Preface: I wrote this September 11th, 2016, totally despondent from being asked to freelance for free. I hated how little recognition and support the humanities seemed to get, especially when you consider how much they give and do for everyone. And the thing is, I still feel this way. Although, I would consider myself less of a cynic now than when I wrote this originally. I think it’s important to understand what the arts does for everyone.
I also think that it’s important to note that asking someone to work for free or working for “exposure,” is an unethical and, frankly, non-capitalistic thing to do. Goods and/or services = compensation. I digress…
THERE’S NO MONEY IN WRITING!!!
Well, there is but there isn’t.
I was discussing the turnover rates at work and what our employers were doing and not doing to combat potential issues, when my coworker surprised me by saying, “I expect you’d be in a newspaper, not here.”
I shocked myself by responding, “There’s no money in writing. It’s not the 40s or whatever.”
So, yeah… There is but there isn’t.
We’re not all J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, two white people who write a lot, influence greatly, and have franchises beyond their bestsellers. I’m talking movies here, people. There are a lot of talented people out there. These people and anyone else who is creating, who isn’t bad, regardless of whether they’re friends or strangers, are competition. That is, in capitalism. Competition, as they say, is fierce. It’s difficult to get published, break into publishing, or really anything in the writing world. It’s all a struggle. A lot of the same scenarios with other art forms too.
It used to be that people like me, if their credentials and contacts aren’t good enough to put them into one of those aforementioned jobs but are still decent, we end up in academia. It’s not inherently a bad thing. In fact, it used to be the preferred route. You teach people to write while writing on the side yourself. You never lose that edge. You keep sharpening it, learning what’s good and bad from your students, peers, and any books you need to research. Now, it’s not a livable gig. You get picked up as an adjunct and, if you’re lucky, get the chance to eventually move up the proverbial ladder. Adjuncts dream of being turned into real professors. Real professors dream of tenure. Until they’re professors, many must take on additional work to get by. This ad on of work makes writing difficult. Don’t get me wrong, people can do it. People I know do it. The problem is that it doesn’t appeal to me. I also find the shaping of young minds to be a challenge I’m not sure I’d want to undertake. That’s a lot of pressure, but there’s no telling where things will go.
So, where’s the money? Show me the money!
Managers, agents, and people with established (or pre-established) names. Have them. Get them.
You got that? Know anyone famous who’d be willing and able to help you? Got strings to pull in the industry? Use them if you do/can. They might get you places you never dreamed of before. It’s still a longshot though, but it’s a shot.
Patrons. You heard me.
We’re in the wrong time period for this, but it would be cool if an independently wealthy individual or family was willing to sponsor your arts. Of course, they do this because they expect you to eventually become famous and provide them with more income. Like I said, capitalism.
Yes, taking it back to the beginning of this piece, I could always try my luck in a newspaper. Those sometimes pay enough that you do not starve to death. I’ve interned for some. I was also on the school paper for part of high school. I’m currently freelancing for an online one that’s connected to my current job. We’re in the future. It’s a hard road though, filled with deadlines, stress, and ink.
I don’t know where the money is. It’s everywhere and it’s nowhere.
Where will you be when reality sets in?
You know what? Don’t think too hard about it. There’s not a whole lot of money outside of a good book deal followed by tours and movie adaptations. And you’ll have to be lucky and more than lucky to pull that off. Let’s face it, it’s a battle with low yield. Society needs the arts but isn’t willing to pay for them, not all of them. Escapism isn’t valued the same as it used to be, and the competition is only growing. Demand is down. Supply is high.
This may be a cynical view from a picky jerk who’s all but given up, and you’re somewhat right. Well, you are but you aren’t. I’m still writing. The plan is the plan that a lot of people have had for forever: Work a job unrelated to your interests, write when you can, as much as you can, try to get it published somewhere, read to some people when and where you can, and hope for the best. Maybe there’s a way out of it somewhere out there. I just haven’t found it yet. All I can do is what everyone everywhere does, keep going. Keep going.
That, right there, is my only real bit of advice for you here. If you’ve started this, if it’s what drives you, what you really want, then keep going. It’s not that there’s no point in giving up, there is, but I can guarantee that you don’t want to be at the end of your life with the knowledge that you didn’t do that one thing. Besides, people like me are too deep in it to give it up, nor do I want to. Regardless of finances, I’m going to find a way to express myself and work my craft. I hope you feel the same. I know that this has taken a turn but keep going.