Art, Writing & Literary Awards: In It For The Money

I’ve been talking with people a lot lately about money as currency, and time as currency, and how the two things don’t always have a straightforward exchange rate. And since Twitter blew up again today with a whole bunch of drama and insults associated with indie publishing and money, it seems like the right time to have this conversation online as well.

Because if there’s one thing that drives me crazy as a working writer who isn’t actually trying to earn a living entirely from her craft right now but would REALLY LIKE TO, it’s the idea that as soon as writers and publishers start looking at the business side of things practically, and expecting to be paid a reasonable and sustainable amount for their time and effort, they are somehow selling out.

Money matters. Paying artists matter. Too often, writers and artists are sent out into the world without any kind of business background, because there’s this stupid romantic idea that as soon as you start treating your art like a business, it stops being art.

Personally, I’m in it for the money. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect to be J.K. Rowling here. I don’t crave mansions or film deals or any of that craziness. But if I can’t earn an income from my writing, then how can I justify spending so much time doing it?

I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who supports me financially, and ways of earning money myself aside from my writing, including a small amount of government assistance because I’m a mother. While I’d sure like to have more money to be able to help pay off the mortgage before my partner hits retirement age (and crucially before our daughters hit university age), and to travel, and to buy pretty trinkets, we’re in the fortunate position of having just enough to meet our basic needs, with a few nice extras here and there.

So my primary currency isn’t money, it’s time. We pay actual cash money to put our youngest in daycare two days a week, so I have time to work. The exchange rate isn’t the best, but it’s worth it to us. But the hours I spend writing aren’t just taken from the daycare jar, they are pinched and borrowed from our daily life. The time I spend writing is time I don’t spend with my children, or cleaning the kitchen, or organising the cupboards, or doing all those many, many things that part of me thinks I should be doing.

My youngest daughter is only two for another month. She’ll only be three for a year. And while I don’t believe that the perfect mother is one who spends 24 hours a day with her children (I know I would be far less than perfect if I did that!) I’m still well aware that the time I spend writing is taken directly away from my kids while they’re young.

I couldn’t justify that if it was just about the art. “I’m making art here, sweetie, so no, you can’t fingerpaint, because it would take too much time to clean up, and it’s either I cook dinner OR I clean the floors, not both, because I’m busy over here. Making art.”

Art is important, but not important enough for me to spend precious weekday daylight hours on it for its own sake. I can barely justify time to myself to read a book, how on earth could I justify that?

I received word this week that I had sold a short story to a literary magazine I had never sold to before (more on this when I can announce it) and it will be read in public by actors, which is squeeful and amazing, but also it will earn me $250. I’ve sold less than a handful of stories before at anything near that rate – only two have ever sold for more – and while my artist’s soul appreciates the honour and the excitement at having my story publicly presented, and my ego is dancing at the thought of selling to that particular, thought-it-was-out-of-my-league magazine, when it comes down to it, it’s the $250 that makes me think, yeah, I’m on the right path.

In a perfect world, art for art’s sake would be a currency all on its own. But we’re not living in that world right now. Check out what’s been happening with the Queensland Literary Awards – the first thing the new Premier did was cut their budget, making a very public statement that the arts were not important to the current government. But the people have decided otherwise, and they’re putting their money where their mouths are, contributing to a Pozible campaign to get the damned awards refunded again.

Money matters to art. It’s not everything, but it matters, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

8 replies on “Art, Writing & Literary Awards: In It For The Money”

  1. Helen says:

    You are so right.

  2. LordMortis says:

    And that, is why I charge conventions for LiveCon. I’d love to provide it for free, but without money coming in, I can’t justify spending time on it. It’s direct ROI is already pretty bad, but at least there’s *some* cash coming back in (or in-kind stuff).

  3. tansyrr says:

    People so rarely appreciate what they don’t pay for! The whole point of apps is that people pay for them – free ones are nice, but they are one of the great micropayment systems. Of course you should charge for it.

    BTW Livecon worked brilliantly for me personally at Continuum – so much easier to check than to pick up all the pieces of paper flying around as amendments to the program book, and I loved being able to click quickly to my own panels, or checking another person’s commitments. I didn’t realise who was responsible for it – well done!

    Living in the future is awesome.

  4. LordMortis says:

    Thank you! I’m glad you thought it was useful. With any kind of luck, the journey is just beginning! (So many plans, so little time 🙂 )

  5. I always find it funny when rooms full of aspiring writers object when I tell them they’re commercial artists. Funnier still is when rooms full of practising writers object.

  6. Sam X says:

    I appreciate the difficulties of being an adult and writing–I’m 27 and thus spend 8 hours a day working; I squeeze in 1-2 hours of writing each day after that, at the expense of free time. (I don’t relax much.) I don’t have children yet so I can only imagine how that’ll further destroy my free time.

    That said, I’d like to extrapolate on a few things you discussed. “Money matters to art.” I disagree. Money matters to artists, primarily because it’s the tool we use to survive.

    There is space enough for both “commercial art” and “noncommercial art” to exist. In general, one favors entertainment while the other favors expression and thought, proving that the two can coexist. (This is not to say that they’re mutually exclusive; of course a great commercial art can make one think and a great noncommercial art can be entertaining.) By virtue of tending towards different outcomes, however, the two provide unique values.

    I personally prefer political art and thus see money as a complicating factor, but I would never call for artists to not be paid. Instead I think it is more a matter of transparent publishing as well as open communication to illuminate the writer’s goals (as well as those of the publishing house). You proclaim proudly that you want to make commercial art, and that should be a useful marketing statement because it tells me you focus on entertainment. Conversely, when I say I create political art, it should also be a useful marketing statement because it tells a reader that I focus on social issues.

    This is all to say: I don’t think every writer who wants to separate art and money is naive or “selling something.” Similarly, I don’t think every writer who wants to make money is a sell-out or cynical. The more that artists honestly declare what they want, the more our craft can move beyond territorial disputes.

  7. […] “working writer” response to concerns about money and art. I agree with her point that money has value (but disagree that compulsory payments are the best […]

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