Write to Live or Write for a Living?


Do you write to live, or do you write to make a living? Many aspiring writers I know are concerned about whether they have the wherewithal and talent to earn a living by means of their craft.They dream of securing an agent, multiple lucrative book deals, and depositing royalty checks into fat bank accounts. They imagine what it would be like to travel the nation (or world) on book tours, being interviewed for television, radio, and print.

It can happen, right? Just think of J. K. Rowling and how she got her start. Look at her now. I remember the story of one prize-winning fiction writer who got up early and wrote in her closet in order not to disturb her sleeping family. She would continue her writing on the long bus ride to her job. Success followed. Think about Stephen King hammering early work in the laundry room of a rented doublewide trailer. Such sacrifice can lead to success.This is true.

But–and this is a big but–money might have been needed for survival, but the urge to tell stories, to put ink to paper was the true motivating force. Very few writers who want to be successful make it on will alone. Some writers who write because they must do it to live end up making a living.

I make part of my living by writing non-fiction for specialized markets and copy-editing academic manuscripts. However, I write because I love words well crafted and a darn good yarn. Writing is hard work, but I love it. I take real pleasure in crafting an essay that is helpful to preachers or in composing a poem to share with my spouse. I enjoy helping others find the best way to turn a phrase or to excise bits of fluff and adiaphora in their work. This is my joy. I write to live, and yes, I am among the fortunate few who brings in at least some income from my word play.

Along with many others who dare to offer “advice” and share their experience, I urge you to write because you love it, because you simply must do it, and because it brings you joy. If you come at the craft from the other end of the equation–making a living–you’re missing the point. Follow your passion, work from that place of deep joy and creativity. Chances are if you do so, the living will follow your life.

What’s your take on writing to live or writing to make a living? I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Coming up: “Cat on a Hot Smith Corona”

Photo by David Turnbull (who is a writer and who created this for his computer wallpaper) used under Creative Commons License.

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