Hi Writers,
Like that headline? Drew you in didn’t it? Made your heart pick up the beat a bit, maybe? And your palms got a little sweaty. Money has a way of doing that to people.

The October issue of Writer’s Digest is all about writing and money. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, combining the two seems to make many writers very, very nervous. Guilty even.

I felt like I was being a bit crass, frankly, when I wrote the editor’s note for the issue. Here’s what I wrote:

The Truth About Money
If there’s a dirty little secret in the writing world—it’s money.

Who’s making it, who’s not, how to get more of it and how to act like it’s not really that important. We writers often like to pretend that thoughts and worries about money are secondary to our loftier artistic goals.

Well, here’s a dirty little truth: Money is important. William Shakespeare wrote for money. Mark Twain wrote for money. Stephen King writes for money. You don’t have to feel guilty about wanting or needing to make money from your writing—there’s a well-worn path before you.

Even as I was writing this, knowing it sounded somewhat crass and definitely non-ivory-towerish, I felt like a weight was being released from my chest. I knew then this was something that was really bothering me, somehow, and I think it must bother other writers, too.

Why do we feel guilty wanting to make money from our writing? Is this something the world does to writers—or something we do to ourselves? Do you expect to make money from your writing? Do you feel guilty asking to be paid for your writing? Tell me why…

Keep Writing,
p.s. In case you, like me, slept through high school lit, that headline is a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby describing his money-loving Zelda-esque character Daisy Buchanan.

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  1. Kristan

    After reading PA’s note, I had to go back and reread the article. For the second time, the humor came through. Yes, I too get a little annoyed sometimes by writers who have some sort of nest egg when they come into the writing career–sorry, Ms. Rough, you would seem to be one of those, but I do know others! 🙂 –because I started from scratch, am still there, and don’t tell me to build up my own nest egg when I am living paycheck to paycheck. But still–I enjoyed the article because some of that is good advice that needs to always be swirling around one’s head (or laptop).

    Re: the question at hand, I think most writers get beaten down by the concept of "art" and that we should be doing it because we "love it" and should essentially fall down and worship anybody who wants to publish our work, let alone pay for it. That’s why you see so many writers getting screwed–because it’s soooo easy to do.

  2. Jenny R

    I did not mean for my lighthearted tone or anything I said to disgust anyone. For what it’s worth PA, I have cried many tears over the financial impact my decision to write has had on me and my family. Sometimes it’s nice to laugh through the pain, and I’m sorry my attempt at humor struck you the wrong way.

    For accuracy, the CO place is not a second mortgage – it’s our first and only mortgage (we rent an apartment when not there). Financial decisions are very personal and obviously going to differ from person to person. My spouse and I decided to take an unconventional route to real estate by buying a retreat home instead of a regular home. We live a budgeted and frugal lifestyle (we share 1 car, do not buy things on credit, eat most meals in, etc.). But now I suppose I sound defensive.

    Anyway, my intent was certainly not to offend. To any writers who are attempting to make a living at this wonderful craft, may we all find abundance in publication, finances, and reaching the hearts of others. Peace.

  3. Joyce

    Getting paid for one’s writing seems uncomfortably close to getting paid for one’s thoughts. Until time and experience cause my confidence level to grow, I find it difficult to put a monetary value on my thoughts. In the meantime, I rely on others to help me put a price on my writing.

  4. Jeff Yeager

    No need to feel guilty about writing for money. As Woody Allen said: "Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons."

    But James Baldwin hit the head of the nail too when he wrote: "Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex. You thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did." (Query: Should you feel guilty about writing for sex?)

    Jeff Yeager, The Ultimate Cheapskate

  5. airen

    I’ve never had a problem with wanting to get paid for my writing. I started out with a comic strip, done just for fun but the paper liked it, I got paid every week. When I started writing poetry it was just to get the words out of my head so I would have room in there. I got a few published in magazines acceptance was more unexpected than the money. Then started writing for a magazine with a steady paycheck. I am now working on a novel and expect to make good money when it is published. I do not feel guilt about making part of my living from my writing, never have. I do sometimes get embarrassed when people tell me they have read my writing, mostly because it puts me on the spot for the moment. I write because I have an inner need to write. I get all full of ideas and have to get them out to make room for more. When I don’t, I stagnate and start to smell.

  6. Melody Dugan

    All of the self-help gurus through the past several years have pounded into our heads to "do what you love." If you love to write (which I do) and you love to eat and have a place to live and enjoy a few other wants, like clothes, visits to the doctor when you’re sick, and the absolute necessities like toilet paper and toothpaste, then by all means get PAID to do what you love! We get one go-around on Planet Earth in this lifetime – enjoy it!

