Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Money & Writing

One of my favorite writers, Anthony Powell, once said that the public would be amazed if it knew how little money writers made -- he said it more elegantly. Something like,
"I was at the stage of life when one has written two novels...." and then something elegant about what people thought he made and that his actual income from writing was about 100 pounds a year!

This was in the 1920s.

Jane Austen wrote that "People are more inclined to borrow than to buy my books."

It's not only now that most writers aren't millionaires, to put it mildly. I think that probably the only people who make a living from writing (just writing, not doing school visits) are the people whose books are in airport bookstores....everyone else has savings, a working partner, or another source of income.

I'm in the first AND third category, though am about to be only in the third. I stave off worry by reasoning that I have ALWAYS been able to make money when I needed it. A fortune teller once told me when I was 25 that I would never really need to worry about money because when I needed it "money would just sort of come." So far, this has been true for me--the other day I was starting to get a little panicky and then a friend called and offered me a freelance job that will pay the April rent.

But not everyone is comfortable living with this kind of insecurity; of course I'm not always comfortable with it either but (for me) it's better than the alternative: a job that makes me feel like I'm in jail. I had one of those once - I worked in one of those big office buildings where the windows don't open and the lights are fluorescent and you sit in a grey cube. When I started there I had a big office with a window but was rapidly demoted when the wild man who had hired me --and loved my work -- was fired.

On NPR once they had a story about how all the Neanderthal bones that people had found had fractures in many places, and they concluded from this that early man (and woman) lived on the edge. Maybe artists are just more at home on the edge than in offices.

10 comments:

gloria estefan said...

Love this post! So true. Although I must say that I'm not so calm about the money thing. When I start to run out I panic! I forgot that I wasn't going to post for a while but the old me (and I'm tempted to) wanted to post my actual starting income for my first few books. People always ask. Why not tell them? People I work with at the bookstore think I'm rich. Ha! I'm fortunate enough now that things have smoothed over and my agent gets me enough to live on... for now... until they all get sick of me!

I admire your ability to let the money come, Libby. Being an author can be a good life if you know how to work it right.

Anna Alter said...

Great post Libby!

Hmmm I don't know if I"m comfortable on the edge, but for me the alternative is much more miserable, so maybe its just a matter of priorities. And balance. And like you, I know I will get by somehow, I always have.

gloria estefan said...

I've always gotten by, too, but sometimes with heavy use of the evil credit card! I'm still paying off rent I put on one years ago!

Steph said...

Sigh...I know that all too exciting living on the edge Spiel all too well...my calendar is marked with when I am SUPPOSED to be paid for projects...and then I hold my breath and hope that those checks beat the bills coming in. I also have and area on each calendar month for when projects are SUPPOSED to start...which sometimes they do on time, but usually things slip...and every once in awhile, a project is cancelled and then it's like have the rug pulled out from underneath my feet and I hope I can do some fancy footwork to make up for it...All of those variables make it so hard to plan and save! Sometimes I listen with envy as friends describe how they plan and budget with their predictable income comming in every 2 weeks with health benefits and a retirement plan to boot! Still- no gray box! That is a very good thing...

Thanks for posting this...sometimes I look out there and wonder if others are having the same struggles...

Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia said...

Dear Libby,

I really love your ending idea.
I am also a freelance illustrator, and do agree whole heartedly that the panic is better than the trade-off.

How wonderful is it that(when it really comes down to those quiet moments, just us and a piece of blank white paper) we get to play and dream for a living! When we forget temporarily about our money, it's playtime. I believe that those moments are what keeps us going despite the fluctuating bank statements.

Thanks for this post! :)

alvina said...

I am definitely not at home living "on the edge"--although I've learned to live from paycheck to paycheck, which I'm still having to do on an editor's salary living in NY. But it's interesting the different personality types that take to different ways of living. I work in a "grey box" and I love it. Well, I take that back, I don't exactly love the box, and the lighting, and the windows that don't open, but I thrive in the office environment, I love going to work every day and seeing and interacting with my coworkers, separating work from home. I do take work at home days occasionally, and I love that treat, but I don't think I could do it every day. I would go a bit stir crazy and crave human interaction after a while. I admire those who can do it!

gloria estefan said...

alvina, what you've said is exactly what I miss--human interaction every day and separating work from home. I want that a lot. You editors do need to get paid more.

Of course, I do like sitting in my pajamas all day and watching Oprah, although Oprah lately is annoying the hell out of me.

meghan

gloria estefan said...

alvina, what you've said is exactly what I miss--human interaction every day and separating work from home. I want that a lot. You editors do need to get paid more.

Of course, I do like sitting in my pajamas all day and watching Oprah, although Oprah lately is annoying the hell out of me.

meghan

gail said...

I think that's one of the reasons we like to blog, for the human interaction. We can talk shop with peers and feel like we have co-workers, even if we are sitting around in our pajamas.

gail