so.

“It’s nice to want things,” I hear you saying.

Okay, so here’s another angle on this. I’m a teacher, right? I have undergraduate students who are looking to me for an idea of what they can expect when they leave school and start trying to make a living off of their writing. Right now, as a matter of fact, I’m supervising a group independent study on independent e-publishing. What am I supposed to tell them? That it’s hopeless?

I might have to start doing that, but I don’t want to. I want to see if there are alternate paths to the ones that haven’t worked for me in the nearly 10 years since I finished my MFA. I want to give them good news. Or, if not good, at least hopeful news.

That’s hard. Some of them plan to teach to supplement their income. Those folks, I need to ask them questions like the one posed in this article on The Professor Is In—“How many of you are aware that only around 25% of faculty across all U.S. higher education institutions are tenured or on the tenure-track?”—or else I am one of the people that Karen over there is talking about when she writes, “Professors: stop the madness. Tell graduate students the goddamned truth.”

Yeah, I’m dealing with undergraduates, but they should know the goddamned truth too, shouldn’t they?

Anyway, I hope you don’t see all of this as Horribly Off-Topic—see what I did there?—and that you’ll understand it’s all leading up to a pretty important announcement.

Today I am launching a new project, Draft a Day, where I’ll post new fiction every day to this Website, and I’m asking you to support me in this endeavor by becoming my patron at Patreon.

Here’s the first Draft a Day.

And again, here’s my Patreon page where you can slide me a buck or three per month to support my work.

This is all in progress and probably will be for some time. I’m super-scared, but I’m also super-pumped. This might fail, but I’ve got to try. My family is deep in debt and I don’t make a full-time living as a teacher. I’ve tried taking on side jobs in the past, but I’ve never tried making this activity that I love the side job. That changes today.

Thanks for reading this. It may be a bit messier and draftier than I’ve been on the blog in years, but I think I’m at my best when I’m a bit messier and draftier than I usually allow myself to be.