Friday, December 18, 2009

Is It Just About Money?

Recently on a writers’ site people were discussing what might happen if the electronic novel supplanted the printed version. I was surprised when several suggested writing would become merely a hobby because it would virtually eliminate the incentive of making money.

Really? I won’t go into my reasons now for believing e-novels have potential for enhancing opportunities for both readers and writers. But money? Is that the only reason people write? Don’t get me wrong, I like money as much as the next guy. But if you want to make money writing fiction isn’t the best way to do it.

Like other creative people, it’s in the nature of writers to crave recognition. And money certainly compliments other forms of recognition. A few people in our own generation have become very wealthy as a result of their fiction. But many more supplement meager earnings from fiction with a day job.

And that’s been the case historically. Recognition for many, many more didn’t come until long after their deaths. Now surely all of us would prefer to have some of that acclaim and gelt while we’re around to enjoy it. But, realistically, we have to abide with the facts.

Even Poe had little recognition and lived in poverty most of his life. Joyce? He died in financial straits. F. Scott Fitzgerald, now considered one of America’s leading writers, didn’t make much money from The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night, which are now considered his best novels. In fact, it wasn’t until after his death his books won him wide recognition.

The same is true of many others. Katherine Anne Porter, a major voice in 20th century American literature, supported herself with journalism and hack writing. Her first book, Flowering Judas, met with only modest sales and it was nearly 10 years later that she published a second book. Isaac Barshevis Singer, born in 1904, dropped out of rabbinical school after only two years and supported himself for most of his life as a journalist, translator and proof reader. Championed by Saul Bellow and other writers, he published his first novel in English in 1950, won fame and, eventually, a Nobel Prize.

I could go on and on with this analogy. But you see my point.

Few of us write fiction because we expect to get rich. We don’t write because of lack of ability to do something else. We write it because we want to—and that doesn’t demean it to the limit of a hobby. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbies. But a hobby is something we do primarily for entertainment; a diversion from the trials and cares of every day life. Anyone who tries it will soon learn writing fiction is not always entertaining. It’s hard work and anything but a diversion.

If your goal is to make money from writing, then you’d best consider options other than fiction.

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