Writing for Money

There were huge layoffs at my day job, and I sat around with some coworkers afterwards at Kennedy’s and bemoaned the fate of friends who had lost their job. In a way, I wondered if our survivor status was ironic, and they were the ones that got new opportunities and better placements by being forced to change. I had heard somewhere that one theory of “who to lay off” is to pick the ones that can survive the best in the market.

A couple of coworkers, my neighbor Hunky and these two friends after work, were telling me that I should be happy with my gig, that it was so rare. It’s like, yeah, well I do have alternatives. I worry though, that I’ll be made to write for money.

“Why? Isn’t that the ideal?” They asked.

It’s like being a hack. OK, I can only describe it this way: I use my sister as case in point. She’s always trained as an artist. She’s painted all her life. Well, she did lithographs for a brief period. Here is a detail of a painting by her I have in my house.
At one point in her life — I actually forget why— she had the option of not working a real job, but painting for a living. So painting would pay her kibble, as she would put it. She leapt at the chance! At that time she was living in Mountain View, renting a cute house on View (that wasn’t cheap). She quit her job, started painting all over town, and got some consignments. A restaurant wanted a mural, an executive wanted a painting of him kayaking- in a painting that she had already done, so she copied one added him in, etc.

As you can see she had to hustle up work to maintain her rent, car loan, etc.. She had to be her own marketer, businesswoman, and bookkeeper. It was a tough haul. No doubt, some other artists are able to pull it off- probably because their work is more valuable- I don’t know any personally.

During this period, she said she started to want to be regular, like, to long for middle class things she had always had, or wanted. She wanted a nice chair. She wanted to take me, starving student, out for dinner. Being an artist, and more importantly, living our idea of the artist’s lifestyle, just wasn’t cutting it. And in a way, she wasn’t that proud of her art in that period, either.

So she got a job. When I asked her about it, she said, roughly, that she wanted to live a certain lifestyle, and that sustaining the lifestyle with her art was very stressful.

I’ve done paid writing, and it pained me in a way that no other compromises at work did. Being a copywriter, technical writer, or journalist, you have to give in to people with piss poor judgment all the time. Sure, sometimes you get a New Yorker grade editor that improves your work beyond your wildest dreams, but mostly you get someone who is either a comma-Nazi, or a “must have some say” person, or a “last word” person, or, worse, a “15 revisions” person- I once underwent 17 revisions, on a 200+ manual. And worse, during that time the last thing I wanted to do was go home and “write”- I’d been writing all fucking day! I wanted to garden, or play sudoku or basketball.

Yes, I have strong feelings about it. Sure, you get to call yourself a writer. Sure, you get to write all day, your passion, for your kibble. But what is the end product? A guide to loading airplane craft with containers? (check) A user guide to a stockbroker software interface? (check). A description of a smartcard on a box? (check) (ah, all the things I’ve wanted to do with my life, done so easily!)

There are amazing lifestyle benefits to being a technical writer… call your own hours, you do “write all day” so the costs are low, and if you can write decent simple prose, you have a job for life. I went to a career fair sponsored by my small private college, and everyone there, mostly lawyers, wanted to interview me and find out what it took to be a tech writer. I was shocked.

Needless to say, I will be very hesitant to ever write for money. Sure, a novel being published can rake in the cash- but in America being a lucrative fiction writer is a very rare case. Hence, the analogy to painters.