“But that assumes one wants to write for money.” A writer said that to me the other day, when I was mouthing off about getting into freelance writing. Not about how to be a writer. But how to be a freelance writer.
This writer clearly wanted to have a different conversation to the one I was having (the one about freelance writing). I stuck to my guns then, because I was talking to a few people that wanted to be freelance writers. It seemed a good time to have that conversation.
But now is an excellent time to have that other conversation (the one about writing for no money), because a) I’ve had a lot more time to think about it, and b) that writer isn’t around to argue.
I read a proper writer (one who writes for money) praise pretend writers (who write for no money) the other day. They were saying that, in a sense, pretend writing (for no money) is the purest form of writing. You know: writing for the sheer unbridled passion of words and sentences and stories. Writing for yourself, or a special someone, or bees or whatever, is very rewarding I, as a proper writer, imagine.
It was inspiring to hear from a real-life pretend writer who had written a novel. It hasn’t been published – not because it’s not good enough to be published, you understand; but because this writer has no interest in it being published. That’s what being a proper pretend writer is all about.
They have another novel planned for that most popular of genres of unpublished novels: books about the author’s grandfather’s war stories, which are much braver and more interesting than your grandfather’s war stories. The publishing industry is yet to realise the cash cow it’s sitting on, the tragedy being that much of this material is already between 2 and 3 percent written.
I am grateful to this writer for this insight into the world of the pretend writer, because I (and you may not realise this) have always been a proper writer who writes for money, and no other reason.
When I started this blog in 2001, it was at the behest of the Spirella company, who would send me £100 and prototype corset for every 500 blog posts I published.
But even before that, when I wrote stories as a small child, I was paid 2p per page by an aunt who would photocopy my scrawls and tack them to telegraph poles to raise awareness of the dangers of chewing the hands and feet of He-Man figures.
And it continues to this day. Though no one else will ever read them, I am contractually obliged to include the words Saudi Aramco in every haiku I write, which means I have whole notebooks which are 30-percent full of the words Saudi Aramco.
My only consolation is that with all the money I earn being a proper writer, I can afford to go on some of those expensive courses that are so popular with pretend writers, so I can at least glimpse how great it must be to write for no money.
(Apologies if you have found my use of the term “proper writer” patronising. It’s just that the minute you receive a paycheck for having written something, it becomes absolutely impossible to not look down upon anyone who hasn’t. Luckily, proper writers are singled out and tattoo’d at birth, so it’s not a vantage point that comes with any risk at all.)