    One of the principles I raised my children on is: "This world owes you nothing, you owe this world to make it a better place." And if writing and bringing enjoyment or information or knowledge to others is your gift, by all means use it, and make your living at it! All the while laughing all day and skipping to the bank!

  7. :Donna

    I have absolutely no problem whatsoever in hoping my writing will someday make me some money! Writing is a LOT of work, and if my writing entertains or informs someone in some useful ways, why shouldn’t I be paid for the time spent? Does it matter if I enjoy writing? Well, yes — it matters to me!

    My son will graduate college next year, and from back during his high school years, whenever we discussed what he thought he might like to do for a career, my advice was and still is: Find something your passionate about so when you wake up each morning and head out to work, you’ll look forward to going rather than dreading it. So few people get to work at what they are truly passionate about and enjoy; to me it is of utmost importance if you can CHOOSE what you want to do for a living — yes, a living.

    If you only want to write as a hobby, simply for enjoyment, then don’t put a price tag on it and share it at will.
    : Donna

  8. Kim Hillman

    Hmmmm….Do something I enjoy and get paid for it. Seems like a no brainer to me. What else would I do? Dig ditches or drive a school bus? Yech!

    Everyone (at least in the US) has the right to work at whatever job they please, whether or not they enjoy it. There is no shame, and therefore no guilt, in earning an honest living from something I enjoy.

    I take such pleasure in my writing that I even help other authors earn a living at it…and I’m proud of that!

  9. Victoria E

    I personally enjoyed your editor’s letter quite a lot – it was nothing if not honest, which is exactly what we writers need to hear. It is easy to get caught up in the joy of expressing yourself, all the while forgetting that you need to charge for this "fun" so you can still buy groceries.

  10. Michael


    I don’t think your editor’s note was crass. It was realistic. It was, as you said, "non-ivory-towerish," and that’s good. If Writer’s Digest was an ivory-towerish magazine, I would never buy it. It could sit on the shelves at the university with all the other literary journals, gathering dust.

    I write because I’ve always wanted to have my name on the cover of a good novel, the kind that leaves someone with a good feeling when they finish it. That takes time, which is time I could use to make money to pay for those necessities Jenny Routh wrote about. If I ever sell one, then maybe I can sell another, and another. Eventually I may be able to do it full-time, all the time, and I can’t think of a more interesting, rewarding way to make a living.

    When that day comes, I’m going to treat myself with some of the money I made. I may buy one of those Colorado homes, out there beside our friend Jenny. I’ll drop by once in a while and make sure her husband is still feeding her. 🙂

  11. Lisa

    Thought provoking question – and I loved the title.

    I didn’t think I felt guilty about earning money as a writer, but I think I don’t feel guilty about it here on this forum. But I downplay my writing when I’m with others and find myself turning the conversation when someone mentions reading something I wrote. I don’t know why that is. My friend had none of that reaction when I told him how cool it was that he helped develop and create the mirrors used on the space shuttle when checking for damage in space. His eyes lit up and he started an animated conversation about the project. So why should I want to turn the conversation when someone comments on my writing?

    What I don’t feel guilty about is asking to get paid. When I’m dealing with the writing world, I have no problem keeping it professional. I work; I like to get paid.

    I can’t figure out why I feel embarrassed with those outside the writing world but it is what it is.

    Oh – and how I wish my voice made me money! That would be so much better than just sounding like money…

  12. Disgusted in PA

    I found the article by Jenny Rough remarkable and stunning…in the most offensive and pedantic way possible. Might we have an article on budgets and money-making by someone who lives in the same fiscal reality as most people of the middle class in this country?

    Imagine the tears welling to my eyes when I read that she would now be held accountable for financing her second home in Colorado. How very pesky, those second mortgages.

    "Build up for lean times"? Do people who write for a living really need to be told to "keep a savings" by an ex-legal professional who flits off on flights to Portland to chat with her mentor on a whim? Are we supposed to respect this advice? Find her whims cute? Feel envious of her fat, luxurious lifestyle? I respect her good fortune but am appalled by her lack of sensitivity and utter obtuseness.

    Many of us actually carry student loans, pay them without recourse to a husband/partner, don’t fly anywhere on a whim, save up all year for local writers’ conferences and certainly don’t need to be told that nest eggs against lean times are a wise idea.

    Show me the same article, written by someone with a clue, someone who doesn’t wallow in her husband’s generous wealth, who knows what it’s like to sweat, even just a LITTLE, over a bill now and again, and perhaps I’ll read it to the end without spitting fire.

    Is Jenny Rough serious? Are you, for printing this?


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