I’m going to go ahead and spoil the question. I don’t know whether money should affect our choices about what we write or create. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t. But that’s not space we occupy.
We live in a world in which, if we are taking time to write, then we are choosing not to do some other thing. Since we can only labor at one thing at a time, the possibility of earning money from our writing does often affect our writing choices. And honestly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as you’re still making choices that serve a greater end or are being genuine to yourself.
This blog is an example of a writing choice for me that is affected by money. When I write here, it means I am electing not to use this time to either (1) work and bill more hours, (2) write for my law blog, which has a bigger audience and is monetized, or (3) work on any of my book projects. But I write here because I am presently very interested in thinking a lot about writing processes, choices, and business. And I can envision a book about writing deriving from this blog. In the short term, this project has a detrimental effect on my monetary interests. But earning income from writing is a long game, and I’m trying to keep that perspective.
Notable Artists Whose Creative Choices Were Affected by Money
In the early 1970s, Stephen King was working two jobs, and in his limited spare time, he was writing and selling short stories, trying to make ends meet. One evening he had an idea for a chilling story. He knew it was not a short story but would be a novel or novella. Believing he (literally) couldn’t afford to take the time necessary to write a story of that length, he threw away the first three pages of what would become his first novel, Carrie. Fortunately, his wife found the pages, read them, and talked him into writing the book that launched his career and changed the landscape of the horror genre. King’s initial choice not to write Carrie was affected by his immediate need for additional income.
Looking at the flip side of the equation, David Marchese asked Nicholas Cage in an interview for The New York Times Magazine, “How much has money driven your work choices?” Cage gave an insightful response.
I can’t go into specifics or percentages or ratios, but yeah, money is a factor. I’m going to be completely direct about that. There’s no reason not to be. There are times when it’s more of a factor than not. I still have to feel that, whether or not the movie around me entirely works, I’ll be able to deliver something and be fun to watch. But yes, it’s no secret that mistakes have been made in my past that I’ve had to try to correct. Financial mistakes happened with the real estate implosion that occurred, in which the lion’s share of everything I had earned was pretty much eradicated. But one thing I wasn’t going to do was file for bankruptcy. I had this pride thing where I wanted to work my way through anything, which was both good and bad. Not all the movies have been blue chip, but I’ve kept getting closer to my instrument. And maybe there’s been more supply than demand, but on the other hand, I’m a better man when I’m working. I have structure. I have a place to go. I don’t want to sit around and drink mai tais and Dom Pérignon and have mistakes in my personal life. I want to be on set. I want to be performing. In any other business, hard work is something to behold. Why not in film performance?
The Motivation for Money Affects My Writing Choices
I write because I need to write. I had an inherent understanding of my need to create long before I had the language to explain it. I am ambitious and driven, and would write and create even if earning income from it were not a possibility. But since it is possible for my writing to be an additional source of income that could last beyond my lifetime, money is a motivation for what I write.
I have three rather academic book ideas that would each require mountains of research and take years to write. Other than making notes and creating portions of outlines, I’ve haven’t done anything to delve into the topics. For a couple of reasons. There are other things that I’m interested in writing, and I can write about those other things much more quickly than the academic ideas. Also, if I’m taking a couple of years to pound out a project, that means I’m choosing not to create other assets that could potentially create more income for me.
I also have ideas for three novels. For the first of these, I’ve written over 10,000 words and have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to look like. I’ve done a fair bit of the research and know the story intimately. But writing fiction is far more difficult and uncertain for me than the non-fiction I write. So I’ve been choosing over last couple of years to spend time with the things I’m more comfortable with. I think the other word for this is cowardice, but … [shrugs].
To come back around to the original question — should money affect your writing choices? We live in a world where our choices are so intertwined with money as to effectively render the question moot. Money, whether it’s the lack of it or potential for it, does affect our writing choices. What you have to avoid is allowing money to be your primary motivator (because it’s hard to sell books) and cause you to deviate from your true self. Be introspective and honest with yourself about the role money is playing in your writing or artistic choices.
Photo by Hamza Butt.