Does Writing For Money Ruin the Creative Process?

And should you follow your heart or follow the money?

Linda Caroll
Sep 26, 2019 · 4 min read

Some people say writing for money ruins the creative process. I don’t agree. You know what I think messes with the creative process required for writing? Bills you can’t pay.

Health care or dental care you can’t afford. Deciding between paying a bill or buying groceries. Telling your child you can’t afford something.

Those kill the creative mindset faster than most anything. Desperation can pin creativity to the floor and choke the damn life out of it.

Reading crappy writing. Because we are what we eat, right? That applies to more than just the food in your belly.

There’s an old story about a famous writer who was doing a writer’s workshop when a student asked how to develop better writing skills. Read better books, the author said.

Want an example?

You snooze you lose. Get in now, before the doors close. On a pdf, no less. Click bait. Internet marketing. One weird old tip. Make an investment in yourself. Only $1997, now with monthly installments.

Read enough of that stuff and you start to talk that way.

I used to tell people to stop writing that stuff. It’s sleazy. Then I realized that when I see that kind of writing, it’s an identifier. It tells me, run. Run fast. The other way. And hold your pocketbook.

What you read affects your writing.
Whether you get paid or not doesn’t.

Money doesn’t ruin everything it touches. Only greed and hate can do that.

The idea of money ruining the writing process is just another flavor of that “money is the root of all evil” nonsense. Money doesn’t ruin everything it touches. Only greed and hate can do that.

Greed ruins everything it touches. So does hate. Money is ambivalent. Colored more by the hands holding it than the ink it’s printed with.

All the entertaining stuff you love — books, movies, music — if the people who made them didn’t make money, they couldn’t keep making them. If creative people all stopped getting paid and had to do it for free, how many new movies, books and bands do you think there would be?

You know what would happen if creatives had to work for free? It would become an elitist club where only the rich can afford to write books or make movies or music. I don’t want to live in that world, do you?

You don’t have to agree, of course. Opinions are like butts — we all have one, they’re all different, and that’s okay.

Maybe Money Only Ruins the Process for Amateurs?

Because, some people have to write every day if they want to eat. Journalists. Freelance writers. Copywriters. Screen writers. Pretty much every kind of writer writes to eat — except hobby writers.

I read a story about a little 6 year old girl that survived being buried under rubble for 6 days beside her dead mother. It was written by one of the first journalists on the ground after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The story was heartbreaking. Not just to me. People all over the world contacted the writer through the paper to ask how they could help.

And she got money to write it. Imagine that! Oddly enough, the money didn’t seem to taint the writing one little bit.

People who get paid to write need to learn to separate the cash from the creative process. That’s where creative integrity comes into play.

As soon as money is tossed on the table, creative integrity gets tossed on the table right alongside the cash. Because now the writer has to decide. Follow the heart, or follow the dollar?

If you write for money long enough, you realize it’s a moot question. Here’s why.

Because, after a while, you’ll realize that following the dollars is a crap shoot at best. You “think” you know what people want to read. Because that one post about that one topic paid so well. But maybe the next one doesn’t. Or a couple succeed and then half dozen fail.

Sometimes you slave for hours over a piece because you think will do well, but then no one likes it. And that dumb piece you banged out in 10 minutes gets an overwhelming response.

Give it long enough and you figure out that you can’t predict what’s going to do well. You can’t game the system. Too many variables. What else was in the feed that day? Who else wrote about the same thing? Whose feed did you appear in? The only way to game the system is with frequency.

Eventually, you just quit trying to game the system and write what you feel. Write the words you need to say. Write what makes you happy or pisses you off. And that’s where creative integrity comes from. You doing you.

When push comes to shove, writers have one job. To make people think or feel. That’s it. There’s no rule saying you need to do that for free.


Can we talk? There’s so much bad advice for writers on the internet it makes me a little sick. Get help with writing, marketing and join at team of writers helping each other grow at https://lindac.substack.com/

Write Before Lunch

Writing about writing

Linda Caroll

Written by

20 years in design and marketing. Get writing and marketing tips on Fridays at https://lindac.substack.com/

Write Before Lunch

Writing about writing

More From Medium

More from Write Before Lunch

More from Write Before Lunch

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade