Writing as a Vocation: Issues rearing their ugly head in the 21st century

Two articles recently crossed my desk, and I think they are related.

Most pertinent to authors in pot fiction is that author Toby Young believes writing is a rich person’s hobby, rather than a possible vocation. The opinion piece is in the Telegraph, dated 1/16/15.

I’ll quote two passages that give you an idea of the situation he’s decrying:

Having written a bestseller is no guarantee you’ll be able to earn a living, as I know from experience. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, my 2001 memoir about working for Vanity Fair in New York, sold a quarter of a million copies and was turned into a Hollywood movie. Fast forward 10 years and I was asked by Penguin if I would write an ebook for free.

Even me, the kind of trogdolyte that finds pop culture too fast-paced for his ape-brain, knows this guy’s work. I sympathize.

The other passage, with a little more maths involved:

These days, you need a substantial private income – or a public sector pension – to be a full-time writer. Last year, a survey of 2,500 professional authors found that their median income in 2013 was £11,000. That’s a drop of 29 per cent since 2005 and significantly below the minimum salary required to achieve a decent standard of living.

Median meaning that half make more than that and half make less. Either way, $16.5k American dollars isn’t above the poverty line. I can’t imagine the situation for American writers is any different.

The discussion around Toby’s article is inevitably going to be, “Has it ever not been this way? Have authors ever not struggled?”

I can’t answer that question in this blog post.

The other piece that came across my desk was another opinion, this one released by Gallup’s CEO, Jim Clifton. Given Gallup’s trusted position in public discourse, this is something to which I immediately paid attention.

The bottom line:

American business deaths now outnumber American business births.

Turns out that Americans don’t create new businesses these days. Startups are disappearing. Businesses closing, however, has not stopped. That’s a death spiral of new and fresh economic models.

Why is that linked to writing?

My two cents is that entrepreneurship is a creative endeavor. I think of the entrepreneur as someone that sees the economic system as a series of bricks, and fills gaps when they see them. An app maker sees that there’s room in the app universe for an app that does something novel, so they go out and create it. Someone with experience in textiles sees that there’s no laundromat in their town, so they open a business, providing a valuable service.

Opportunities are everywhere, but you need to be creative in order to take advantage of them.

Writing is an intensely creative endeavor as well. The writer also does market research in the development of a book. They ask, what is popular these days? Where can I fit in? What am I doing that is fresh and new and will bring people to my book? Dystopian young adult fiction is the rage. Tomorrow, books about horses will be the next big thing. Writing is two parts creative: first, the actual act of writing, second, the act of understanding niches, an act entrepreneurial.

In my opinion, my society is looking at a slowdown in creative exercise. That’s a bad sign for a society, whether it’s the book writers or the app writers suffering.

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