Mark Twain once said that success in writing requires one to ‘write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.’ To do such writing (while paying off debts from Columbia Journalism School) without some side source of income, means, most likely, coming from an upper middle-class or affluent background with parents who can bankroll you. I’ll state the obvious: There aren’t many poor writers. How could there be? How does one practice writing in abject poverty?
What’s better than being a writer? A writer who gets paid. Manjula Martin and Jane Friedman have launched the new digital magazine Scratch, which gives writers information on how to advocate for their work. The preview issue is free and contains essays on what freelancers can learn from street vendors, Cord Jefferson on outgrowing his materialism, and an interview with Jonathan Franzen. You can subscribe here.
The Present Group provides an interactive look at “how artists, cultural producers, and content providers have experimented with funding and support models during the Internet Age.” The scrolling timeline spans from 1998 through 2016, and it outlines the major innovations (and failures) as websites tried monetizing.
The only employee of Goldman Sachs to go to jail in the aftermath of the financial crisis was the employee Goldman Sachs wanted sent to jail, for taking something from Goldman Sachs.
Making money on the web has much in common with book publishing, just with more cat photos.
And so despite my esteem for the high challenge of writing, for the reach of the writerly life, it’s not something anyone actually wants me to do. The American mind has made that very clear, it has said: ‘Be a specialised something — fill your head with the zeitgeist, with the technical — and we’ll write your ticket.’
But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.