My whole body turned itself into a fist when I saw Ann Bauer’s Salon.com article pop up on my news feed yesterday afternoon:
“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from
I felt like that article was giving me the side-eye. It’s not just that I recently found myself in this exact situation – it’s that I’ve been trying to write about it for weeks and failing. Reading Ann’s article finally forced my issue. I need to talk about what it feels like to have your writing career sponsored by your husband, and I think you need to hear it.
Let’s talk about Ann’s piece first. She covers this issue from the standpoint of wealthy or connected writers who do not disclose their privilege when approached with the oh-so-awkward cocktail party conversation: “how do you support yourself” or “to what do you attribute your success?” Her premise: writers who hide their trust fund stories and the fact that their parents were stars of the literary world do the rest of us a disservice. If they shared the truth we might all feel a little better about the struggle that is this career.
Ann goes on to explain that she has never been happier, healthier or more productive in her writing than she is now that she is “sponsored” by her husband. Her husband is supportive. The balance of their relationship works beautifully, financially speaking. She is not ashamed.
Well Ann, you are my hero. But also, I think you’re missing one giant point about this whole financial-plight-of-the-writer thing.
You are my hero because I am ashamed. .Well maybe I’m uncomfortable? Or a little bit guilty? There’s some self-worth stuff going on inside there too, and a healthy dose of disappointment in my progress to date. Also I’m bitter and tired.
Around November I lost my well-paying freelance writing job because of a sad death in the entertainment industry. That job allowed me to contribute equally to my life with R and, more importantly, I could have sustained my life on my own without R’s salary. That point was always huge for me. I was a self-sustaining, full-time writer.
I need to say a few things about R and marriage before I move on. There is no bigger champion for my writing career than my husband. He is the one who convinced me to leave my well-paying job in marketing. He is the one who offered to cover all expenses so that I could cut back on my freelance hours before that job ended. He has worked in the entertainment industry for ten years, specifically with writers. He understands the kind of effort success takes and the financial sacrifices one needs to make. And, to be clear, he is a self-made man still rising in his own career. We are not in a Scrooge McDuck situation here. Still, on more than one occasion he has explained his role as my “sponsor” as a priviledge.
I know, right? Too bad I already married him 😉
And what is marriage, really, but two people who love each other functioning as a team both emotionally and financially? Right now our team’s management has decided to live a specific way for the greater benefit of the entire team in the future. The management believes in my ability to have a successful writing career. If something changes, we will re-evaluate. Right now I am contributing to the team in a different way, but I am not working less than R. R just happens to work inside a corporate system that values him financially. More on that in a bit…
Now if only all that love and support and logic – because it is logical – could quiet the other conversation going on in my head – the one where I weigh getting a $12 manicure for two hours because it seems too frivilous when I’m not making a regular salary. Then there’s the conversation that starts somewhere around 5PM every day when I realize that there’s no food in the apartment for dinner. I should stop my writing now and go get food to cook dinner because my husband has worked all day to earn the money to support our life and it would be nice to share in a home-cooked meal as my contribution for the day, I think. Yes, I know that makes me sound like I just stepped out the Betty Crocker cookbook, but that is how I feel, and I’ve talked to a lot of writers both male and female that feel the same.
Good writing comes from confidence, comfort, and a healthy flow of creativity that isn’t squashed by negativity and doubt – in other words – the opposite of the above paragraph.
But here’s the thing that Ann left out, and the thing I must make my mantra every single day: it’s not my fault that the world we live in doesn’t put financial value on the work of a young writer.
I went back and did some research based only on my own work. In the past twelve months I have done 14 freelance assignments outside of my former freelance job. On average I was paid $5 an hour for that work. For three of the fourteen assignments I made what amounted to $2 an hour. The largest publications that I wrote for: The Huffington Post – paid me nothing at all. Further, this year I will complete a very large assignment for a very reputable company. I will be paid no advance at all.
The economics of being a non-famous writer are depressing, but they’re not different than any of the arts: fine art, music, performance, etc. We live in a supply/demand economy, and there will always be more writers willing to work for free than there will be demand for their work. They’ve got us, and they know it. We can’t not write. We are the easiest group in the world to take advantage of. So while The Huffington Post can afford to pay every single writer they publish, but why should they? They can pay them nothing and get the exact same product?
So yes, Ann, we writers should talk about where our money comes from – every embarrassing sum from a company that could very well pay us for our time and effort.
Is it any wonder that we struggle with self worth? The world is telling us that our time and our craft is worth very little. Yes, that’s a grand statement that doesn’t cover every angle of the business, but it is the dominant trend. I researched 25 online publications to find out what they pay for a freelance article between 400-800 words. The most common answer: $20.
So what am I going to do? I can’t change Hollywood, or online media. I’m absolutely not going to quit; there’s nothing else in this world that I want to do. I could get a part-time job during the day or a bar job at night or work more freelance jobs to make more money, but that’s just taking time away from the writing I’m trying to do to build my real writing career.
And so I have to do the thing that’s even harder than launching and sustaining a writing career: I have to change the way I feel about it. I have to talk myself into placing a higher value on my artistic output than my financial worth. I have to believe all those things my husband tells me over and over again. I have to call him around 6:30 and tell him we need to get take-out tonight because I’m going to be busy writing until I go to sleep. And I have to say no to the tiny money jobs that make me feel better about $12 manicures because they’re not worth my time.
But most importantly, I have to be honest about how tricky this all feels so that when you say, “ugh…me too,” we can sit down around a bottle of wine one of us got for free at a party and find even better ways to help each other push through.