Who gets to be a writer?

This guy got asked by a student in a workshop how the fuck she’s supposed to be a writer when it takes money to live. Good question, kid. I love this. It’s like she was reading one of those articles about Millennials who have founded their own companies and are way richer and more successful than their peers, only to come across the part (buried about 600 words in) where they outline that the seed money came from their trust fund or inheritance. Whew. NOW I understand. I just need a rich relative to kick off. (But, sadly, no matter who goes in my family, all I’m going to inherit is debt.) Coming from a background without any artists, and having grown up in an area of rural Ontario famous for dairy cows, trailer parks, drug use, and voting Conservative, I have occasionally felt sorry for myself that I wasn’t born into a rich family, or even a supportive one. As a non-academic poet, I have a choice: day jobs or poverty. (Don’t say I could teach: my BA cost me $40G in student loans that took me 10 years to pay off–there’s no fucking way I’m going back into that shit for a piece of paper that supposedly qualifies me to teach better than, you know, having written 10 books) I have had great jobs and have had shitty jobs, but until very recently I’ve always had a job. And even this push to write the great Canadian fantasy novel (note: does not contain actual Canadians) can’t last. I’ll have to go back eventually. I have too many children who are in or on their way to university and a house and a car and etc. I chose that, and in doing so agreed to keep everyone alive and give them what I could, and any artistic ambition I have has largely come second. So in a sense, is this much different than the guy who works in a shitty low level sales job for years and dreams of getting his old Whitesnake/Poison-inspired cover band back together for a few gigs? When I go to the smoke shop beside the local Sobeys to buy a lottery ticket, I sometimes see another writer there and we laugh and tell each other we’re paying into our poets’ retirement fund. But without a windfall, I’ll either be eking out the same existence when I’m 80. Anyway, I’m rambling. And my poet buddy is here for a coffee. So I’m done whining.

In January 2019, Concepción de Leon wrote in The New York Times that “the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered.” In other words, the aspiring writer would be wise to flip a proverbial burger or two if they want to make a real living wage. And as for me, I went from my proverbial “good-ass job” and became an adjunct lecturer making less than a third of what I had made before, and there were only two upsides: I could get free healthcare through Medicaid because I made so little, and go to work loving what I did. 

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