I was just now reading an interesting take on the relationship between quality of writing, or for that matter any art, and the amount of money a writer makes.
Art and money, although coexisting since the times when people started appreciating art and paying for it, have had a somewhat inwrought relationship. Being an artist of exceptional talent doesn’t mean that you’re going to roll in money all your life. Vincent van Gogh is a very good example. He killed himself due to overwhelming poverty despite the fact that these days his painting can fetch millions of dollars per piece.
So does it take money to make a good writer? In order to understand this we first have to understand why someone writes. There are some people who just write and do nothing else and there are some for whom writing is just an outlet and they are not specifically out to make money off writing. Some write for social change and some are political writers for whom it’s not the money that matters but the impact their writing makes.
So for those whose sole activity is writing, money makes a difference, definitely (right now I’m not talking about whether money affects the quality of their writing or not). Simply because you are writing all the time doesn’t make your daily needs vanish. You still need to pay bills, you still need to take care of your family if your family depends on you financially and you still need to save some money for old age. Without basic needs being taken care of it can be very difficult to cultivate your artistic side. The sundry winds of your daily needs can easily excoriate the landscape of your literary aspirations.
There are always prodigal exceptions. I totally believe that there might be many unknown writers doing outstanding work without making both ends meet. They simply cannot survive without writing. This can be true for any passion and for the sake of discussion we should avoid referring to such exceptions.
When commercial interests come into the picture we have to approach everything methodically. Not everything can be about just passion. In today’s world you cannot be called successful as a writer unless you make good amount of money. Money is not just “money”; it’s an endorsement. It is something like, your work is so good that people are ready to pay for it. It is so good that publishers are eager to invest in your capabilities expecting future profits.
But the existential paradox is, since they don’t want to take risks, they normally don’t want to invest in unknown writers. Then it becomes a vicious circle – you cannot become known unless you’re published and people can access your work and it is very difficult to get published unless you are known.
This is the reason why many writers cannot grow into full-time career writers. They’re constantly bogged down by lack of money. This eventually begins to affect the quality of writing. You cannot write about a romance blossoming in the swaying meadows while you constantly wallow in the abyss of deprivation, unless of course you can pour your simmering frustration and anger into a truculent, but brilliant work.
Initially you need to strike a balance. I think the famous Indian writer Munshi Premchand is a good example. By definition he was never a rich writer but then I cannot think of any Hindi or for that matter any regional writer whom we can call “rich” like Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth. This can also be attributed to the fact that regional publishing industry is not as commercially mature as the English publishing industry. Anyway, coming back to Premchand.
He always had a day job. He worked in various schools under different categories. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he resigned from his government job but then started his own printing press. Although a renowned writer, he could never earn enough and always lived on the verge of poverty. Nonetheless, he could prolifically focus on both writing and earning a living. He had a great tendency to switch on and off his various states of mind. This tendency helped him survive. Despite not earning enough, he could keep on writing and getting published till the end of his life. That’s what he wanted.
In today’s world just writing well doesn’t make you a successful writer. Unless you have a strategy, you will be simply laying down senseless pathways to oblivion. Your name, your reputation sells more than your ability to write well. Of course this is not an ideal situation but this is how more or less the industry works. That’s why, if a famous porn artist decides to write a book, he or she has a greater chance of obtaining a lucrative contract compared to a writer who’s nights and days are imbrued with excruciating literary slogging.
Solution: do something that makes you money and make writing a daily part of your writing. If from the beginning itself you start dreaming of making money off your writing you are immediately put at a disadvantage. It becomes a do or die situation and this is not an ideal circumstance to let your creative juices flow. This is difficult, in fact very difficult (speaking from personal experience) but this is the only way to go unless you can stumble upon a serendipitous opportunity. You will end up extremely bitter and somehow you will blame your desire to write for all the mess in your life. You will neither become a successful writer nor will you be able to eke out a living for yourself.