I was one of those kids who could wander off into the woods and spend the better part of a day on a project.
When my teacher gave me a notebook that I could use for anything, anything at all, I filled it up with stories and drawings.
When my friend and I started thinking about a fun thing to do after school, we started writing a book together.
By the time I got to college, I’d heard all about finding a job that is respectable, like a lawyer or a doctor, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Writing wasn’t even close to being on the radar. I honestly didn’t even know there were people called “copy writers” or “business writers” who got paid a living wage to work with words. I believed that words were just part of my childhood and that part of me needed to die in the service of finding a career.
My wife once said to me, “I can’t even imagine what kind of major you should have been in college.”
Truer words have never been spoken. I didn’t fit into any tidy career boxes. I have creative inclinations that drew me toward writing and reading, but I also had more interpersonal, pastoral inclinations that drew me toward ministry. The English and Bible majors weren’t good fits, and in the presence of both camps I felt like an imposter.
I replied to my wife, “Maybe if they had a major called ‘Professional F – – k ups’?”
Those were darker days.
I couldn’t even trace a clear path between that little kid who filled up piles of notebooks with stories and the young adult who set off for seminary for a career in ministry that never felt right. It was the least-worst least-right thing.
In the back of my mind, I kept hearing a little voice whispering: You could write on the side. I continued to hear it as I earned a degree for a career I wouldn’t pursue. When I turned to a job in the nonprofit sector, I still felt like an imposter, and that voice in the back of my mind grew louder: you could write on the side…
When I finally started listening to that voice to write, I had no idea how to make a living as a writer. I just knew that it was my last shot at some kind of a career.
I thought that I was finally becoming the kind of adult who made some sense out of that kid who would wander in the woods all day or who would fill up notebooks with stories. This was going to be the time when I finally linked a career with my actual identity. Right?
I started out with writing with the simple hope of earning a sustainable living. Yes, I wrote for the money. Writers should never be ashamed of creating high quality creative work or professional business pieces for a fair wage. That isn’t the same thing as being annoying about promotion or selling out for a paycheck. That also isn’t the same thing as writing in order to get famous. In fact, the latter distinction has been essential for me.
Unfortunately, many writers today are stuck in a kind of limbo between a perception that writing for a sustainable income means writing in order to get famous. This perception is grounded in an unnecessary reality that has unfortunately become all too normal.
When I started out as an author, I had the modest goal of writing for a respectable, sustainable audience. I never wanted to be the headliner at conferences, the go-to guy for hot takes on cable news, or a social media rock star. I just wanted to write and get paid for it.
I imagined my dad working long days as a plumber, often taking me on estimates in the evenings or going in for half or full days on Saturdays. That’s what I had in mind: hard work, a career that used my talents and abilities, and a paycheck at the end of the week.
Instead I found a carnival of conferences, social media personalities, Middle-school-style blog fights, and popularity contests.
I had no idea that the traditional publishing world has less and less room (and use?) for a working author. Rather, what I’ve discovered is a huge gap between the haves and have nots. There are the new authors who get picked up as a kind of Hail Mary pass and the big names who consistently earn their keep. The majority of the resources go the big names, and I honestly don’t blame publishers for choosing what works. However, the number of authors who can earn a living without engaging in the publicity circus are growing fewer and fewer.
I write for the money. I don’t write for fame or publicity. Today many authors are finding that you can’t write books for a living wage unless you also gun for the fame and publicity. A select few have carved their own way between the two, but I assure you they don’t have much by way of long term security. For the most part, I’ve chosen to release my latest books independently in order to earn a modest monthly wage on my own terms.
I don’t have easy answers here. I have found a middle ground that includes lots of freelancing, writing for blogs and websites combined with author coaching and editing things like books and proposals. I write my own books and release them independently while keeping communication channels with publishers open.
Perhaps I’m foolish, but I can’t let go of a few images in my mind.
I see that kid who filled up notebooks and then took long walks in the woods.
