Writing and Money, Part 3
In last week’s post I made a case for writing out of love. This week lemme dig into that idea a little deeper.
The profession of writer (or musician or filmmaker or athlete) is not really a “job” like other jobs. It’s not like working in a coal mine or toiling in a cubicle as a telemarketer. It’s not something we do purely to put food on the table.
We write or paint or dance out of love. We would do it even if nobody paid us.
In the fields of the arts and entertainment, the principles that apply to payment-for-labor are, shall we say, unconventional. What factors make them that way?
1. There are thousands, even millions of aspirants who would gladly donate a kidney to get our jobs. The glamour! The sex! The moolah! Not even shame can stop them. How many of our daughters would twerk all night if they could be Miley Cyrus?
2. We ourselves would donate a kidney.
Would Tiger Woods compete in next year’s Masters for free? Would Rafael Nadal show up at Wimbledon?
In fields like the arts and athletics, the reward transcends lucre. If you or I came up with the greatest sales promo in history for Byron Jackson submersible pumps, not even our spouses or Golden retrievers would give a damn. But to win an Oscar? The National Book Award?
3. The rewards paradigm in the arts and athletics is nuts.
There are 20,000 members in the Writers Guild West, the screen- and TV-writers union in Los Angeles. How many actually make a living? If it’s one in ten, I’ll be amazed. And that doesn’t count the, what, hundred thousand other aspiring scriptwriters who are waiting tables in Sherman Oaks or the million-plus in Bangor and Bogalusa who are saving up, even now, to make the move to L.A. Are these guys and gals any less deserving than the few who have figured out how to make a living? They’re busting their butts! They’re sacrificing! They’re giving it all they’ve got! Is there any justice in this racket?
Meanwhile at the tippy-top, the 1% are bringing home serious dinero. They’re hogging the spotlight! J.K. Rowling made 300 mill in 2008. Her net worth today is near $1B. Kobe Bryant’s net per year is $220M; Tiger with endorsements has topped the career billion-mark.
Down in the coal mine, if you and I can shovel seventeen tons instead of sixteen, we can make a case to the boss that we deserve a fatter paycheck. But if our gig is designing video games, how do we measure what we’re worth?
4. In arts and athletics (not to mention real estate), the individual’s compensation is based on how much money the public is willing to pay to see what he or she does. Ask David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross:
Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good
father? F*#k you! You wanna work here?
Is your work brilliant? World-altering? Sorry, you’re behind Lebron unless it puts asses in the seats.
In other words, there’s no justice in the arts or entertainment. Or what justice there is, is skewed by factors that most of us don’t even wanna think about.
We’re working in an insane field. Newtonian laws no longer apply. We have to adjust mentally to that.
Where do I come out on all this?
I always go back to the way I feel each morning. I wake up to a looming wall of Resistance. My own fear, my own tendency to self-sabotage. And my own dream and the call of my own Muse.
That’s my world. Those are the elementals of my existence. Money exists in my consciousness like a very minor moon orbiting a very distant planet.
I can’t think about money.
If I do, I’ll drive myself crazy.
I can only focus on the work.
Yes, I keep one eye cocked to the commercial possibilities or any spec project I begin. And yeah, I want to be paid. If a publisher or a movie studio is gonna make money from my work, then I want my share of that money.
But money is not the object.
The game is the object.
Like Lebron, I want to be playing in the post-season. Like Tiger, I want a shot at a major.
And if I can’t get to that level, that’s okay too. I play for love and I play for money. But money takes second place. Money exists, in my view, only to serve the love.