Making a Living As a Writer

Food for Thought

I’m pretty sure nobody would doubt Ron Hogan’s identity as a “writer.” I, on the other hand, don’t really know what I am. His latest book, “Our Endless and Proper Work,” is about writing. It gave me a clear overview of the market of writing, perhaps too clear for some aspiring writers because the reality is not encouraging, or rather depressing.

@joedistefanoqns introduced me to Ron, and we had lunch at a Thai restaurant in his neighborhood for the express purpose of talking about writing. He ordered soup and salad, so I copied his style, although I’m aware that just copying someone who knows what he wants isn’t going to make my desire any clearer.

The bad news he delivers in his book is that you can’t realistically expect to make a living being a writer anymore. In some ways, this is a relief because you could call yourself a “writer” even if you have a day job doing something else. Perhaps, you have already achieved your dream to be a “writer,” as there is nothing more you can realistically achieve.

It’s not just writing; most crafts are no longer sellable. Even if you enjoy making ceramics, you cannot sell a mug for $5 if you spend many hours on it. If you charged what you need to survive, it would be absurdly expensive for most people. It’s an impossible equation. Imagine if you happen to love making pencils by hand; it’s even more impossible.

Not many mediums of self-expression remain sellable. Given that everyone is a photographer today, a “professional photographer” means someone willing to take jobs that most people would not enjoy. The same is true for “professional writers”; you are lucky if you happen to love writing user manuals.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Karl Marx knew it over a century ago. Capitalism is very efficient at pricing job satisfaction as a reward and deducting it from our pay. This efficiency has reached a point where job satisfaction alone can pay for the job, like free stock photography sites and HuffPost that doesn’t pay writers.

Ironically, we are convincing ourselves that innovations that make our lives more efficient are improving the quality of our lives. That is, sadly, the very cause of our alienation and suffering is our own ideals.