It’s like gesturing to a museum exhibit
Anna’s questions are not only super hard hitting but kind of existential for a writer or any creative to ponder on, and necessarily so. To separate identity + value from your body of work renders it antifragile. It might sound counterintuitive but that is the only truth, when you don’t defend your work with your vehement ideas of self or the money you generate from it, your work stands as a test of your love for what you do. That’s how it becomes more relatable, like your beautiful work here with this community. I’m tired of people telling me brewing a perfect cup of morning coffee for yourself is not work - it is work and I love it, damn their definitions.
You have given me a lot to think about Chris, specially how the idea of work is so transactional in the west and the west dominated economies, whereas in countries like Japan work is still a spiritual construct governed by ancient values like Ikigai
Naked But for a Loincloth...what a delightful thing to say out loud too. Really rolls off the tongue.
I appreciate you going into such depth about the "writing life" and "writing as a living". When I tell people I'm a writer and an artist, I do it because I HATE telling people about the things I have to do to earn money that I'm good at but don't enjoy. I'd much rather talk about the things that are essential to my being, that I've been doing my ENTIRE life, that bring me joy and feed me and are as natural to me as breathing. I also often have to explain to those who have no clue that royalties and booksales bring in a pittance and only the most prolific of authors could expect to make a living *just* from their writing.
i want to read other people's thoughts about work forever. thank you, chris, for expanding so beautifully and transparently on it all. so grateful to have you and yours as comrades.
When I lost my job in 2020, I spent a lot of time unpacking what work meant to me. I realized I had a pretty unhealthy relationship with my former employer, but was too caught up in how I let my job define who I was to understand how it was affecting me. Like you, I've come to realize that having what we refer to as a "healthy attitude" toward "work" is as essential as breathing to actually LIVING a life that enriches us. I couldn't go back to a "normal" relationship with work now, and my senses are so attenuated to the work that I am doing encroaching on this stake I've put in the ground that I repel at the mere thought of being slave to the job. The job is living a life of personal meaning. Writing for a living means that you are reliant on your wits and being ok with jettisoning some of the things we once thought of as necessities. It's also really hard (at least for me). I applaud you for your committment, and for your willingness to be so transparent and vulnerable. And I'll be one of the first folks placing a signed BLS order when the announcement comes. Thanks for sharing, Chris.
Thank you especially for the link to the interview with Charles Bowden and for everything else here. At age 73, choosing to live simply on my small Social Security check has given me the freedom to finally be employed as a full-time artist. Not that my art work brings in any income at this point. I'll be employed until I die. I like what Leonard Cohen said. Good to know you are making your living with your writing.
Thanks for sharing all this! Really interesting and enlightening about making a living as a writer. I think about work and compensation a lot. I feel like this capitalist society defines the monetary value of particular kinds of work purely based on what the people with the most power can get away with, and it's like pulling teeth to get anyone with power to approach sharing resources differently. If raging about it at work gets me fired, it's good to know that Substack can provide an alternative source of funds :)
I so appreciate you sharing this--it's so heartening to know how others are re-thinking relationships to work, and what the work of a writer really means. I've struggled with all of those definitions these last few years, and people like you and others have helped me to feel solid in defining what writing and work means for me. In Stations of Solitude, Alice Knoller writers a lot about the difference between work and job, and how committed she was to the former and not the latter, and finding a way to exist through life on less in order to be able to really work. I feel similarly and think about it constantly, that dance between and how to live while working. Not sure there is ever a balance, but I love that you single out the idea of writing that is authentic to your experience, rather than to a reader's--that's where true connection actually exists. We have to trust ourselves--and each other.
“The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.” - Adrienne Rich
Thanks for being you!
Most who cobble together a living through creative endeavors love to talk about our process, or our sources of inspiration. And we hate to talk about money. We hate negotiating for fair pay. We hate asking for reimbursement money. We hate having to chase down a paycheck, especially after rearranging our own lives to meet a tight deadline for the client. Such is the life of a freelancer, and I know a lot of us appreciate you divulging your personal information and experiences about your own creative life and ongoing struggle with it. I read every post, and appreciate you more than you know, Chris.
All of this.
