This article by Ann Bauer at Salon, posted by a writer friend of mine, Jennifer K. Stuller, on Facebook today couldn’t have come at a better time! As I reach out to readers today in launching my new Patreon page, it’s important to understand just how much writers depend on others just so their work can exist. The world isn’t designed for most writers to make a living wage – even the “successful” ones. And very often, the writers who “make it big” are the ones who had huge amounts of outside support – from spouses, from rich families, or from being born into families that already had literary connections. Or, they were able to tap into an audience through grassroots hustle, and that small but mighty tribe supported that writer consistently enough that they were able to get to a place where their writing career was sustainable.
In the Salon piece, Bauer is up-front about the fact that the only reason she is able to have a career as a writer, is because her husband has a stable, well-paying other job, and he supports her career despite her being able to contribute less to the household. She believes this up-front-ness is important. The piece goes on to illustrate that there’s this illusion that writers (and, in my opinion, other artists) put forward that they owe their success entirely to hustle and grit and determination while obfuscating any privileges they might have had. From the piece:
I attended a packed reading (I’m talking 300+ people) about a year and a half ago. The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.
None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.
Now, when she discusses privileges, it isn’t just about being born into a rich family. There’s the privilege of having a spouse who supports you, or someone else having grown up with connections in the industry, etc, etc. This isn’t to begrudge anyone their success, nor is it to say that these people who have gotten to the point where they can support themselves exclusively through their writing got there without talent. All the privileges in the world won’t help if you’re writing is complete garbage and unrelatable to anyone. But to never acknowledge those privileges is a mistake, and often causes many writers, who don’t see themselves stacking up against these people with huge advantages, to just give up and do something else, leaving the world without their unique voices forever, simply because no one provided them consistent support.
I was so glad to read this piece, because for a long, long time I wrote “on the side” or wrote as one of a million other freelance gigs, and it’s frustrating to look around, as someone who doesn’t have the resources, and be made to feel like you’re doing something wrong, or that you’re lazy, or that there’s something wrong with you if you’re not on the same level as other writers when the truth is, writers generally don’t get to “hustle” the way they need to in order to build a sustainable career, unless they have their lives taken care of in other ways.
Now, here’s where I’ve been lucky: I’ve never been unemployed. So, even when I’ve written “on the side” I was able to pursue freelance writing gigs in the evening while working a day job during the day. The down side? Very often, after working eight hours at an office job, you don’t really have the energy to come home, switch gears, and spend another couple of hours in front of a computer to do your writing. So yes, I wrote, but progress was slow. I’ve always had good friends and family who’ve supported me, both emotionally and financially, when I’ve really needed it. I’m so grateful for that! The down side? They have their own lives to deal with! It’s unreasonable to expect the support of the same few people (and only those few people) to be sustainable for the long haul. Unless you have a really rich relative who doesn’t mind paying your rent, buying you food, and paying for your transportation for years, the fact is, this alone isn’t enough, and it also fosters a feast or famine roller coaster that’s just super-unpleasant. My current partner, who is also a freelancer, but whose work (production sound mixing) generally pays more per gig than writing gigs pay, supports me tremendously both emotionally (especially emotionally) and financially – allowing me to pay my share of rent on my own pay schedule, doing a majority of the grocery shopping, and driving my carless butt around when I need to get somewhere important. I wouldn’t be able to do anything I’m doing now without that support, and I love my partner for it. The down side? As I said, my partner’s also a freelancer, meaning that my support is coming from a source that’s only slightly better off than I am. Also, see above re: support from family and friends not being sustainable long-term. Couple that with the fact that I’m a fiercely independent person and hate the feeling of dependency this engenders, and it’s not an entirely pleasant situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely grateful, and I know that my partner wants to support me in this way and is a grown-up capable of making decisions about how money/time is spent. But just the same, there’s a strong feeling of ick about it.
Here’s the thing. I know that people outside my immediate circle of family and friends read and enjoy my work. I have the blog stats, the credits, and the online comments (not to mention personal emails and private messages on social media) to prove it. I also know that all of those people buy books, purchase digital media, and go to concerts and films all the time!
Those are the people whose support I now need, and Patreon is the easiest way for them to show that support right now, in a way that will sustain my work most directly. If you’ve ever read my work and liked it – if you think that you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as what I can do, and you want to see what I’m capable of with just a little push – become a Patron.
This isn’t charity, nor do I want charity. I want to create work of value, have people enjoy it, and have those same people repay me for enjoyment of my work by popping a dollar or two into the online tip jar to make sure I can continue creating the work they like so much. I want to give them special rewards for their Patronage. I want fair exchange. I want people who say that art is important to them to show it.
I wanna tell you stories.
Check out my Patron page by clicking HERE. And thank you!