On being a professional writer who also provides free content

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October hosta

For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.

But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.

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This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.

It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.

Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.

That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?

GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.

And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.

This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.

I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.

Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.

But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.

Good morning, good Monday
Problem solving with hair

14 Comments

  1. That’s funny, I’ve been saying to myself “Photographer of GG Finalist, Carrie Snyder, will now attempt to change this poopy bottom of a 3 year old with flailing legs. Photographer of GG Finalist, Carrie Snyder, forgot it was her nemesis, garbage day, for the gazillionth time this year. Curse you, Tuesday mornings! Especially after holiday Monday mornings! Seriously though, I love this post. I also am reading a ton of complaints re: Globe and Mail. It’s a difficult question. For my part, I am pretty sure I would pay to read your blog. It is one of my favourite things to do with my wee snippets of time when I can grab them. Am so happy you write it.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Nancy. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, will accept payment for you reading her blog in photos.

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  2. “I’m not sure freelance writing…was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse.”

    Oh man, this! Every time I evaluate writing as an actual vocation I come back to how my family is going to live on my spouse’s salary alone. It makes me feel lazy or selfish for even dreaming of a life of letters. But what else to do? It’s what I’m good at. It’s what I know. The people who do, legitimately, make their living off words contribute more to my quality of life than many persons in more lucrative fields. I need, we all need, professional writers. But who will pay them?

    I’m trying to do my part by paying for and encouraging others to pay for words. I am not, personally, the solution, though. I can’t support myself, let alone even one single other writer. Somebody needs to turn up the Big Idea solution.

    Reply
    • Art has, over the centuries, been funded largely by patrons, rather than by the open market, but there has also been, over the centuries (since the printing press was invented) a market for popular/political/current events writing, too. But it’s always been a bit dodgy, hasn’t it. Really, publishing (book and otherwise) is constantly shifting. I sometimes think that blogging is similar to the serial publication undertaken by, say, Dickens, back when he was writing and publishing lengthy works serially, rather than all at once. Obviously, this appeals to readers too (then and now).

      And I obviously have no great insight into how to earn a steady living making arty literature or popular literarure.

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  3. Facing a similar conundrum, I’ll be interested to find out how you decide to tackle this one, Carrie. Best of luck!

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    • This is going to be a long, drawn-out story, I suspect, told over many years.

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  4. Carrie, yours is one of two blogs I read that I would be willing to subscribe to. I wonder what would happen if you added an optional, completely voluntary “Subscribe/Support” button with a reasonable annual fee? I guess this depends on the size of your blog readership, whether it would be worthwhile–but there are many of us out here who support independent bookstores, buy local food, subscribe to literary journals we don’t have time to read, buy CDs etc. (all things that are about voluntarily paying more than you technically have to for something you want to support).

    Though, I agree, it is very hard, complicated, esp. in the current climate as you say, to try to monetize writing, and no one thing is going to solve it.

    I love the narration re. GG finalist Carrie Snyder. Delightful ironies.

    Reply
    • I don’t know why I have such an aversion to trying to make money off of this blog — maybe because I like that it’s something I can choose to do or not do depending on mood. It’s whimsical, by its very nature. I wouldn’t want to ask people to pay for something whimsical.

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  5. I think part of the question is why financial remuneration is the measure of value or support. If it does make the difference between groceries or no groceries, well, then it does matter. If it’s a matter of equal sharing of expenses, however, I’m less sure myself. There are many very valuable unpaid tasks — caregiving, parenting, volunteering — which are vital to our society, and become no more vital for receiving compensation. I think in fact that some value is lost by affixing a price to tasks and products that are really, by nature, gifts. Which, to me, is why patronage is a better option — it undergirds an artistic life, rather than compensating it.

    I’m also very amused by the GG finalist third-person narration. Soak it all in and squeeze every bit out of it. (I hope too there will be a follow up post where we hear the exploits of GG winner Carrie Snyder!)

    Reply
    • Yes, I’m speaking of groceries, Susan, not assigning value to tasks. This post is all about the groceries.

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  6. When are you getting here to Vancover my pal the GG finalist Carrie Snyder

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    • GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, will be arriving in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon (sorry, not sure of precise time). Will you still be there, Sheree??

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  7. Hi Carrie,
    I was at your reading in Winnipeg and heard about your blog and have been following it ever since. I was very interested in this post. I too wanted to be a serious writer when my two sons were small but it just wasn’t financially possible. I am a school teacher and on my maternity leaves I took some free lance jobs, landed a couple long term gigs as a columnist, wrote curriculums, meditations, music lyrics and magazine articles. I could make enough to buy groceries and my husband’s salary paid other basic living expenses but no way could I earn enough to pay for trombone lessons, hockey equipment, trips to visit my husband’s family who lived across the country, new basketball shoes, drama classes, voice lessons, summer camp and all the other stuff my very active sons wanted to participate in and do. Never mind putting some money away to help them with college.
    I retired from teaching last year and it is only now at almost age 60 that I finally feel I can begin to pursue fiction and non-fiction writing with the focus I want to. Good luck to you in finding work that will still give you time to parent and write. I know it has been done. Carol Shields had five kids and found time to write and teach.
    MaryLou Driedger

    Reply
    • Thank you for commenting, MaryLou. I’ve been proud of what I’ve managed to earn as a writer, and it has helped our family, especially during these years when my children have been young, but as they get older, their interests broaden — and their feet keep growing! What I earn as a writer can’t compare to what I could earn doing something else professionally. (Or something in addition to writing; of course, I hope never to stop writing.)
      Good luck with your writing now!

      Reply

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