Yes, Writing Is a Job (Even if it Doesn’t Pay Well)
Lincoln Michel
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Hi there! Thanks for engaging. I actually think we agree more than we disagree. Many of the points you go on to make are the same points I made. For example, you write, “most people can’t make a living writing fiction period. Most writers do need a second job or a day job.” That is all I was trying to say, and if I employed some hyperbole along the way, to elide over the obvious, demonstrated existence of people like John Green and JK Rowling — whose existence is, anyway, noted in another piece I wrote, which you can get to from the first very link in my piece — that doesn’t make my overall argument factually incorrect. Simply because there are NBA players doesn’t mean anyone with a decent jumpshot can make a living playing ball.

“Being a writer” is not, for the vast majority of people, a job. Writing fiction, poetry, personal essay, screenplays, and other lovely stuff does not, largely, generate a living, or in most cases even a survivable, wage. That is because there are too many people who would like to write full-time and yet too few people who are interested in paying for what’s written. I would like that to be different! I absolutely think people should get paid for their work. But as matters stand right now in America, for the vast majority of aspirants, writing only what you want to write, full-time, is not a great strategy. I wrote my piece because I found myself impatient with Tierce’s surprise about that, though the sad state of affairs has been exceedingly well documented.

To survive without day jobs, writers need to either a) hustle nonstop, like Nicole Dieker does, writing the less-fun, less-sexy stuff, or b) be skilled and persistent and get very, very lucky, like John Green and JK Rowling. And if possible have a name that starts with J. Or they can marry rich! That works too.

You say, “if we treat writing as something that can only be done as a side hobby, then we will only have writers who can afford a side hobby.” In my opinion, that is more or less already true. I’m not saying I’m glad it’s true; in fact, I think it’s a shame and a disgrace. But as I see them, those are the facts on the ground.

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