Saturday, December 7, 2013

Writing on empty: on writing income and identity

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre paying the bills
Ruth Quibell and I have a piece in today's Saturday Age: 'Writing on Empty'.

It's an essay on the writing life; on income and identity, and how the two are entangled.

The essay is an extract from a longer feature Ruth and I wrote for issue 135 of the literary magazine Island, which will be launched next week in Hobart. In the meantime, here's a sample:
The anxiety of uncertain literary income is not radically different to that of many contractual or casual workers, jostling for cash. But writers often earn less for their labour, including years before ''making it''. ''I'd have to make a hell of a lot of money,'' writes blogger and forthcoming non-fiction author Clint Greagen, ''to catch up on the hours I've put into it over my lifetime.'' And there is often an expectation that writers will work for exposure rather than cash. Witness the recent outcry after Crikey's new arts site, The Daily Review, was launched without a budget for paying freelance contributors. 
Indeed, even successful authors are routinely asked to work for free. It is not unusual to have a speaking event staffed by producers, directors, publicists and sound engineers, all earning a wage - while the author is supposed to pay for groceries with applause and a bottle of wine. 
Whatever the cultural background, the miserly rewards can lead to frustration. ''Writers,'' Melbourne novelist and academic Tony Birch says bluntly, ''are the most exploited workers in the publishing industry.'' Novelist Jennifer Mills, a vocal advocate for writers' financial rights, agrees. She started the @paythewriters Twitter account to highlight the industry's stinginess. ''I'm an enthusiastic volunteer for projects I care about,'' says Mills, ''but that doesn't forfeit my rights as a worker.''

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