In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, 33 working writers share their thoughts on the taboo topic of getting paid.

Editor Manjula Martin orients this collection with the definition of scratch.

Amy Deneson Scratch log

There are countless pearls of wisdom strung throughout this book.

Austin Kleon, in his conversation with Manjula, suggests that writers keep a reading log online. “And every book you read, post some quote from it or say something about it that’s interesting and just, like, become a good citizen.”

On that note, here are quotes from many of the contributors to Scratch that are total treasure to me. I’m sharing them in a log of three parts following the book sections: I Early Days; II The Daily Grind; and III Someday.


“Owning This” Julia Fierro

Through their immigrant and working class-bred eyes, books were books—to be admired, collected, and displayed in the hope that their sophisticated light would reflect back on you. I imagine this practice of imbuing objects with transformative power is common in people with immigrant and blue-collar roots. Isn’t it a pillar of the American Dream? Money, spent in the right way, can allow you to reinvent your identity. Rewrite your story—past, present, and future drafts.”


“With Compliments” Nina MacLaughlin

“But writing is work as well, and when we agree to volunteer, to have our time and effort go uncompensated, when we buy into the lie on the hope that maybe something, someday will come of this, we perpetuate a corrupt and broken system. I am guilty of it.”


“Faith, Hope, and Credit” Cheryl Strayed

“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money.”



“Portrait of the Artist as a Debut Novelist” Porochista Khakpour

By now, I have learned never to answer when my agent calls. I let her leave messages and then I throw my depressed fits in private. Before I call her back, versions of myself in jobs I’ve held since beginning to work on my novel catwalk through my head with forced smiles and exhausted stomps: now, hostess; now, adjunct; now, tutor; now, hair model; now, bar reviewer; now, babysitter; now, nanny; now, shopgirl!

Yet here it is: good news, a book deal. There it is: everything ever, answered!

…a story so joyous I would have never written it.”


“The Mercenary Muse” Colin Dickey

“Money taints everything, why not writing too? Once its value is determined by the marketplace rather than the writer or the reader, our relationship to literature becomes estranged.”


“Running the Widget Factory” Susan Orlean

“The reality is, more and more and more, being a writer is running your own business.”


“The Wizard” Alexander Chee

“Most of what I have to endure as a writer is the asymmetry between effort and reward: the travel piece that flies me to have dinner in Shanghai at an avant-garde French restaurant with ten seats, paying three dollars a word for three thousand words alongside the memoir of teaching myself to use the tarot, written at the same length, for which I was paid $250, a flat fee.

The most mysterious arrangement: the op-ed I wrote for free in an hour, for which I later received a $1,400 check because it had been republished.”


“You are the Second Person” Kiese Laymon

You’re wearing a XXL T-shirt you plan on wearing the day your novel comes out. The front of the T-shirt says, WHAT’S A REAL BLACK WRITER? The back reads, FUCK YOU. PAY ME.”


“Word Hard, Read Dead” Yiyun Li

“First, one has to get solid work done rather than looking around to see what others are doing, what others are getting as rewards; in a sense, one has to avoid comparing oneself to others. Second, hard work does not always pay off, which seems inevitable in life, so one has to avoid measuring outcome against effort.”


“Write to Suffer, Publish to Starve” J. Robert Lennon

“Besides, commerce is more than money. It was fine for Nabokov to tell his publisher that he published for money, for it was money Nabokov was trying to secure. But money isn’t the only reason he published, or that anyone publishes.

We publish because we are exhibitionists. We publish to be admired. We publish to be part of something that excites us. We publish to feel special, to feel real, to feel brave, to feel afraid. We publish to evoke emotion in others, to prove Mom wrong. We publish because other people publish, and that’s what is done. We publish so that we can talk about publishing to other people who publish. We publish so that we can get contributor’s copies, so that we can get a job, so that we can get laid. We publish for an excuse to go to New York, to have something to flog at conferences, to have something to brag about on airplanes. This is all commerce. Our cocktail party banter with other writers is commerce. Our blog posts about books we like, or loathe, are commerce. Our barroom readings and subtweets are commerce. We parlay our genetic predisposition to language, our hard work developing it, into companionship, attention, admiration, criticism. This is normal, and we all do it.”