I write early in the morning. I write late at night. I write in between critiquing papers and preparing lesson plans and helping my son with his homework and feeding the dog and making dinner and critiquing more papers and teaching workshops and attending writers groups and getting the car fixed and the driving my son to school and the dog to the vet and spending quiet time with my husband and kid and visiting relatives and going out to dinner with friends.
I write whenever I can. I write because I want to write. I write because I have to write. I write. I write. I write.
That’s what all writers do, isn’t it?
Yes, but with varying degrees of difficulty, depending on their financial situation.
In her post, Bauer is refreshingly candid about the fact that her life as a writer is easier now that she’s no longer a single mom living from paycheck to paycheck. She’s remarried now, to a man whose generous income allows her to “work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field [she enjoys].”
Other, more successful writers, she points out, are even luckier than she, their success fueled by other sources of income high-earning spouses or vast wealth (trust funds, family money, savings from prior careers), which allows them ample time to write, or high-powered literary connections that got them noticed at a young age.
Bauer’s fear is that by hiding various types of literary “sponsorships” that fuel publishing success, by pretending it’s solely hard work and talent that pave the path to literary success, we as a literary community are discourage struggling, emerging writers whose foreseeable future may very well involve eating packaged ramen in garrets.
Let’s be transparent, says Bauer, about the fact that money and connections make a difference in people’s writing careers:
In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed…I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.
This all probably seems self-evident, that money + connection = success. That’s true in just about every industry.
But spurring this conversation in the literary world could have some very helpful side effects.
For instance, as Caitlin White so aptly points out in a post for Bustle, more transparency about such issues could raise awareness and “lead to even more amazing grants, fellowships, and opportunities for people who aren’t blessed with connections from birth, a trust fund, or a supportive spouse, and instead put the focus on talent and skill.”
For me, an equally helpful effect of this conversation is to make writers more appreciative and supportive of the varied ways that we each manage to write and support ourselves.
Bauer’s article has, in fact, spawned numerous “confessional” posts by writers whose career trajectories vary widely.
Some, like Allison K. Williams, have taken a similar path to Bauer’s: from struggling writer producing little writing because of work demands, to productive writer married to a spouse who pays the bills. In her Brevity post, “A Word from My Sponsor,” Williams makes no bones about the fact that when she started looking in earnest for a partner, she screened her online dates for income:
Screening for income is no different than screening for age, height, looks, or doesn’t-post-racist-screeds-on-Facebook. Saying, “I’m not interested in dating anyone who can’t, if necessary, support me.”
Others, like Kelly Sundberg, have taken the opposite path: from married writer to single mom writer. In her own Brevity post, “This Writer is Sponsoring Herself,” Sundberg discusses how she extricated herself from a nine-year marriage to a man who was the primary breadwinner but who was also controlling and abusive.
Once she escaped that marriage, she became a self-supporting, single mom who screens potential new partners on Match.com, not by whether their income exceeds $100K, but by whether they are men “with a job, a car, a driver’s license, and a good sense of humor.”
Sundberg is careful not to judge others whose paths diverge from hers. She notes that it was her choice to leave her marriage and solely provide for herself. Of those like Williams and Bauer who made other choices, she says:
Clearly, Bauer’s and William’s relationships are different than my marriage was. In situations like that, being sponsored by the partner seems like a healthy and rewarding situation, but I know there are a lot of women out there in relationships like mine was: relationships where sponsorship comes with strings, where sponsorship comes with control. In my case, sponsorship came with domestic abuse, and if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that I would have left sooner if I’d felt more financially capable.
Yet other writing journeys are like Laura Bogart’s, detailed in her Dame Magazine post, “The Price I Pay to Write.” Bogart is a single woman whose family history has made her determined never to financially depend on anyone but herself:
Lifestyles like Williams’s (or even Bauer’s) will never be right for me: My father’s status as sole provider made him the Tyrant-in-Chief. My mother had no money of her own—and no will to scrape and scrounge in the kinds of blue- or pink-collar jobs that would’ve wrung her out, but at least given her, and me, a baseline independence. Physical, if not financial, safety: a room of our own, however small, that came with a locked door. This is the fracture I write to heal; my words are the cells that sweep the shattered bits away and weave a mesh of something stronger. I will never be beholden to any man, however loving and supportive he may be. Having a husband as a patron is just as intangible as lighting out for the coast with only moxie and a moleskin. I don’t have a way out; I only have a way through.
And then there is Stephanie Lucianovic, who, in her Medium post, “Sponsor Goes Here: When Writing Doesn’t Pay the Rent,” points out that even marriage doesn’t guarantee “sponsorship:”
The dream of living in an artist’s garret, living off apples like Jo March and writing to the exclusive of everything else in life is not my reality. I simply cannot afford it (my hair wouldn’t bring too high a price in today’s market) and, over the years, it’s been entirely due to my salary and benefits or my husband’s salary and benefits or my own freelance editing that I have been able do a lick of writing at all.
