Making Money as a Writer

20140520-144207-52927858.jpgEvery time someone tells me that they want to be a writer, (or worse, that they’re paying for a writing education) I have to stop myself from saying, “Oh no – don’t do that.”

When someone says they want to be a writer, they mean that they would like to earn a living as a writer. They want writing to pay for their health insurance. Which would be lovely – I’m sure. Except that it’s not really a thing.

I’ll back up. One does not want to be a writer. As they say, one is or one is not. If you write, if writing is a part of your everyday (or mostlyday), then you’re a writer. It’s not a job. It’s a behavior. Tying this behavior to an income, however, presents the problem.

I-Make-My-Living-As-A-Writer writers do not write about subjects that they want to write about. Other people (publishers who are looking to meet the needs of a specific niche market or companies who pay writers to complete clearly defined tasks) have ideas on what they want. And that sort of defeats the purpose. We don’t want to write pharmaceutical pamphlets or instructions for toaster ovens or memos from CEOs or grants. Especially grants. (Grant writing seems like a good option until you try it.)

We want to write about our interests and about ourselves. For many of us, sadly, ourselves are our interests. (Note: Consumers don’t spend their paychecks or even portions of their paychecks to read the memoirs of people they’ve never heard of.) This kind of writing, the exhilarating kind, the kind that makes your heart and your breath speed up, is unpaid. And unread, for the most part. And that’s okay. We don’t write to make money anyway.

We write because we can’t help it. We make money teaching. Or bartending, beekeeping, working for the NSA, walking dogs, owning businesses, maintaining a second self. We don’t even necessarily want to be writers – we just are. We’ve been writers our whole lives. The cravings to transform thoughts into tangible things come back again and again like a ghost who needs a better hobby. Writing makes us feel alive, or if your writing habit is extra intense, not writing makes us feel dead.

Don’t want to be a writer. Want to be an engineer – that want will allow you to love a job that pays a mortgage.

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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