As you may or may not know, storytelling as an industry—or set of industries—is going through something of a crisis.
It began with music. The internet destabilized the despotic grasp record companies held on the business. Then blogging and Craigslist combined to displace thousands of jobs in journalism. Now, the conflict has turned to publishing, and icons like Seth Godin are saying writers might not deserve to get paid anymore:
Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? I gave hundreds of speeches before I got paid to write one. I’ve written more than 4000 blog posts for free.
Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word–over.
Maybe you don’t have many aspirations to make money off your art. Certainly, most of the thousands of writers throughout history haven’t made much money at the business. Historically, writing has neither been the most likely nor efficient way to make money. So now that we may be going back to that state, it forces you to ask yourself about your motivations.
Why do you write?
Do you write to make money? Do you write to get famous?
Do you think you might pull a John Locke or Amanda Hocking or Stephen King or James Patterson?
It’s possible. I won’t lie. It could happen. And I do think you should be paid for your work. I hope you make lots and lots of money. Don’t think I’m rooting against you.
The odds, though, are not in your favor. You need a better reason to write than money.
A Better Reason to Write
Ok, confession time. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this, but since I’ve challenged you, I have to step up to the challenge myself.
The truth is no matter how high your aspirations are, mine are higher. I am the most ambitious writer of all of you. Not only do I want to be a bestseller, not only do I want to be famous and make a little money, I’d like to be read for hundreds of years. I want them to teach my books in college, to have people write books about my books.
I’m absolutely insane. It’s ridiculous. I feel like a fool.
Because the truth is one or two writers of my generation might get that honor. Most of us not only will not go down in history, we won’t make a single dollar to make up for all our incredibly hard work.
So is it worth it? Should we still write at all?
The Real Reason to Write
We enter writing contests, we practice, we publish, we do all this writing because art is worth creating.
It FEELS good!
Even if we’re not widely read, does it mean it’s all in vain? What if we decided it was enough to transform the life of one reader.
And that one reader might be you. Writing can change your life. It can bring you alive. Why would you throw it away just because you might not make any money?
I’m not going to stop, I promise you.
I write because I know I’m meant to. I know that I need to. It’s good for my soul. It connects me to the human race. It feeds me.
So my question for you is, would you write if you knew you were never going to make any money at writing, would you stop?
Spend some time free writing.
Write for joy. Write to feel your fingers tapping on the keyboard. Write to feel the thrill of black words on a white screen. Write for the same reason a child draws or plays with playdough or paints in watercolor.
Write for pleasure.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section.
May you be highly paid for your words, but more than that, may you write something you both enjoy and can feel pride in.