I've been thinking about work under capitalism also, and it is one thing I fully expect to write about soon: the reductive notion that work must produce value that can be quantified, whether as cash or some more abstract form of capital, robs us all of a deeper understanding of what life on Earth does, or what it could do. What we could do, and what all else that lives already does without nearly the degree of anguish we put ourselves through.
I'm going to try to keep this in mind; I have things to attend to this week, but maybe I can find energy to write after they are done. Thanks for taking down your thoughts and sending them out.
"... as unfathomable to them as saying I roam the hinterlands hunting yeti from the back of a furry unicorn while naked but for a loincloth" --wait. You don't do that?
I think I would if I could.
On a very shaggy unicorn, from the vast northern steppe.
There came a point in my writing obsession when I had to "get real" about money. After six years of a Unabomber-like existence in a 12x12 cabin on the Blackfoot River in Montana, I moved to Seattle, pulled out my carpentry tools and started making money with the skills the I had been honing since age 12. The trick to keeping my sanity was... self-employment. This allowed me to control the clock and the daily effort and the vacation time and for whom I worked. I was a nomad in a pickup truck moving in an annual circle that included Seattle, Montana, New Mexico and Nashville. I was good enough at my trade that I always worked for people I knew well. I'm not saying everyone could do this. I'm just saying... I found a way to do both the brute blue-collar labor for money and live the life of the college-educated artist, among friends wherever I went, three months vacation per year.... the life of the minimalist.
This drops a few gold coins into a universal basket of hope.
Great post and I’ll be thinking of this more and more, I’m sure, in the coming days. Lately, I’ve started replacing the word “work” with “earning income” on some of the things I do, just to separate them out.
I love that you have a chunk of earnings from a catogory named irritable. and yes naked would also be cool but irritable just feels like such a grounded response when it comes to figuring out employment.
It kind of terrifies me when I hear the same refrain over and over, we need jobs. its such a misdirect as I see that the more we do the more we fuck up at the cost of mostly our environment and ourselves. I'm like can we please stop all the doing and just find our own worth first for a minute?
I was one of those cursed irritable people who didn't have a niche. I had to make it and it took like 40 years but now most of my money comes from making frame drums for people which also involves journeying to the spirit of the drum and then figuring out how to paint the drum when its made. it just wasn't what came up with the school education consoler. and on the way to discovering this particular work i recognized and met many folks who's work was also obscure yet so essential to the mystery of their communities and the health of life, like dreaming, tending, praying, walking. All also having a hard time trying to figure out how to get supported. the internet has improved things somewhat, at least less people are getting burned for not doing a "job".
And I guess one of the reasons why i subscribe to you is because I cant really fathom work not being informed by place. And all the jobs I see, that create the framework for all these shitty agreements we got going on and they all be devoid of place and relationship to other than human. well it hurts my heart.
So i celebrate how, especially post pandemic there are less people seeking jobs and more folks gathering to find their work. May we support and celebrate these endeavors knowing that some of the hardest work is the most invisible.
Ha, 40% irritability made me chuckle. I aspire to make that much of my living from my attitude!
Your post connects with AHP’s Culture Study interview this week (published after you, but I’m behind on my readings) with Laurel Braitman. https://annehelen.substack.com/p/you-can-only-write-at-the-speed-of Both you and Laurel are talking about writing, and generally creating, from a place of authenticity, whether that’s in voice or in subject matter or format or whatever. It’s difficult, but it’s ultimately the most fulfilling way to express ourselves. And it’s radical to put work out into the world, without grtting caught up in about what anyone thinks of it! Sometimes I wish it was easier to release creative products anonymously - I don’t want my ego to get in the way and hold something back just because it’s seemingly imperfect, according to some collective expectation. (Another conversation altogether: why do we want artists to be self-flagellating, and then we label them as egotistic when they’re not?)
Anyways, thanks as always for sharing. May the work be plentiful, the bills be paid, and everything else fall into place!
Big respect for the honesty and openness about money, which artists often hide for whatever reason. I am so glad that this newsletter is a big part of what lets you focus on writing full time. When the Authors Guild sent out their survey, I was very clear to state in 2017, when my second book was published, I made the majority of my writing income from book sales; by 2022, when my third one was published, I was making 90% of writing income from patreon and my newsletters. I shut down my patreon because I like Substack better. But it’s not a tenable industry when most artists get 2 bucks from a 30 dollar book and can’t afford to get sick.