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Concluding my log of quotes from Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a LivingI EARLY DAYS and II THE DAILY GRIND–with final section of the book, III SOMEDAY.

It was Austin Kleon, in conversation with Manjula, who inspired the idea for this series. In “Selling Out” Austin also remarked: “What happens when the thing that kept you alive suddenly becomes the thing that literally keeps you alive? The thing that kept you spiritually alive now not only has to keep you spiritually alive, but also has to keep you financially alive? Like, literally, alive. Like, food in your mouth.”

 

“A Sort of Fairy Tale” Malinda Lo

“The fact is, financial necessity can be extremely clarifying. When your goal is to make enough money to pay the rent, writing loses a lot of its artistic mystique and becomes something much more mundane: a job. Thinking of writing as a job made the countless uncertainties that come with being a writer manageable. It gave me a rubric by which to measure my success. But without financial need, I found it difficult to continue thinking of writing as my job. And if I didn’t need to write for money, why was I writing?”

 

“FAQ: How to Buy a HomeMallory Ortberg

“But it is important to acknowledge the distinction between being broke and being poor.”

 

From “Diversity is Not Enough” by Daniel José Older (click to expand)

 

“Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing” Daniel José Older

The question industry professionals need to ask themselves is: How can I use my position to help create a literary world that is diverse, equitable, and doesn’t just represent the same segment of society it always has since its inception?”

 

“Worth” Jennifer Weiner

“Would I have taken the deal, knowing what it meant? In the business of being an author, is it better to be broke but respectable than it is to be rich but dismissed? And why does it even matter? I’ve been asked, more than once—usually by one of the writers on the broke-but-respectable side of things, unpublished or underpublished or underappreciated, well-reviewed but not well-read, one who can’t imagine that it’s anything other than heaven on the other side of the fence. You’ve got money. What could be wrong? Who cares what people are saying. Just laugh all the way to the bank!

I can’t answer them.”

 

“The If of It: Lunatic Independence in Nine Easy Steps” Laura Goode

Preliminary research revealed no studio would acquire or produce a screenplay about three diverse women trying to discover America and themselves through politics and sex.”

 

I deeply appreciated this book, found it invaluable. Much gratitude to Manjula Martin for creating this compendium that kept it real about money and art and publishing but also most notably enriched the conversation about class.

For sure, I’ll return to the thoughts of Colin Dickey, Kiese Laymon, Leslie Jamison, Malinda Lo, Daniel José Older, and Laura Goode, time and time again, like found treasure.

xx

Continuing my log of quotes/treasures from the second section of Scratch: II THE DAILY GRIND.

 

“The Best Work in Literature” Manjula Martin

I had a bundle of life experience to write from, a bifurcated class identity, and a resume full of holes bigger than the ones in my unfinished manuscripts.”

 

“Against ‘Vs.’” Leslie Jamison

“What if we stopped thinking of money as the dirty secret of creative pursuit and instead recognized money as one of its constituent threads? Whether we like it or not, money’s presence in art doesn’t depend on whether we consider its presence. It’s always already there.”

 

“Love for Sale” Harmony Holiday

“Rather than death and taxes, death to black taxes. En masse. In the name of the legacy of Amiri [Baraka]. In the name of black radical writers who do not want to fund the systems their words seek to dismantle.”

 

“Sad Birth Lady” Meaghan O’Connell

“This trouble happened throughout the proposal process, moments when I wondered if I was making a huge career mistake. How to parse self-sabotage from self-preservation, fear from knowing better?

I came back to this fact: the book was something I would have loved to read.”

 

“Ghost Stories” Sari Botton

“Exactly how much do I make writing other people’s stories? For most books, I receive a flat rate—anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 in my case, plus or minus a percentage of the author’s royalties. Sometimes I get a percentage of the author’s advance—twenty-five to forty percent in my experience, plus or minus a percentage of the author’s royalties—but I am told the top ghostwriters get fifty. In the best cases I have gotten forty, with twenty-five percent of the author’s royalties. Here and there, I charge by the hour, $50 to $90, for what I call ‘editorial hand-holding’ for clients who can sort of write, but need a lot of guidance and editing work.

For me, ghostwriting is a job—one I wouldn’t do if I didn’t need the money.”

 

“…the guild economy is the dream…” Susie Cagle in Scratch

“Economies 101” Susie Cagle

The sad secret of this economy is that no one knows what anything is or should be worth.”

 

“Security” Roxane Gay

Manjula: “What were those [first book] deals like?”

Roxane: “For the novel [An Untamed State], I got a $12,500 advance. And for Bad Feminist, I got $15,000.”

 

“Monetization” Choire Sicha

“Writers whose work is published online should and must understand how websites work in general, as well as how the websites on which they are published work in the specific, so as to not be idiots. This particular pursuit of non-idiocy is sometimes referred to in journalism as ‘following the money,’ also know as ‘understanding the basic economic structure of the industry from which one earns a living, or hopes to.’”

 

“The Jump” Sarah Smarsh

On quitting her job to write THE book: “Of all my troubles, I’d most underestimated the psychological trauma of relinquishing a professional title that commands respect and proffers identity in society that values productivity above all else—a trauma likely exacerbated by my having been born, by class and gender, to little respect. As a woman who had worked nearly every day since adolescence for some employer, I’d never had so much time on my hands. I felt lost, crushed by the weight of open space and infinite possibility I’d supposedly longed for.”

 

Next up: The final log III SOMEDAY. 

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.

Log I: EARLY DAYS

“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.”

 

Next up: Log II THE DAILY GRIND

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