The idea of making money from writing gets a mixed reception. Those who regard themselves as professional writers see no problem with this. In fact they expect to make money because of their professional status. Then there are the hobbyists who write solely for the love of creating something. They are quite happy to distribute their writing, whether that is poetry, stories or novels, for no payment. They get their reward from knowing their work has been read. But among the hobbyists are some writers who are developing their work and themselves into semi-professional status. These are the writers who are happy to charge for their writing in order to acquire a bit of extra income, although many of them do not make a profit.
In among these groupings there are some who believe that writers should not be paid for their work. They should supply everything free to their followers and readers. While this is a noble concept it is not a realistic one.
It is easy to say money is unimportant if you know where your next meal is coming from. It is not so easy to take this stance if you rely on food banks for your next meal. This implies that writers should only write if they can afford to, and that people who need the money they make from their writing to help keep them out of poverty, are not entitled to write. If money is unimportant to writers are they an elite group who look down on those who can’t afford to write for nothing? And should we all be starving in our respective garrets, otherwise known as the room where we write?
The idea of artists starving in garrets was a romantic notion that arose during the late eighteenth and ninteenth-centuries. This was a time when it was the fashion for artists and other creative people to go to Paris and live in a garrett. It was a rebellious age where young people rejected society and flouted the rules in order to follow their own path. They believed in art for art’s sake, and that they should suffer for it.
There were many people in the arts movement who followed this path. James Joyce and Vincent van Gogh, for example, both lived in poverty for their art. But they also relied on hand-outs, gifts and loans. In van Gogh’s case he spent the money his brother sent him on art supplies, preferring to starve for his art. Rilke the poet had a patron, and Marcel Proust had a private income. There is nothing to suggest that any of these men would have objected if they had been paid for their art.
There are many writers who spend thousands of pounds on their ‘hobby’, I know I certainly do. Are we not entitled to some reimbursement for our expenditure? If I decide to follow the high moral ground so I can feel superior, and give my writing away for no charge, I am in effect gifting my readers thousands of pounds, because that is what my writing costs me on an annual basis. I would love to do this because I value my readers, but I simply can’t afford to do so. And if I did do it I would simply be feeding my own vanity, which is not something I want to do.
In conclusion, it’s easy to take the high moral ground and say it is demeaning to accept money from writing. Not so easy when your finances are such that you cannot afford to do that.