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Friday, June 14, 2013

[guest post: Carol Wolf] Should Novelists Have to Make a Living?

“Do you believe authors should, in theory, be able and encouraged to make a living from their writing,or do you believe they should be making money in a "day job" like everyone else? If you prefer the latter, please explain why.” From J.M. McDermott's Facebook page

The tradition in the western world is for writers to support themselves with a series of temporary jobs while they do the years of work necessary to learn their craft to the point where they can support themselves as writers. Writers' book jacket bios reflect this custom: so and so drove an ambulance in Spain, taught English in Kenya, flipped burgers in a greasy spoon on the road to Albequerque, and mucked out the stables at the Santa Clara Race Track.

The belief is that these jobs provide valuable material for future work. It is hoped that by the time the writer has had enough success to make a living from his/her writing, that a certain level of understanding of how most people live has entered into his/her consciousness. Since the purpose of fiction is to reflect how humans live and react under various intense circumstances, the more truthfully a writer understands humans, their activities, actions and conditions, the better writer s/he will be.

One sees the result in writers where such an apprenticeship was never served. There are numerous writers in Hollywood who went directly from a middle- or upper-middle-class upbringing, to college, and then directly into writing for television. Many Hollywood writers have a complete dearth of understand of how work is done in the world. One example is the Smallville series, where the only work done on what seemed to be a dairy farm was loading and unloading bales of hay. And this was in Iowa, where the cows seemed to have perfectly adequate grass all the time. Had the writing team for that show taken a field trip to a dairy farm, the work the characters did would have been far more interesting. And much more truthful.

So if the alternative to writers having a “day job,” is that they live in a bubble all their lives and never know how most of the population spends a majority of its time doing, then, yes, I think writers should be encouraged to get a day job. However, after sufficient years to gain a lifetime's worth of experience in how people live and how work is done, writers should be encouraged to make a living from their writing. This is because my favorite writers should all spend as much of their time at their work, so that I have more of their books to read.

If the encouragement to make their living from their writing comes in the form of bigger checks for their work, I am all in favor of that!

Carol Wolf is the author of Summoning, Book One of the Moon Wolf Saga,.Binding, Book Two of the Moon Wolf Saga, was slated for publication the day her publisher, Night Shade Books, declared bankruptcy and is presently a frozen asset. Coyote Run, written together with Eric Elliott, was released May 29.

 Carol Wolf blogs at


Marilynn Byerly said...

There's this little thing called research that does wonders for an author to fill out the physical reality of their fictional world.

But nothing can replace the inner life of emotional experience that an author needs to create characters. You don't have to murder someone to write from a murderer's viewpoint, but an understanding of rage and the fear of being discovered for something bad you've done, no matter how minor, that informs that viewpoint is a must.

You have to live to write.

Another aspect of this question involves those who pirate books. Some say that a writer shouldn't expect a living off what they do so it's okay to steal instead of pay. I always reply that a writer isn't owed a living, but they deserve the right to try.

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