Writing And Finance – A Complex Juggling Act
Writing and poverty go together in the cultural consciousness like salt and vinegar. The image of the Bohemian writer struggling to piece together meals on a shoestring while living for their Art is the stuff of legend, and has inspired an enduring romantic image. Plenty of people enthuse over the ‘authenticity’ of such a lifestyle – but few would actually like to live it in real life. Unfortunately, however, plenty of people who do decide to follow their dreams and become writers find themselves in the financial predicament of their Bohemian forbears, only with none of the ‘romance’ of the leaky Paris garret. Unless you hit the bigtime, writing is not the most pecunious of professions – and in the increasingly networked world of writing, hitting the bigtime is something which not all of us can dream of. So how can one make a living as a writer without compromising one’s valuable writing and thinking time?
According to the Authors’ Licensing & Collection Society, the annual income of British writers dropped a paltry £11,000 in 2013. That’s around $17,000 – but effectively a lot less, given that wages are generally higher and goods generally pricier in Britain than in the USA. The situation is little better here in America. The unfortunate fact is that, if you’re a self-employed freelance writer, you’re likely to experience financial difficulties at some point in your writing career. Plenty of writers have a secondary source of income – if you’ve got friends or family who are willing to bankroll you while you write your masterpiece then the world is your oyster! Other people take on secondary jobs to make ends meet. The problem with this, however, is that it leaves you with less of that all-important writing time, and during the time you do have, your brain is often too full and you’re too exhausted to get down to putting words to page.
The Debt Trap
Some writers choose to take on no alternative employment, and battle it out with poverty until their writing hits the bigtime. JK Rowling is a famous example of this. She chose to live off British Government benefits while writing the Harry Potter books. It was a massive gamble, and required considerable financial sacrifice, but it paid off. The welfare state had her back while she devoted her time to writing her books. Of course, British benefits are substantially more generous and come with less stigma attached than the same kind of thing in America, so this was more of a viable option for her. In America, time for writing is often ‘bought’ in this manner with loans – but loans have to be paid back. If you haven’t got a publishing schedule or a column deal lined up already, then you’re probably best not to take out a substantial loan in order to kick off your writing career. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll be saddled with horrendous debt – which will require you to sacrifice your writing career even further in order to pay off.
The option resorted to by many struggling writers is that of supplementary employment. Unfortunately, the kind of jobs which many writers go for, as a ‘stopgap’, are pretty soul-destroying. Being a barrista, or a shop assistant to pay the bills while waiting for your writing to go places may seem like a sensible option, but all too often it just ends up inspiring bitterness and killing the creative instinct. Working for minimum wage for a major corporation is less than inspiring, and frequently leaves one with absolutely no mental energy left with which to write. But you have to survive! If you can hack it, then getting a contracted alternative job and working as a writer in your spare time is ideal – but what if that just isn’t working for you?
The generally accepted thing to do if struggling for money but unwilling to commit to a time-consuming career is to apply for low-paying jobs in shops and so forth. But there are more options available. Things like babysitting, dog-walking, house-sitting, cleaning and so forth can be surprisingly lucrative – and allow you to be more or less in control of your own schedule. They take a little reputation-building, but if you conduct yourself well, advertise yourself well, and let word-of-mouth do its work then you will be surprised at how much work comes your way! Of course, this route is not for everybody. Some may prefer the security of a part-time job, or want to take the risk of a loan – but if neither of these suit, then do consider taking the plunge and offering your paid services as a petsitter/walker, cleaner, babysitter and so on – on your own terms…