I recently received a mass communiqué from a music journalist complaining about how little writers made today, and how despite having spent years honing his “craft,” he was still barely making rent, etc. He went so far as to tell his readers how much he received for writing a recent live concert review: for three or four hours of work, which included listening to the band’s CD prior to the show and then sitting through the concert, he received about $45.00, which he claimed was totally unfair considering his “expertise.”
But let’s break this down into My World concepts. The writer, of course, did not pay for the album he had listened to prior to the show — let’s say the CD cost $10.00 — did not pay for the ticket — another $10.00 — and probably snuck a guest along in with him. So really, for four hours of work, this impoverished music journalist received the equivalent of $75.00 for attending one concert, which breaks further down into $17.00 an hour, or about what my father was making as an electrical engineer when I was twelve years old.
This is the problem with most writers, artists, and musicians today — they’re fucking lazy. If you have one writing job per week that nets $45.00, then yeah, you’re going to have a hard time making rent. But so would a plumber that decided he only wanted to work four hours a week. If this same writer would treat his craft like it was a job instead of some divine vocation and work eight-to-ten hours a day like the rest of the working schmoes out there, then money should not be a problem. And if that same writer is still broke, well, then maybe it’s time to look into doing something else for a living. Plenty of people treat their artistic endeavors like they were hobbies and after-work activities, and not making a living at it doesn’t bother them in the slightest.
I remember, years ago, sitting around with a bunch of college buddies getting drunk off our asses, and some moron brought up the whole “Why Am I Cursed With This Need To Write?” argument. I was a little bit older than the rest of the group, having had to work full-time as an executive secretary for four years while I built up a publishing portfolio good enough to earn me a $40,000 scholarship to college, and all I could think was that I was about as out of place as I could possibly be. In the sport of things, though, I tried to offer some real-world perspective to the conversation.
“Why do retired plumbers still plumb?” I asked. “Why are good electricians driven to rewire their houses at three in the morning?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” the tortured artist asked.
“What I’m saying is that everybody’s driven to do something, and you just happened to be driven to write. It’s not a curse, it’s not anything particularly special, it’s just the way you’re put together. Do you think firemen gnash their teeth and curse the day they decided to start saving people’s lives?”
“I never said I was special,” answered the artist. “Anybody want another beer?”
As a music journalist myself, and one who does make rent and support a family on what I make as a writer, I’m constantly being exposed to writers, artists, musicians, and poets that seem to think they belong to some elitist caste, and that the rest of us owe them something for whatever it is they do for the world. I’d like to make it clear right now that I do not belong to this caste, and that this caste actually does not exist — not one of Them is any better than one of Us, and one day’s hard work equals exactly one day’s hard work no matter what you spend your day doing. This is the closest thing I have to religion right now, this belief in the absolute, finite equality of everyone.
This past month, I was awarded an adjunct faculty position at the local university to teach a beginning fiction course. From day one, I have been bombarded with students wanting to know how to become A Writer. “You write,” I say. “You write, you write, and you write some more. It’s that simple.” I’m beginning to feel like my immigrant great-grandfather, shaking his fist at me, the lazy teenager I once was, saying, “You work hard. You work good. You love your family and then you die. This is life.” Talent never figured into my great-grandfather’s world vision, but persistence and dedication always did — he never minded that all my energy went into writing, so long as it really was all my energy. This is the doctrine I’ve been trying to push on all my students, my friends, and my son, but really, it’s probably all just wasted breath.