The more you write, the less you make

It’s not easy being a writer

When author Richard Flanagan finished his latest novel, relative poverty forced him to contemplate getting a job in the mines in northern Australia. His Booker Prize win has spared him a life underground for the time being, but he did not waste the opportunity to acknowledge in his speech that “writing is a hard life for so many writers.”

And it’s only getting worse, as Elizabeth Renzetti wrote wrote recently in these pages. Twelve thousand dollars – that’s the figure the Writers’ Union of Canada estimates as the average annual income writers make from their writing in this country. I remember what it’s like to live on $12,000. You live in a shabby apartment furnished with hand-me-downs from your parents and garbage-picked gems, you allot $25 a week for food and you wear a borrowed dress when you’re invited to a gala fundraising dinner for writers at a fancy hotel. You take the subway there. If you are in your late 20s, as I was then, it’s fine, you make do because you are doing what you love and most people don’t have that extraordinary privilege.
You don’t squander that privilege. You work your ass off. And hopefully you’re rewarded for that effort. It worked for me, as it did for many writers of my generation, perhaps the last for whom it was possible to live off their writing. In Britain, writers’ incomes have fallen by 30 per cent in the past eight years, collapsing to what one Guardian headline called “abject” levels.

So many writers I know are looking back at this point in mid-life and saying, “I had a good run.” A good run saw us earn increasingly bigger if still modest advances. (Yes, $75,000 sounds like a lot, but when it takes five years to complete a book and your agent is taking a cut of 15 per cent, you’re still below the poverty line if this is your sole source of income.) Publishers were once able to invest in a career, with income from bestsellers offsetting the less sensational works in a catalogue. Now, every book has to be a winner. If you fail to earn out your advance through sales, your next advance will be lower, or perhaps, as has become increasingly the case among my mid-career contemporaries, you will lose your publishing home.

Writing seems to have become one of the few careers where the more experienced and proficient you become over the years, the less you are compensated. And the humiliations of this are great. It does become difficult to uphold belief in the worth of your work. And since this is work intrinsically tied to one’s sense of self, it becomes difficult to uphold a sense of self-worth. It takes ego and adrenalin to work in solitude, through years of confusion and uncertainty, in the writing of a book. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will. Of course, there is reward in art for art’s sake, but few can sustain morale, motivation or mortgage on an income of private aesthetic fulfilment.

Now that the US economy has improved…

morale is way down.

Despite an improved job market, employee morale is on the decline, new research shows.

A study by Salary.com revealed an increased number of U.S. employees are lacking fulfillment, pride and commitment when it comes to how they view their work. Specifically, just 38.5% of workers are personally fulfilled by the work they do, down from 59% a year ago.

Additionally, just over half of employees are committed to their work and career, compared with more than 70% who felt the same last year.

Abby Euler, general manager at Salary.com, said that with the economy slowly improving employees may be taking a harder, more critical look at their lives, their work and personal situation.

“They’re evaluating their careers by measuring overall fulfillment and asking, ‘What does my career add to my life? Am I where I want to be in life?'” Euler said. “The psychological toll of the great recession may have caused people to feel ‘burnt out'; where in a down economy employees tended to put their head down, accept lower pay with more responsibility, and were often underemployed or even unemployed.”

The study shows that today’s workers aren’t as willing to do extra work and are more concerned with just collecting a paycheck each month. Less than 20% of those surveyed are willing to put in extra hours simply because they enjoy their work, down from 48.5% in 2012. At the same time, more than 70% are primarily working for their paycheck, up from 55% last year.

What’s new around here

Since I have been too busy to post much, here is obligatory catch up post.

  • I have had a lingering pneumonia for the last couple of weeks.  Lots of fluids in the chest which means lots of coughing up said fluids.  It has also meant a lot of sleepless nights.  So tired right now.  Being sick really antagonizes my neuropathy so not only am I in pain but I think it’s raining all of the time.  From the pot into the fire I guess. 
  • While things are going forward at Stewart Properties, it is slow progress on many fronts.  Some of the projects we have going will make a huge difference in the life of Saskatoon and are still really exciting.  The key word in that is slow and with not much happening as we wait on architects, government, and then it will be financing; I decided to pick up another job this fall and am working at Don’s Photo where I get to play with and talk about cameras and photography every day.  Its temporary but an enjoyable way to spend the day.
  • No one comes in upset at a camera store.  They are coming in because they a) have researched a product and want your opinion b) are so excited about a new camera they can’t sleep (it happens a lot c) are stressed because they broke their camera and are hoping you can fix it.  If you can’t fix it, they know it’s their fault but if you can, they are very, very happy.  (pro tip, hit the “Restore to default settings” button and see if that helps).  Most people leave really, really happy.
  • Favorite customers are on Thursday evenings when the hardcore camera enthusiasts come in to talk about things.  It’s quiet and you have conversations about cameras, technology, film, and amazing vacation stories.  One the other night ended with, “I took the picture and then the wolverine started to get closer”.
  • My time slot on the Saskatoon Afternoon Show has now changed on Mondays.  Instead of being on at 5:15 with Ian Goodwillie, I am now on with Bronwyn Eyre at 4:20 p.m.  Expect us to get a bit more political.  I am still on the air at 5:15 on Wednesdays.

Entrepreneurial Life Shouldn’t Be This Way–Should It?

Excellent article about depression and entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year, two tech entrepreneurs, Aaron Swartz and Jody Sherman, committed suicide independently of each other. Both faced incredible pressures. And both suffered from depression.

It’s not a topic the start-up community understands well. After all, this is the very culture that turned the chestnut “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” into a much-celebrated verb. Admitting you struggle with depression is like admitting you can’t reach your bootstraps. It’s assumed that successful people can just “shake it off.”

But that’s not how it works.

I know. I’ve struggled with serious bouts of depression three times in my life. I’m not talking about a series of miserable days or struggling through the pressure and stress of a failing company. I’m talking about months of feeling emotionally drained.