On Writing

Should Writer’s Get Paid?


It’s 5:51am. My hubby is snoring away beside me. The kids are fast asleep (where does that saying come from anyway? Actually, there’s very little that’s FAST about the way my kids fall asleep!). I’m sitting up in bed with my new Mac Air laptop resting on my thighs. I didn’t sleep well because I wanted to make sure I got up early to finish this and TTTT – Part One. I think I had weird dreams, but I can’t remember what they are, and I’m pretty sure I did some math in my previous blog which concerns me. Math before six a.m.? Really? That’s gotta be some form of torture for me, and yet, it didn’t really hurt my brain.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a post I read on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. This one:


Wherein Seth Godin has written a piece on writers and whether or not he thinks they should get paid. When I first read the title, I was pissed. Excuse me? Do we have the ‘right’ to get paid? I didn’t want to read his piece, but I have a lot of respect for Rachelle so I figured there’d be a good reason why she posted a blog with that as the main question. So read on.

I had the same gut instinct as Rachelle did when she read the title of his article, and I did the same thing she did: I read his article anyway.


(I like your glasses, Seth.)

Writer Jeff Rivera interviewed Seth and asked him some questions about being a writer, the writing life, being published, etc. The title of his piece is actually: On libraries, literary agents and the future of book publishing as we know it (GASP).

Overall, the piece is about those themes. One of the questions that comes up refers to what authors can do ‘to go from zero to hero’. Here’s Godin’s response:

I got nine-hundred rejection letters my first year as a book packager … It took me awhile to see that the shortest path involved no shortcuts and a fairly large amount of the long way around.

In the connection economy, what’s really clear to me is that there are more opportunities to be generous and to lead and to curate than ever before. If you spend a year or two or five doing that, in your spare time, with no real focus on getting repaid, sooner or later people are going to want more of you … and then you can’t help but get paid.

An author starting out today needs to pick herself, establish a niche, become truly the best at it and relentlessly and generously give it all away as a way of leading and making a ruckus.

Indeed, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree. I haven’t counted my massive pile of rejection letters. Perhaps I’ll blog about that next week…but I definitely think that generosity for the sake of generosity is the way to go.

I wrote about my second pregnancy in memoir form. That’s a triple-niche whammy. The first niche is pregnancy. The second niche is second pregnancy. The third niche is that it’s a memoir. You could almost say I dug myself a three-foot hole…which gets me halfway under, if you know what I mean. And, I say that in the most realistic of ways. I think that the more niche you are, the more difficultly you may have in getting your voice heard, your book read. That’s been my experience so far. On the other hand, when it does get into the ‘right’ hands, and can reach readers on a large scale, then the triple-niche-ness, if you will, of my book will be a huge selling point.

He also had this to say:

Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? I gave hundreds of speeches before I got paid to write one. I’ve written more than 4000 blog posts for free.

Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word–over.

I believe it was this quote that rustled Rachelles feathers. Mine too. I’m not sure that I agree with Godin on his first line.

Who said you have a right to cash money from writing?

I think we all have a ‘right’. Writing is a craft, it’s work – like all other forms of work. Therefore, if lawyers and teachers have a ‘right’ to get paid, then why shouldn’t writers? Or any artist for that matter. The creative arts builds the essence of humanity. Without art humanity would crumble. Yeah, I said that. I believe it. Look, I’m not about to have this argument at 6:15 a.m., but I do need it to support my initial response, which is that everyone has a ‘right’ to make money.

BUT (I like big buts and I cannot lie), certainly, one must also be willing (unconditionally) to share her art for free. As much as she can. If it means practicing her art, teaching about her art, mentoring others who love and practice the same art – then that’s what it means. If it means getting a ‘day job’ that ‘pays the bills’ until her art starts making her money, then that’s what it means.

For me, it’s been the story of my writing life. To this day, I do writing gigs for free. I’m picky and choosey about what I do for free. I have to feel it in my heart as well as in my bank account…but I make so many decisions about what I do with my writing from my heart, and my heart mostly leans to ‘just do it for free’. It’s a struggle for me because I can always use the money. Who can’t?

Add to my tripl-niche first book the fact that I’m a poet. I’ve got no shortage of poetry. Some of my closest writer friends and mentors are poets. And none of them are rollin’ in the dough. But they’re (we’re) rollin’ in our craft. In a deep, generous, miraculously sustainable dedication to our craft. But keeping one’s heart happy and one’s bank account in overdraft is not a bad thing.

I was talking to my hubby about maybe taking some time off from teaching and mentoring to get a job that will pay me lots of money so we can do some things we’ve been wanting to do. Without hesitation, he said: Baby, you’d be completely miserable. It’s not worth it. (GUSH. I LOVE HIM SO.)

He was right.

Yes, I believe writers have a ‘right’ to get paid, and if our motivation to get paid includes giving away our skills and books for free in order to garner a collection of folks who will eventually start paying us for them, then we’re on the ‘right’ track. The ‘right’ path. It’s ‘right’ because it feels right in our hearts. It makes us happy even if some days we cry and want to stop. That’s what passion is. That’s what honouring the craft means.

My long-term goal is to make my living by my words. I’ll get there. I believe I can. I believe it’s a realistic goal. I know takes long. I know it takes ten thousand rejections. It takes ten thousand hours to become an expert, I suppose it makes sense to get ten thousand rejections then, huh?!

Both Rachelle and Seth believe that one has to ‘earn the right’ to get paid. I say, we all have the ‘right’, it’s the how we get there that will make or break us. Because some of us never will. Therefore, we have to work our ‘everything’ off in order to build a career, to hone our craft, to educate ourselves in the industry – this is the ‘earn’ I think they’re talking about – so that money becomes a part of the process. A consistent, sustaining (at least) part of the process.

What do you think?

One thought on “Should Writer’s Get Paid?

  1. Like every other occupation, writers deserve to be paid for their work. Only, writing isn’t like every other occupation, or even any other occupation. It is a profession that closely resembles mental illness – we spend the vast majority of our time in our own little worlds communing with creatures of our own imagination. In any other circumstance, that would be more than sufficient cause to break out the butterfly nets. So it’s no wonder people have trouble understanding writing and are unsure how to value it. We change passion into ink, give vocabulary to unspeakable memories, slap the world in the face to make it pay attention, then open our arms to heal it. What kind of price tag can be placed on that?And writers themselves are notoriously ambivalent about money. We dream of making it big, or least making enough money so we can focus solely on our craft. And yes, we bask in the affirmation that comes with being well paid for our work. But deep down we know if we never made a nickel from writing, still we would write. If we never won a contest, never published a piece, never saw any grant money, still we would write. It is the nature of our illness, the price of our passion.The truth is, we have no choice.


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