Stephen King is often quoted as saying something along the lines of: “You’re a real writer if you write a book, sell the book, get a check, cash the check (and it doesn’t bounce), and buy groceries with said money. Then you’re a “real” writer.” Or something along those lines…
I think that Stephen King is a good author-ly voice to heed. He certainly knows how it’s done–he can buy all the groceries he wants, now! In fact, I think he’s hit the nail on the head. The nail is the problem, of course. And King might have been defining success, but I believe he’s actually defining the issue many aspiring “writers” face: bein’ considered legit. Street credit, if you follow.
And there are real-world examples to argue this. Poe. Melville. Wilde. Penniless and dead long before their work made them “real”. Moby Dick didn’t net a lot of groceries. Nor did the Raven or the Picture of Dorian Gray. Using King’s metric, these poor writers were less “real” than E. L. James. You should be thinking right now: “what the eff?!?!?” I certainly am.
But King, like usual, has touched on a vein of truth with his words. He captures the wider imagination–the undercurrents of society–and brings to light something that is quite ugly, especially if we make it more true by buying into it.
Is being judged by capacity to meet basic needs the fate of those creative-types who just aren’t lucky? After all, 5% of writers make 95% of all writer-ly profit (yikes!) But measuring something as “real” via its profit is not a healthy way to look at art or artists in general.
Times are and have been changing in the world of literature. And yes, Poe and Melville and Wilde are all wildly successful now and could buy tons of groceries, too, if only they weren’t dead. But none of that changes the fact that they were writers the moment they began creating the content for which we know them. “Real” writers, too, even if they never reaped the monetary benefits.
So stop judging a writer by his salary. Seriously, piss off about that. Judge the content above all else, because in the end, the content is the only thing that matters, and the only thing that for which you’ll be remembered. You’re “real” if you’re content is true. Money will come later. Maybe. 🙂
And mountains! Did I mention those? 🙂
I’m on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/zachbarnesonwriting
And Twitter: @ZacharyBarnes4
Like or follow me if you enjoy the blog!
Don’t steal my words. They’re mine. Zachary Barnes 2015©