I see my dad removing his muddy boots in the garage and then scrubbing his hands in the kitchen sink.
I see my own notebook filled with ideas, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes the ideas in that notebook translate into a check, direct deposit from Amazon, or a PayPal payment. Sometimes those ideas turn into an appreciative note from a reader or a five-star review.
My kids don’t see muddy work boots or blackened hands in our home. They see torn-open envelopes, a computer, and a pile of fine point black pens next to my notebook.
I remember my dad sharing a plumber joke with me one day when he came home covered in mud.
“That’s not dirt,” he said. “That’s money.”
And so as I scribble again and again in my notebook…
“That’s not ink… that’s money.”
This is my career. This is my calling—who I’ve always been deep down to my core from the earliest days that I could write in a notebook or tap away on a keyboard. I write for the money that leads to a sustainable creative career, and I hope that more writers can do the same.
13 thoughts on “I Write for the Money”
I appreciate your transparency about how you get on this journey of discovery. I have had many friends who attended Bible college because it seemed right. The idea of God calling someone to do something other than be a missionary or a pastor was foreign. I went to Bible college and trained to be a cookie-cutter pastor. I discovered in my season as a pastor that in order to be biblical, I couldn’t always be traditional. That didn’t go over well. Now I am a hospice chaplain. God opened this door after I was going through a divorce. Churches considered me risky. Most of my closest friends have known me as a full-time worship leader or pastor and still think I should be in that role. If God so chooses to do that again, He will. Until then, I will still have the satisfaction at the end of the day that I am still ministering. God designed you so that you will be fulfilled in your gift as a writer and bring Him glory. No one should apologize for what God has put within them.
Good words Matthew! Thanks. And it’s good to read that you have peace with God outside of the expectations or aspirations of others.
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thanks Ed! this work is brutal, and crushing, and disheartening, but then someone reads something your wrote and thinks, HELL YES, and then you pick up another pen. So, consider this moment one of those times for you.
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Such truth here…
“When I started out as an author, I had the modest goal of writing for a respectable, sustainable audience. I never wanted to be the headliner at conferences, the go-to guy for hot takes on cable news, or a social media rock star. I just wanted to write and get paid for it.”
That is exactly how I feel about my photography work. Sounds like the industries have some serious cross-over when it comes to the middle school blog fights, popularity contests and the like. It is a well known fact that you CAN indeed become an almost instant success (aka rockstar photographer) if you just sell YOURSELF (not your work, yourself) hard enough, bold enough. There are endless websites out there with headers full of photos of the photographer, not their actual work… 5-10 scrolling images of what a rockstar photog they are and why you, the potential client, want to spend your money and time with being aligned with them… as an aside, they make pretty pictures. Sadly, it is a tried and true path to photography “success.” And one I simply cannot buy into.
So, I pretty much want to be like you. I want to create good work (images, stories, words) and earn a living wage while doing it. So, like you, I have to find my own path and way to do that without losing my soul.
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I love the authenticity of this post. I can so relate to the “general life misfit” feeling, and the endless notebooks full of scribbles. Just in the last year I gave myself permission to step back from all the career and higher education voices that were pushing me places I couldn’t find a vision for, and start writing. But man, I’ve barely got my feet wet and I’m already so disoriented by the platform and fame chatter. It feels like it’s either get famous or die trying if you want to take writing beyond a hobby or a volunteer for the church bulletin. So now I’m ricocheting between mad research on how to build a platform, and disgust at the very word. Where do you find the balance, the graceful middle? What’s your advice for getting started on healthy and realistic track?
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The answer to that question is why I wrote Write without Crushing Your Soul. I don’t think I could write a comment that would cover all of the angles like that book. It would at least be a good place to start.
Thanks for your honesty here. It’s regrettable that the industry has gotten this way. When a well published writer told me to completely rewrite my published book I was flabbergasted because no self respecting agent would take on this book, it has sold so badly. But another well published writer disagreed saying that most agents know books only sell about a 1,000 copies. (I haven’t sold that many, not even close.)
