The Artful Business of Writing

It’s difficult to comprehend fully, but I’ve been a writer for over twenty years. Unbelievable! Weird! By hook and by crook I’ve somehow managed to live off my writerly income, but this has been only just manageable because my ex-husband and I share our resources to raise the children and maintain family. I know I could not have stuck to my writer’s life as I have lived it as the primary care-giver single mom.

I don’t like to think of my writing as business and don’t do it naturally— this is partly a result of the idea of separating art (i.e. “high art”) from the commercial. Braid into this strand the political and it’s even more difficult to frame writing as business. Every profession will have members who think of themselves as the best, or the most “pure” (?), the most evolved, etc. In the great wash of life what people think of you and what you do does not truly matter. However, sometimes we can’t help feeling doubts and question what we do, how we do it. We can’t help these feelings and thoughts, because we are, aside from V.S. Naipaul <rolling eyes>, feeling and thinking social creatures.

If writing is the sole means of your income to not think of the business side of things is selectively naive and counter-productive. To think and plan on how to increase your income with your art so you can continue to do the art you love to do is not an evil thing. I have heard people in the literary arts and visual arts talk to each other about how so-and-so has “sold out” or “went commercial” and wasn’t “truly an artist anymore”. My first question I ask is who is it that deems this so? Are they coming from a place where income is a less pressing concern? I.e. do they have family money to fall back upon so they needn’t fear aging in poverty with no medical plan? And, finally, why must we cling to the weird Romantic idea(l) that artists must suffer for their art?I want to live and eat well. It is everyone’s right.

Art is also labour. I think of the writing I do as art but also as a serious (and joyous) labour. And as a worker I expect to be paid. I’ve been working hard at writing for many years. As I become better at this labour and art form I want a raise! Hahahahahahahahaaaa!

Meeting with my agent’s partners in Toronto has shifted something for me in how I think of my writing. I had been always placing the ideals (subjective) of art and politics in the foreground, but I think I need to balance the field with an equal amount of thinking and energy around elements of business.

One of the agents said that the average reading level was Grade 10. My friend said, That high? Instead of feeling like the writer must come down from her esteemed standards of excellence which involves a large vocabulary, and woeing and wailing that literacy has fallen so low, it can be seen as an opportunity to reexamine the author’s expectations of audience. There are also issues of class. Does your choice of vocabulary, construction and narrative only speak to a smaller specific audience or does it have the capacity to reach a wider and diverse audience? Who do you want to reach? Who do you want to have read your book? Do you want to make more money? To want to make more money is not, in itself, a bad thing.

The same agent said that books are luxury items. Most people cannot afford to buy books in the same way they would spend money on apples or bananas. True, I thought. I love libraries and frequent them and borrow books. But as a writer I earn money when people buy my books.

I don’t think it’s one or the other– we’re either true to our political beliefs and artistic ideals or we “go commercial” and write more mainstream. I like to think that it’s possible to combine the best of all wor(l)ds and an artful writer can pull this off! Why not? If you write it into being, you’ve written it into being!

God, I love this work!