#IWSG: Writing for Love or Money

male hand with pen isolated on white background

At a gut level, most writers know that we must write…just to write. And no other reason will support a long-term writing habit or career, or even a writing hobby.

In the depths of things, though–sometimes that love is tempered with issues, fights, and dare I say it, realism. One of those realisms – money.

Recently, several other writers have dealt with the subject in various ways. And for a little time, although understanding and agreeing with their viewpoints, I was also left confused about what I now see as a difference between that base level of a calling to write, and the working level of motivating factors for our writing.

Steven Pressfield – Writing and Money Part 3

In the Writing Wednesday posts, Steven Pressfield has recently talked about Writing and Money. In Part 3 he went into more detail from his previous statements that we write out of love. He says:-

“We write or paint or dance out of love. We would do it even if nobody paid us.

In the fields of the arts and entertainment, the principles that apply to payment-for-labor are, shall we say, unconventional. What factors make them that way?

And then points out –

“Would Tiger Woods compete in next year’s Masters for free? Would Rafael Nadal show up at Wimbledon?

In fields like the arts and athletics, the reward transcends lucre. If you or I came up with the greatest sales promo in history for Byron Jackson submersible pumps, not even our spouses or Golden retrievers would give a damn. But to win an Oscar? The National Book Award?

Mostly I agree with Pressfield. But then, the example of Tiger Woods or Rafeal Nadal continuing with their sports even without payment is a good one, except for the fact he’s talking about some of the most highly paid players in the world. All that practice and training for toddler Tiger wasn’t because his father spotted a good hobbyist in his son.

Getting an Oscar or some other big reward may well transcend lucre, but those rewards are motivating factors for further work in those industries, not normally the reason why those people got into the work in the first place.

Many other industry high-end rewards often lead to more work offers and more opportunities to make money: an actor with an Oscar in hand is pretty much guaranteed their choice of scripts. But, can we say the same of our biggest Writing Awards?

Although it’s nice to envision a future Man Booker Prize or other accolades, we know that a lot of those prizewinners haven’t sold much, and therefore made much money. Nor are they necessarily guaranteed a long-term career with a lucrative contract through a publisher.

Even the whole “Bestseller” or “Award Winning” announcements we see so often on book covers nowadays has changed our values on such pronouncements. We don’t trust them, although all of this acts as motivating factors for our writing, certainly. All those writing competitions (and the scams that focused into the same business) saw the need for many writers to write for accolades.

So. Sometimes the money does matter. And sometimes the accolades–with or without future rewards–matter also.

And it’s okay to say so.

I often read posts by successful or well-known authors about writing not being about the money, and start nodding, before realizing I’ve never read an unknown writer saying the same.

What I have read of all the unknown writers starting out, is words like “budget” and later on, I watch as they fret over book sales statistics during their free weekend or promotional kick. And then there’s the ones who have been supported for several books through a traditional publishing company only to be dropped when sales don’t meet hope – which lately happens always (unless you’re JK Rowling writing under a leaked pseudonym – darn, another anomaly to not try to live up to).

As writers, we’ve bought into the whole poor suffering artist thing. We point out that writers like JK Rowling, or James Patterson, or many other bestsellers are anomalies, and something we can’t possibly strive for realistically. (Tomorrow, Larry Brooks is quoted on that realism).

We’ve been trained to now accept that we probably won’t be able to retire or leave work on our writing. We’ve accepted that we write for the love of writing, but then, we must put on our business hats to try to make a go of it, and be happy with what bonuses might come out of it.

We try to find our uniqueness, so that that may help.

We try not to waste our writing time by writing in genres that have lost readership, or some of us try (probably unsuccessfully) to predict what an unpredictable moving target of the book industry will do/want/accept soon.

There are a lot of mistakes going on, yes. But then, some successes too.

We accept we must work hard, and may not ever get those accolades Steven Pressfield talks about, or even the money we are meant to not be writing for.

But we want a writing career. That’s why we’re reading all these blogs that tell us to write for love, anyway. But if we’re reading these, there are countless other people out there who are not. But they’re still writing and publishing for reasons that may not be in sync with the general attribution of writing as a calling.

The juxtaposition between writing as solely a calling, a love, and writing as a career or business–that’s the problem. (Sometimes it’s also the joy). And lots of authors writing books, selling courses, telling us how we can do this, and follow in their tracks to some success. Sharing with us some hope.

Pressfield is, of course, right on a deep gut level. Because, gosh darn it, despite all the above, I still write. And you do too. And darn it, I write what I want to write, what makes me happy, but sometimes I also write things to keep the blog going, and it cuts into my heart-writing. But that’s part of the business.

So, most of it must be out of love, a love–like any–that sometimes takes a little maintenance. And it’s okay to be a little insecure about it all. Because love is a very insecure thing anyway, we humans know that. Love needs nurturing, work, and protection.

The nature of a calling is detailed in Friday’s post, which contains several thoughts by Jeff Goins. Those secondary motivating factors are discussed in further posts coming up.


iwsgThis post was the second in a 7 post series running from this Wednesday to the next. You can find the index post for all from the series here.

The post also took place in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group for November. You can find other #IWSG participants at the website here.

3 thoughts on “#IWSG: Writing for Love or Money

  1. Probably Tiger Woods and Rafa Nadal are the wrong comparisons – the guys who struggle to get into the first round, maybe competing mostly at minor events, would be a better comparison for those of us trying to make a living as a writer.

    Some interesting thoughts – I just wish I had a success story to share to encourage you!

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