Thursday, August 27, 2009

love nor money

by Ashley Lister

Dr Samuel Johnson claimed, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Dr Samuel Johnson, compiler of one of the first accessible dictionaries, was an intelligent man. However, he was also capable of talking an infinite amount of bollocks. Either that, or I resent the implication that a man who’s been dead for more than two centuries is calling me a blockhead.

In classes, when teaching creative writing, I always encourage students to write for money. Publishing credits are obviously important. And there are many occasions when publishing credits and no payment are a preferable alternative to not having any publishing credits. But because we live in a consumerist society, where intrinsic worth is measured in fiscal terms, one of the surest ways for an author to affirm their success is to cash a paycheque for their writing.

Virginia Woolf said that writing is a lot like sex. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends. And eventually, you end up doing it for the money.

I tend to agree with the sentiment behind this thinking, although I don’t believe that the initial love ever goes away. This morning I was out of bed at 6:00am and writing by 6:15am. The delay between waking and writing was only prolonged by my need to make a coffee, smoke a cigarette and take an obligatory pee. I’ll probably be writing until around 8:00pm tonight, maybe later, and I’ll have taken maybe one meal break in that time along with too many smoke breaks.

I don’t get paid for everything I write. The novel I’m currently working on might never see the light of day. I hope it does. It’s a fun post-modern romp that should prove to be a metafictional experience for the reader. But it could transpire to become a 500kb wart of wasted hard drive space and a reminder of three months of my life that I’ll never get back.

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. I’ve written some novels that have sold well, which is why I continue to write and write and write. However, I’ve also written some stories that have been read and rejected by enough publishers/editors to make me realise that some of my stories are not worth printing.

What I’m struggling to say here is, I enjoy being validated by the payment – I have bills and needs that require money – but I’d probably still be writing regardless of whether or not the payment was there. Most likely, the only thing that would change would be the number of hours I was able to devote to putting words on paper. But, whether it’s for love or money, I guess I’d still be doing it.


  1. Hey Ash,

    I have a few warts of wasted hard drive space but I love them, and probably won't ever completely delete them.

    Enjoy your writing and stop smoking! Cancer sticks will kill you!



  2. However, he was also capable of talking an infinite amount of bollocks.

    I suspect that some of the more idiotic things said by Dr. J. were merely an attempt on his part to see if Boswell was actually paying attention—or whether he'd just write it all down, regardless of how ridiculous it might be.

  3. Hi Jenna,

    You're right. I do need to quit. I'm a very bad boy :-(

    Thanks for reading & responding.


  4. Jeremy,

    That's a brilliant theory. I like it.

    My own thoughts were that maybe Boswell occasionally thought, "If I write this, it should make Dr J look like a real wanker when this goes to print..."

    Thanks for reading & responding,


  5. Ash,

    Yup, I completely agree, almost. Those warts on your hard drive, not wasted time or space, but possibly exercises in stretching the imagination just a tad too far? There should be a title for them. LOL

    All of us have 'those' stories. Too much work put in to them to toss them, but doubtful they'll ever see the light of day. You could use them for promotions. Start up a mailing list and send chapters out to anyone who'll sign up for it. Hmm, that might have the wrong outcome.

    And yes, you should definitely quit smoking. Terrible for your health, and anyone who's around you, plus it makes you smell. The absolute best way to quit is with Laser treatment. After each treatment you feel as if you're stoned for the rest of the day. REALLY and it's legal. LOL

    Good post, Ash.


  6. Hi Jude,

    So they're not warts - they're stretchmarks? I think that's a kinder way of looking at them :-)

    And OK. I get the message. I'm a smelly evil smoker ;-)

    Thanks for reading & responding,


  7. Only a man who has no stretchmarks would assume they're better than warts.

    Hmm, it's a toss up.


  8. Thanks, Ashley! Always my great pleasure to read your wit-and-wisdom-rich prose. And I think your Boswell theory may in fact be the key to the mystery.

  9. Hi Ashley

    Putting in close to 12 hours from 6 in the morning till 8 writing is pretty amazing in itself. That's honest work. RG once made the point that the reason she doesn;t try to publish is because the money you get in proportion for your labor amounts to pennies an hour. So in the end you have to do it for love of craft I guess.

    I think its good for a relative beginner (me) to start out without making money because it makes the whole process and my motives more clear. In the beginning it should be about mastery of craft and no other thing. You got to pay your dues at the keyboard.

    When I was about 16 years old around 1970 I was a huge fan of Jethro Tull. I wanted to learn to play a flute and be in a band. I saved up and bought a used Bundy flute. I gushed to the music store guy, some beery old man with a cigar, "I want to learn Jazz! And Blues! And Rock!"

    He just shifted the cigar in his teeth and growled: "Learn your scales first, kid."


  10. Hi, Ash,

    The fact that you've gotten a lot of rejections for a story or novel does not necessarily mean it's bad or unworthy of publication. It may very well indicate that your work is too original for the current market, or too deviant from what publishers think will sell. Or simply that the editor/publisher didn't like it for his or her own personal reasons.

    Excellent post. So you are actually a full time writer, trying to make a living at it? Amazingly ballsy.

    Jude and Jenna, do you also both write full time?


  11. H Garce,

    I can undertand RG's point. The returns on the personal investment (of time and effort) into a story, are always going to be negligible. Edgar Allen Poe sold his poem 'The Raven' twice (once for $15 and once for $9) both of which sound like insulting sums for one of the finest poems in literature.

    However, I always strive for publication because, a story without a reader is like a painting for a blind person. Even if the money is negligible: it's still money and it means the work is being read.

    I hope you did like that old guy suggested and learnt those scales :-)

    Thanks for reading & responding,


  12. Hi Lisabet,

    I've been writing full time for the past five years. However, I'm now gravitating toward teaching. I've picked up a few hours at the college where I just studied and I'm hoping to earn a qualifcation in teaching over the next couple of years.

    And, whilst I know you're right about rejections, there are times when you see another rejection attached to the same story, that you begin to think, 'Maybe everyone else is right, and I'm wrong.'

    Thanks for reading & responding,



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