Writers: Don't Heed Samuel Johnson's Advice

Today I read the latest post at Don’t Publish Me: “If You’re In It For the Money.”

(Go follow Jenn on Twitter.)

It made me realize that many people out there still wave the flag for the old Samuel Johnson adage: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Really? Are we really still blindly following the advice of an Anglican man of letters from the 1700s?

Many of us are. We’ve been trained over and over and over and over again: Money flows TO the writer, not AWAY from the writer.

While I don’t believe writers should pay for the opportunity to get published (you can publish yourself digitally for nothing—though you might not get read), earning a real living from your writing is reserved for those with sales and marketing ability, and a willingness to bend to commercial demands.

You can read a much more elegant and well-considered treatise on this money issue over at Ditchwalk, “The New Money Flow.”

There are many reasons to write: to be understood, to make our mark on the world, to spread a message bigger than ourselves, to leave something for family and friends to remember us by, to get fame or attention, to be loved, to share and collaborate, to investigate and think more deeply.

Do it because you can’t do anything else.

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0 thoughts on “Writers: Don't Heed Samuel Johnson's Advice

  1. Pamela Ferris-Olson

    The most recent post on my writer’s blog http://tinyurl.com/y95fmmf discusses the pay for publishing industry. There are plenty of scam artists eager to take money from people who are passionate about their writing and want to see their words in print. Self-publishing is full of pitfalls and heartaches. Like everything that is involved with good writing, a lot of time and effort is needed to develop a product worth sharing. Write what you love. That’s time worth spent. If you write to make money, find another line of work. I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly two dozen years, and I KNOW how difficult it is to make good money; however, I enjoy the process of gathering information, meeting new people and the time in my head to compose the work. That’s what I value.

  2. Noel

    Ironically, this is diametrically opposed to recent Chip MacGregor column talking about the need for authors to develop their "Brand."

    I agree with you, Jane. For me you can’t be both a media whore and an accomplished, artistic, literate author.

    If you write "for the money," you certainly aren’t writing for the love of the craft. No different than an artist of any kind.

  3. Jane Friedman

    Agree, Suzannah!

    What makes this issue even more tricky these days is the popularity of books like FOUR-HOUR WORKWEEK, or methods that some online bloggers/copywriters suggest, which indicate you might be able to make 6-figures through your writing & entrepreneurship alone.

    I would classify this group as separate from the writers I normally meet, who want to write and publish creative works, rather than market-y works.

    Christina Katz references some of this latter market-y crowd here:

  4. Suzannah

    I think the idea is that we’d all LIKE to make money from our writing, but those of us with a real commitment will keep writing even when we’re not making money from it.

    A little fruit for the effort is always nice, but it’s not a deal breaker.


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