Do You Write for Money or for Art?
A young adult cousin of mine who is artistically talented hasn’t touched a brush in years. Why? She said recently it’s because her dad told her she couldn’t make a living at it. I think that may be somewhat of an excuse, but it raises an important issue.
Do we do what we do as artists, musicians and writers to make money or make art?
Her father has his own artistic pursuits, but it’s something he does on the side after work and on weekends. Artistically, he won’t accomplish as much as he would if he did it full-time. But, he makes a decent living with his day job.
Amazon recently made changes to how it pays writers that makes this question of pay vs. art even more pertinent for writers. The Write Life explains the change in an article titled, “Into Kindle Publishing? Under New Payment Rules, You Should Write Longer Books”. The change is that they will pay self-published authors per viewed page rather than per downloaded manuscript. This means that writers with longer books will make more. It’s a disadvantage for writers who have been purposefully writing shorter stories so they can have more titles listed.
The concern raised is that increasingly authors are writing to work the system to make money rather than doing their best work.
This is, of course, not a new issue. Whether we like it or not, we work in a market. If you want to make money, you need to find people who are willing to pay for what you write. And, thinking about writing for your readers rather than only yourself changes what you write. Is that good or bad?
In some ways, it could be bad because you inevitably edit and curtail your creativity to meet what you perceive are your reader’s demands. But, it can be good because it pushes you to do your best knowing that you want to impress others enough that they will praise you, possibly pay you and pass your work along.
In my career, I opted for a practical approach. I love to write. I would have loved to pursue novel writing, but I was all too aware of the risk that the books I penned wouldn’t become best sellers turned into movies making me millions. Instead, I chose journalism with less chance for glamour but a steady pay check. I learned way more about writing and how to write well than I expected. I also gained insights and had experiences that make me a better story teller. And, I learned that I like writing non-fiction as much as fiction.
Of course I could still write that novel, but it will take longer and its hard to find the time when you have a day job.
So how much should we as writers be consumed with selling our work and how much do we just do our thing for the sake of it? I suspect that the answer varies for everyone and that it may even change depending on a person’s stage of life.
In general, I’d say you need to find a balance that works for you. If you want readers, you need to give them some consideration. And yet, as an artist/writer you need to be able to express yourself. The two don’t necessarily need to be entirely at odds. You may be able to find ways to be creative and true to yourself within the confines of what you’re writing whether it be a company newsletter or a self-published novel. And, in fact, you can you use those confines to push yourself and make yourself a better writer.