I just finished writing a travelogue article for the magazine I also edit. I spend most of my time editing, these days, so it was a joy to write again. I loved choosing the right words that worked best in each situation, picking descriptive words, rather than personal opinions such as “amazing” or “incredible.” I sneaked (not snuck, which is not the formally accepted past tense of “sneak.”) in a little alliteration here and there and added details I hoped would make readers feel that they too had been to the places in the article. I wrote a first draft, printed it, found ways to improve it, and created a second draft. I printed it and found more words to delete or change, and after what was probably the eighth draft, I turned the article in, confident I could not have done more to improve it. The process thrilled and entertained me much more than the payment will. The joy was in the writing.
While I basked in the joy of having written something that thousands of people might read, an ancient memory came to me. Some fifty years ago I was in my twenties and flirting with a fellow who said he too was a writer. When I told him I worked for a newspaper, he jerked back and said, “You sold out!”
“Sold out?” I asked.
He shuddered in disgust and declared, “You’re working for the man.” [Today he might have said I was working for the suits.]
“Do you work?” I asked.
“At a gas station.”
While he was pumping gasoline, I was working with words, paragraphs, syntax, and subjects. I was honing my skills and learning more each day. I loved what I was doing. Did he? If I wanted to write fiction I could do it in my spare time and rely on all I learned through journalism about how to write powerful prose.
I hadn’t thought about that memory in a long time. Since that incident I have written not only for newspapers but also for magazines, nonprofits, and for-profit corporations. I’ve written articles for newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. I’ve written copy for radio commercials, printed advertisements, brochures, speeches, advertorials, proposals, business profiles, and more. I’ve made a living as a writer. Was I fortunate to make a living as a writer, or did I “sell out” by making a living as a writer?
Did that young man make a living as a gasoline-station attendant? Did he find joy in pumping gasoline, wiping windshields, and adding oil to engines? Never mind the fact that jobs as gas-station attendants no longer exist.
The question comes down to joy, to passion. Writers write because we feel passionate about putting our words on paper in hopes that people will want to read them. Most writers follow their passion, rather than the money. I’ve had folks ask me how much money they can make by writing a book. I tell them to follow their passion. If it’s writing, it doesn’t matter if they make money. If their passion is making money, they can find easier ways to make money. Learning how to write marketable prose takes years of study and practice.
What motivates you to write? I trust it is passion, not payment. Money comes in and goes out; it isn’t real. Passion, however, is buried in our soul. It lives in our hearts. It is a constant.
Perhaps passion is the reason I love writers so much. We share a feeling that drives us, an interest that makes us explore, ever learning, ever striving for greater heights.
Do you write for money or because you simply must write? If you make money writing, do you feel that you’ve “sold out?” I’d love to hear your stories.