Thursday, February 4, 2021

Writing for Love vs. Writing for Money

Posted by: Nicole Luiken



There is an age-old debate in writing circles (and probably arts in general) about whether it is better to pursue one’s art for love or for money. Both sides look down on the other.

If you take the side of love, it elevates writing from craft to art. Something lofty and wonderful, nay, glorious. I believe that novels are art—reading transports me from the humdrum and makes me laugh and cry—how can that not be art? Unfortunately, the word often carries snobbish overtones and implies that artists who do it for love are somehow better than those who pursue commercial success. More worryingly, it sets a precedent that writers/artists don’t need to be paid for their work since they are doing a labor of love. The trope of the wonderful artist starving in a garret comes from here. “Suffering for one’s art” even suggests that if you’re NOT starving you can’t create “great” work—which is nonsense.

If you take the side of doing it for money, some see it as demeaning and devaluing your art to a mere product. Desiring money is seen as “crass”--as if all of us don’t need money in order to live. *rolls eyes* But the truth is many of us do write for not very much money at all (we want more, we just aren’t there yet on our career track!) and take other jobs to pay the rent. Then there’s the term “commercial fiction” which seems to mean genre fiction as opposed to “literary fiction”--as if it is somehow bad to be popular or as if literary novels never have commercial success. The stereotype of the “hack” writer, who churns out stories according to some mythical “formula” comes from here.

But I write for both love of the art and money, and I’d bet most artists do. So how does one reconcile the two viewpoints?

Of course, I love writing and I love what I write—otherwise I would have picked a different (and probably more lucrative) career or a different project to write. (Though I would wager that even in work-for-hire cases when there is less creative control, most writers end up loving the story they tell and their characters.)

Of course, I need and deserve to be paid for my time and effort. Why does this even need to be said? Michelangelo got paid.

I write for love, but (to paraphrase Steven Pressfield in The War of Art) I treat the act of writing like a professional job. I am not special. I do not wait for the muse to strike, I put my butt in the chair and do the work. I consider this the best of both worlds.

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