Like you I want to make some money because I declared this as a business on my taxes. Ugh.
All I know is to try to be faithful and keep at the writing.
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You know what I like about what you contribute? It teaches and gives permission. The more I write, I just want to keep writing. When I read all you have learned, I feel more at home with that truth. We can all take different paths. Good words here Ed.
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Thanks for this, Ed. I write for the money, too. Not a lot, but I wasn’t even sure if I’d make a dime writing when I started plunging into the waters of how to even “be” a writer and what I would write. I thought maybe it would just be a ministry. as that is my ultimate heart. At the time I didn’t “need” to make money for survival. Now I do. When I started, a friend who had recently published a book told me, “Don’t expect to actually make any money writing.” Funny thing is, I think I make more than her and I haven’t even published a book yet (though I do have freelance stories in published books … stories that are both a “ministry” and “make a money”. The best of both worlds). So far my biggest income comes from Amazon, which is not from savvy creative writing OR anything ministry oriented. However, the way I see it is I can live off of that money while I dive into “real writing” that will hopefully yield changed lives … as well as money.
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Ed, since I’m not a writer, I’m feeling lost getting my thoughts down “on paper.” But, even though I’m not a writer, this post has resonated with me. I know the feeling of feeling so lost, and like all I’m doing is messing up, and being a “less than.” However, I am getting back to what I believe God has called me to, possibly all along, but where I am in my skin, and is my bent. It is ministry, and it is from all those years of my feeling lost, messing up, and being a less than. God has done a work, and really still is doing a work of healing in me. Because of Jesus doing these works of healing, this is where I am able to point women to Truth, and speak living words into them, and give them hope. But, in order to be where I am now, I had to go through the dark years as you so aptly named those years. I listen, speak, affirm, correct, ask questions, help direct, and love them where they are right now, but prodding them to keep moving forward. It is where I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence while I am facilitating this class of women. I feel like I “get” to do this. Ideally, I’d be paid, but I’m not. I feel this is my gifting, being able to speak these words. This still isn’t right, but I think it’s the closest I’ll be able to come to get my thoughts in writing. Thank you, you once again have me thinking…..a lot. Blessings, Joanne
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I wonder why there’s such discouragement for creative people, as if there is nothing valuable in creating! When I was a child, all I wanted to do was read, write, draw, make music, walk in nature… I felt like a misfit, even a bore to other people. If I told people what I really wanted to do as a career, they gave an incredulous look and told me “good luck making any money.” I pushed my creative side aside and instead became a teacher, it seemed to make the most sense for me, or at least I was told. I found out that teaching was not my thing, I even sunk down into a deep depression. Nobody could understand when I told them I didn’t want to teach, and thought I wasted my education. Well, now I see good things that came out of my education and my one-year teaching experience, but I know I’m not made to be a teacher. After that, I searched for “something else” that I could do which I had credentials for, which ended up being an office job, but I am not fulfilled. Like you, I keep hearing that voice that says “write on the side.” I have hardly written creatively since I was a teenager, I find it’s so hard to pick up a pen and dirty up a notebook. I feel like an imposter. I also used to play the piano (quite well), but somehow I was convinced I was no good and have hardly played in years – again feeling like I was only pretending I had anything to offer. I found a name for this – imposter syndrome. I now see that I have always been called to creativity, art, music, and I’ve got some worthwhile talents. God created me in His image, didn’t he? I’ve got to start following my God-given dreams, pushing aside the lies that tell me I’ll never make it. I’ve had enough trying to fit into a mould that isn’t meant for me. Thank you for your encouraging reflections.
Thanks so much for sharing Erica. Our families want us to be stable and provided for. I was told to be a doctor or lawyer. The least worst thing I could think of was ministry, and now I have a four year MDiv degree that I’m not using all that much any more. So I really get it. The climb to reclaim that creative calling is a long slow process. I mean, imagine if it had been nurtured from day one! So there is a lot of lost time to make up but there are good things that can come if you stick with it.
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