What strikes me about these stories is that, though their paths may be varied, all of these writers have found a way to create space in their lives to write. Yes, financial security, financial “sponsorship,” and even literary connections can lead to more writing, more publication, more success. But so can other paths, paths that involve sacrificing love lives or family vacations or even, often, timely payment of those endless fucking bills.
Let’s face it, the path to writing success is so much more complex than finances or connections.[bctt tweet=”The path to writing success is so much more complex than finances or connections.”]
I discovered writing later as an adult looking for a creative outlet from an ill-chosen career in entertainment law. After many false starts, I finally left lawyering to pursue an MFA in writing. Since finishing grad school, I’ve paid my own endless fucking bills by teaching and editing and relying on my husband’s income to pick up where mine trails off.
I don’t miss law. Not a wit. I do miss the money. It’s not that my husband and I are impoverished. We’re not. I’m lucky to be married to a reliable, supportive man whose primary objective is to ensure that our family is happy and healthy. He’s willing to cover for me, mentally, emotionally, and, yes, financially.
But neither of us is a big earner. We work hard. Some months it’s tough to cover the bills.
So I’m not a writer who has the luxury of spending hours and hours a day just writing. I work my writing in around my teaching schedule, as well as around my son’s schedule since there’s precious little extra money for childcare.
Every night I pray for a money tree to miraculously arise, fully formed and overflowing with cash, in our backyard.
Every morning I am disappointed.
Having said that, I don’t know that I’d be writing more if I had the luxury of an endless supply of cash.
When I first left law and I was single and childless and living comfortably off my savings from my legal career, I barely wrote. Maybe one story every six months. I was terrified of writing. Of trying and failing. I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I thought of myself as a recovering lawyer chasing a pipe dream.
Once I got into grad school, I felt validated as a writer. I still didn’t call myself one (heaven forbid), but I felt privileged to be surrounded by those who did. I felt privileged to learn from all these incredibly talented people who seemed to have known since they were knee-high that writing was what they were meant to do.
I was teaching, living off a stipend from a fellowship, traveling back and forth between Iowa City and Los Angeles to see my boyfriend/husband.
I was writing hours per day. My ass was in that chair nonstop.
Now, numerous years later, I’m in the midst of a busy life with a kid and a job that doesn’t pay tons but that I love. I’m not writing hours per day. On good days, I squeeze in three hours. On not-so good-days, I get fifteen minutes.
Would I like the financial freedom to write more and teach less? Would I love extra money for childcare to help with my kid, a daily dog walker to exhaust my high energy, I-need-to-play-RIGHT-NOW German Shepherd?
Will I still write without that dollar-driven freedom?
But I will never be as productive as some writers, no matter what, and that includes writers who are more financially strapped than I am.
My productivity isn’t just financially driven. It’s also about who I am as a writer. I am plodding. I lack confidence. I write in circles, trying to find my story. Trying to figure out who my characters are and what they want. Trying to give them some breathing room instead of keeping them in the stranglehold that I am apt to apply when I first discover them. I do laundry, write blog posts, cook dinner, do more laundry, run errands, etcetera, etcetera, until finally I click into their world.
Then nothing gets in the way of my writing. For a while.
Until the cycle starts again.
That’s who I am; that’s my burden as a writer, one of the obstacles to my success. Not just how much money I have in the bank. Not just who I know in publishing.
Still, every day I make a choice to write. That’s what keeps me going.
That’s what makes me a writer, no matter what.
What’s your path? How do you manage your writing life? Leave a comment below.
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I’m the same way. I write in spurts, money or no. But I get into a project and work at it until I feel I can walk away satisfied. Two years ago, I took a job that pays less than I’m used to (which caught up to me late last year, but we got through it) but allows me down time during which I write. And my employers are fine with that. Last year, I wrote a manuscript for my first novel, the first draft of a second, and a screenplay, which I sent off to my manager in December. Before that, I got stuck in a job that demanded very long hours during which I wasn’t able to write much of anything for a year. That’s when I learned that this is something I have to do, since I physically felt it when I wasn’t writing. Hence the job change … Ultimately, of course, I’d love nothing more to ditch the day job for good. And who knows? At this rate, such a thing at least feels like a possibility now. Thanks for all the wonderful posts! All the best
What an honest post, Colette. So refreshing to see a writer who takes writing seriously ‘and’ talks money and networking. Everyday, I wish, we had this kind of transparency more visible and valued in our community. Thanks so much for sharing. And best wishes, always.