Is Writing Worth It?
When you’re working in a creative field, talking about money paints you as a sellout. You’re supposed to do it for the art. You’re supposed to grind for hours on end because your heart tells you to. You shouldn’t be guided by monetary motivations. Your concerns should begin and end with the task at hand. Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician or a filmmaker, you’re expected to keep doing what you’re doing for minimum compensation and continue in the face of constant rejection at the hands of industry gatekeepers. You’re painted in a negative light if you value your work based on its ability to feed you.
This attitude has enabled the commodification of artistic creation by turning it into ‘content’. It has instilled an odd sense of entitlement within ‘content consumers’, who gladly advocate ideals like ‘art should be free and accessible to all’ while choosing to ignore the minefield of complex business models and perverse incentives that arise as a consequence. Humans have a pretty poor track record of being aware of long-term consequences, and what we’re doing to creative industries by devaluing their work is case in point. By turning the attention of creators away from pragmatic concerns, we give the opportunity for outsiders to step in and dictate terms.
A few years ago, a New York-based writer/programmer, James Somers, wrote a brilliant article titled Are Coders Worth It?. He compared the effort-to-reward ratio of writing a glorious long-form piece about AI pioneer Douglas Hofstadter to having a full-time job building interactive boxes. He contrasted the way society treats his writing self with how it treats his programming self. When this article got published, I could relate to it a lot. I was working as a full-time writer, filing in vapid brand-sponsored posts in order to support the work I actually cared about. I was surrounded by tons of musicians/designers/filmmakers who were in the same boat. We all whined about the way things worked, but couldn’t figure out an alternative.
For the longest time, I believed the answer lied in tech. I began teaching myself how to code and creating elaborate custom layouts for every article I wrote. I believed that the value of my writing could be amplified by designing and building opulent layouts. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that while it’s helpful for us to understand design and code to emancipate our work from the confines of platforms, it’s even more important for us to gain a firm understanding of the systems in which our work exists. The best way we can ensure that our work is not undervalued is by developing a firm point of view on how our work is distributed and monetized. We need to understand business even though the world at large believes we should only be focusing on our craft.