Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing for Love, Writing for Money

When asked if a certain industrial robber baron's money was 'tainted', Mark Twain once famously quipped:

"Yes it is. T'ain't yours, t'ain't mine."

The idea that writing for love is noble and writing for money is whorish and cheap is a popular one, especially among novice writers, but is it really fair?

No one expects the plumber to fix toilets for the sheer love of porcelain, or the grocer to fork over canned goods because canned goods are who he is, yet writers are fond of reminding other each other that we must not expect fair payment for our labor, because writing is, after all, a higher calling, an art, a vocation separated from the tawdry day-in and day-out affairs of this dirty work-a-day world by means of its innate inspirational virtue.


Look, writers are thieves and miscreants by nature, not angels. Most of us get our material by observing others and regurgitating their antics (or our own) as if we just invented them. Many major novelists are woefully familiar with lost friend syndrome; that unpleasant blow up that happens after you steal a friend's life, paste it onto a character in your latest book, and later, when your friend recognizes himself in your book and confronts you about it, you protest, "Why that isn't you at all! Why would you ever say such a thing?"

I'm also reminded of a friend of my ex's who was always going on about things Picasso had to suffer during his life, different degradations, real or imagined, that Picasso underwent in order to finally paint his master works. Often these Picasso stories would be offered up right after Stephen (I'll just call him Stephen because that was his name) had just done something particularly selfish or annoying and was seeking to wriggle out of the consequences by underscoring his sensitive artistic nature.

His wife at that time--the third in a ongoing string of temporarily impressed wives--finally stopped him mid-anecdote one day and screamed, "Yes, and YOU ARE NOT PICASSO!"

Right. On to #4 then.

Here's the thing: Most of us are not Picasso, nor Mark Twain, and I doubt we'll see Shakespeare's ilk ever again this century or next. Some paid writing is truly amazing, a rare gift. Some writing for love is sappy, useless drek. Money and writing have no rational connection to one another whatsoever save the fact that it's damned hard to GET any money for writing even if you are a passing genius.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that writers are in the business of defining what is simply by being able to write it down in readable form, and there's a fierce lot of competition in this world around who gets to say what is and what isn't. You can't just be saying stuff. Somebody has to decide if you are allowed to do that. This is where the money comes in, and it comes in about as rationally and fairly as it comes into anything else decided politically, which is to say, not very rationally or fairly.

So let's seek to be gentle with one another, dear writers, however much or little we make. The money in this corporate, crooked world today is definitely still tainted, just like it was in Twain's time.

T'ain't yours. T'ain't mine.


UninvitedWriter said...

Yep, no one gets into writing to get rich. Of course, most of us have no choice and must write. It would be nice to have a patron but I don't see that happening. Just think, James Joyce and other great writers lived in poverty for most of their lives. James Joyce left the equivalent of 10 Euros in his will in 1941.

Pamela Grundy said...

Hi UW! I was thinking about patrons as I wrote this--like, are we coming to that point where a rich patron will be necessary if we mean to write anything besides corporate drivel? Maybe. Anyway, I wouldn't say no! lol!

Well, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Weirdly, poverty and lack of job opportunity is what has me writing these last few years. I mean, I'm still poor, but the reason I have time to write is...I'm still poor! I guess I'm in good company there. :)

Camille Olivia ~ said...

I really do love your style. You got about 4 or 5 giggles outta me while I read. And although, with some things, I'm quite easily amused, when it comes to writing...not so much. You're a hoot and a half (and a really terrific writer too). Just sayin'...