It’s Time To Stop Shaming People Who Write For Money
There is enough room for all of us to succeed, no matter why we write.
Parts of this piece were inspired by Itxy Lopez’s great piece, “One Writer’s Win Is Not Your Loss.” If you enjoy this article, give hers a read as well!
“So, how is your writing going?” she asked.
I grinned, mentally rubbing my hands together in glee. Finally, I get to ramble about writing!
“Well, I haven’t made much money yet, but I’m really excited about — ”
Her words bit through my own. “Well you’re not really supposed to write for money anyway, right? I mean, if you’re getting money, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing, since it won’t be genuine.”
If I had a tail, it’d be tucked between my legs. “Um, no, I… I guess not. I just thought, you know, if I could contribute more in the house…”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Just the intense sting of white-hot shame and the hyperfocused hopelessness of regret.
I had nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.
And if you write for money, if you play with the algorithm to help make your stories a success — you have nothing to be ashamed of, either.
Writing For Love and Money Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
“Money can feed the body. Love will feed the soul.”
Money can feed the body, love will feed the soul — and my body and soul are always hungry. If you’re reading this, I’m sure yours are, too.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m so lucky to be alive right now:
Anyone can do what they already love and make money for doing it. Just whip out your laptop, tell a good story or give someone some helpful advice, and you get a slice of the online-writing pie.
It’s a beautiful thing.
And — particularly on a platform like Medium — getting paid is validation that you’re helping someone. Even a penny says someone valued your work enough to read through it. If you’re getting paid, your work clearly means something to someone — and isn’t that the point of art in the first place? To share our joys and woes, to express ourselves, and to bring more meaning into the world?
What we forget about writing for money
Those who call for an artistic revolution, who believe listicles and opinion pieces are “trash,” forget two crucial things:
- They’re hypocrites
- They’re privileged
I know, these sound like blatant accusations — but I assure you, while that’s exactly what they are, they’re not meant as insults. They’re just statements. I don’t assign meaning to them (for more on that, here’s a piece I wrote on autistic bluntness) other than their textbook definitions, free of emotional undertones.
Let’s examine them more closely.
1. They’re Hypocrites
“You know that if you lie to yourself, surely other people lie to themselves. And if they lie to themselves, they will lie to you also.”
— Don Miguel Ruiz
When you lie to yourself, you have to validate that lie by grounding it in reality and telling it to others as fact. It’s the only way you can hide the truth from yourself and, now that the lie exists, you’ve made the Faustian bargain of swearing to defend it, or your honor falls with your false truths.
Here’s who they actually hate: themselves. This hatred of success is jealousy in its simplest form — not artistic integrity.
“Why should this younger, lower-quality, less-experienced writer make money on this platform? I deserve success more.”
If you said this, everyone would hate you (even though they shouldn’t; envy is human nature and nothing to be ashamed of). So, these writers warp their stories into something more easily digestible:
“Writing for money is an artistic sin.”
Now that doesn’t sound shameful at all — actually, it makes those writers the “good guy!”
And there’s where the hypocrisy comes in.
No writer writes purely for art’s sake
Why do you write? Could you really write for nothing but the love of writing itself?
I thought about this for a long time, convinced that if I couldn’t write for writing’s sake, I was evil and not worthy of being a wordsmith. I didn’t write for writing’s sake — but that’s when I realized the truth.
Nobody writes for writing’s sake.
Here are a few reasons why you might write:
- Money/fame (we’ll get that one out of the way first; you’re welcome)
- Emotional clarity
- Creating art to share and discuss with others
If I wrote knowing no one else on the planet would ever read it and I’d never make a dime off of it, I would still write — but I wouldn’t write what I’m writing now. I’d write poetry, just for the fun of it.
Would I write non-fiction? No.
Would I write fiction? Highly unlikely.
Would I write essays? Double no.
Does that make me the bane of the “high-class writing community?”
Yes, it does, but it’s because I refuse to buy into the “let’s whine about other people being more successful than me” lie — not because I’m not a “true writer” like some folks would have you believe.
Some writers do their work purely for money, and… who cares? Is that any different than writing for validation, for love, for fans, for fun? As long as what you write is both factual and valuable, you should be able to write for whatever reason you want.
It’s hypocritical to say that writers who write for money shun their artistic integrity, while that same critic may write for applause, fame, or the approval of other critics. Artistic integrity, huh?
I get it. I really do. We’re human beings and, therefore, hypocritical from time to time. Plus, I’ll say it again: there’s nothing wrong with writing for applause, fame, or approval — do whatever you want, as long as you’re kind to others in the process.
However, hypocrisy isn’t inherently harmless. I’m more afraid of the next point.
2. They’re Privileged
“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”
— David Gaider
Have you considered that, if you’re criticizing someone for writing for money, you’re in a really lucky spot to be?
If you have a talent or skill and you don’t have to use it to survive, feed your family, and pay the bills — do you have any idea what a blessing that is? You get to enjoy your passion. You get to have fun with it no matter what. You’ll never need to write about something you don’t want to write about, knowing you need the check you’ll get from it to keep the lights on for another day.
I hope that you express your gratitude every morning. I hope that, when you write, you feel the warmth of your very essence brush softly through your veins and to your fingertips, and in those moments, all is right with the world. What you have, pure and simple, is a gift and a luxury — but some of us don’t have that luxury.
I’m a disabled, obese woman with all the mental-health fixin’s, but I still know I’m privileged. I’m white, my parents are wealthy enough to help me when I need it, and my boyfriend treats me like a princess. Sure, things might be harder for me than most people — but I’m still privileged. I’m unbelievably lucky to be where I am and to have what I have.
Meanwhile, there are people who aren’t as lucky as I am. They do have to write to keep a roof over their heads, and they’re probably not writing things they enjoy writing. They’re writing what they have to, so they can stay afloat another day. Artistic integrity is great and all, but some people have to put it on hold to survive.
Here’s the thing: privilege isn’t something we can change.
We’re lucky to have what we have. What we can change is how we address those who may not be, even if you look down on their writing. Or, heck, you can realize your issues with more successful writers isn’t a poor reflection of them — it’s a reflection of yourself.
Stop shaming other writers; period
Stop comparing yourself to anyone who isn’t the person you were yesterday.
Keep your eyes on your own paper. Take a few deep breaths, and realize the best writers don’t care about why other writers are writing — they’re either too busy focusing on their own work, or they’re just happy to know other people are writing, too.
I know this all might sound a little harsh, but it’s harsh because everything I write is to free someone else from the lies they tell themselves. I know how badly it hurts. I know the devastation, the cracks in your flesh foundation that lurk beneath your smile. I have them too — but your pain isn’t an excuse to be cruel to others.
Let your hatred go. Focus on being the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.
For whatever reason it is that you do it… keep writing.
The world needs to hear what you have to say.
Don’t let a single soul tell you that writing for money is immoral. Not one. Especially not yourself. It’s a lie that only hurts worse with time, and friend, you deserve to be free.
Likewise, if you’re someone who believes that writing for money makes a writer less worthy of success, realize that they aren’t the problem. The only thing in the entire world that you can control with any certainty is yourself (I went through a lot of therapy to learn that, believe me!).
Just be happy with what you have. Be happy with who you are. If you can’t do that, try to practice being grateful. If you can’t do that, and I understand if you can’t, there’s still one option…
My mom, one of the wisest and most compassionate people I know, says there are three rules to life:
- Be kind
- Be kind
- Be kind
If you ask me, they’re pretty good rules to live by.
For more tips on business, creativity, and life, subscribe to my newsletter.