The image of the starving artist might seem romantic to some. But that's not a story you'll likely hear from the many established authors in this country attempting to squeeze out a novel on crumbs. This week, the Writers' Trust of Canada will add a little fat to the bones thanks to a $1.87-million bequest -- said to be the largest cash gift to writers in Canadian history -- from the estate of literary giant George Woodcock and his wife Ingeborg.Here's why they want to give Canadian writers a little help:
"Writers are one of Canada's greatest exports," said Don Oravec, executive director of the Writers' Trust of Canada, "yet many endure near-poverty, as the writing life offers no health benefits or pension plans."
Indeed. Canada's writers, on average, earn less than $9,000 annually, according to a 2003 study for the Department of Canadian Heritage. Oravec says the added support for the Woodcock Fund "will encourage and preserve our literary heritage by rescuing those works that would otherwise be abandoned."
That's $9,000 Canadian, friends. My trusty calculator calls that US$8,114.79. Not a lot of clams, is it?
I know more than a hundred published romance writers, and most of them simply aren't able to live on what they make writing books. Some make what seems like a lot of money until you realize they have no insurance unless they can find an affordable plan on their own. And here in the U.S., writers pay twice as much as an employed person does to Social Security. (Your employer picks up half of your tab; writers are self-employed, so they're on their own.) That's why so many writers keep their day jobs or depend on their spouses' jobs for insurance, retirement, and other benefits.
The joke in writing circles is that if you can quit writing, you absolutely should. That's because most aspiring authors will never sell. Yes, I said most will never sell. And even those who do will probably never make enough to live on. Sure, some authors make a tidy living and a few strike it stinkin' rich. But we're talking about the average published writer, remember? And the average published writer does not make beans in this business.
Why write, then? If the reality is that most writers will never be published, and most published writers will never make a good living, why write?
We write for the same reason a college kid drops out and starts a rock band or a pretty young woman sells everything she has and moves to Hollywood. We know the odds are wildly against us ever making it, but we're dreamers. We know this business wants to tear our hearts out, but we don't allow ourselves to dwell on that. We believe it's going to be different for us because we're going to make it different.
People talk about writers being a little bit crazy. Forget that. Writers are a whole lot crazy. But I like that about us.