Money Legitimizes Everything

By Carlos Portocarrero

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by jenn jenn

Rare is the post that addresses both my passion for writing fiction and my keen interest in all things personal finance (though it does happen from time to time). The other day I was thinking about writing and how most people view the idea of “being a writer.” It reminded me of a something that happened to me a few years ago.

I had entered this writing competition that my professor had mentioned—there was no entry fee and I just sent it in and forgot about it. I had submitted tons of stories at that point and had never gotten anything published (at the time I wasn’t following my own advice). Then a few months later I got a letter in the mail: I had won an award, which I was absolutely thrilled about. Not only that, they were going to pay me $300 to go along with the award. This was too much—I couldn’t believe it! Kudos for a story I wrote and $300 for doing something that I love! I was absolutely floored.

So I called my parents and told them about it. They’ve always been very supportive of whatever I do, but my dad is very traditional and I think he sees writing as more of a hobby than an actual profession. Either way, when I told him about the award he was proud, I could tell. Then I told him about the money that came along with it and I could hear his voice light up over the phone—this was a big deal now! The more I thought about that moment, the more I realized that the only way to qualify as a “successful” writer to most people is by making a lot of money at it.

Why is money so important when it comes to “judging” the success of something like writing? Because money is a language that everyone understands. It’s the most popular “language” of success that’s out there and it doesn’t care what you do. You could be a writer, a painter, a graffiti artist, etc. If you’re making tons of money, all will hail you a “success.”

It sounds awful, but it’s just one of those things. Tell people you’re a writer of fiction at the next party you go to and see what kind of looks you get, what kind of questions you get. My guess?

  • How do you make a living at it?
  • Have you written anything I might have read?
  • What do your parents think of that?
  • What are you going to do if it doesn’t work out?

You don’t get these questions when you say you’re “in advertising” or “an architect.” It annoys me just thinking about these reactions, but I understand. It’s very hard to comprehend that writing fiction can be a job unless it makes significant money. I keep thinking back to Ben Fountain and how long it took him to find success. I bet he went through TONS of questions about money, providing for his family, and his writing. Not only from other people, but from himself too.

Blogging Too

The same goes with blogging: I don’t like to tell people that I have a blog. Why? Because I don’t want to face the questions that come with it. I don’t want to answer “I make about $4/month even though I put it tons of hours every week.” It makes me feel like a failure because I’m not succeeding the way most people judge success. Is it something I should let bother/influence me? Of course not, but it would be nice to be able to say “I make tons of money writing—so there!”

When people don’t understand something like writing, their only way of judging how good at it you are is by how much money you’re making at it. Think of all the great writers out there today: how many of them are touted as successful because they’re on the NY Times bestseller list? Can you think of a writer you deem to be a success that isn’t making tons of money?

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