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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Business of Writing?

Writing is one thing. Making money from writing is another thing entirely.

In most occupations, those who do the best work and the most work also make the most money. But that isn't how it works in the writing business. Ask any renowned poet about her earnings from writing poetry if you want to test my premise. Poets seldom make significant money from publishing their poetry. Poetry readings, workshops, grants and fellowships often prove lucrative, but publishing poetry seldom pays well.

The story is similar for most literary writers. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes speculates that only a few thousand American writers earn a full-time livings from writing. Worse than that, the pay is poor: 90% of those who write for pay earn less than the average American income from their writing.

To compound the problem, some of the best writers earn little while a few mediocre writers earn enormous sums. That makes writing a cruel business as well as a tough one. But my purpose is not to discourage you from writing -- only to hold up a mirror to the financial reality of the writing business.

If the only reward offered by writing were money, I would advise you to pick another pursuit. For me, however, there are at least four good reasons to write that have nothing to do with money.

First, I can't help myself. I must write. My father was a gardener who couldn't help himself. In the spring, he could not resist breaking the ground, planting things and watching them grow. Writing creates a similar compulsion for me.

Second, I write to learn what I think. When I write I discover what I think. The writing process itself reveals things that research and pondering do not produce. Sometimes, I think that writing and thinking are not two separate things but the same thing.

Third, I must tell stories that only I can tell. There are family stories that will die if I do not write them. I know some stories that no one else knows. Even the stories I share in common with others are unique because of my perspective and voice.

Fourth, writing is an emotional necessity. I write to understand my feelings. Without writing, I am simply confused by my emotions. While writing doesn't always help me sort things out, it usually helps.

Of course, you have your own reasons for writing. And those are the reasons you should pursue your writing. If you never make a dime, it still a good investment. However, if you are fortunate enough to make a living from writing, bless you and everything you write.

DB Dewer

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