Is it art or is it commerce?

It’s a given that you know how to write, at least to some degree. The fact that you’re reading is a dead give away. Readers can also write. How well is another question entirely. But we all have to start somewhere. So write away. Don’t let anything stop you. You may also have a clue as to what you’ll write. Although the answer to that question is tougher than most people give it credit for. Are you planning on specializing or casting a wide net? There are good cases to be made for either approach. If you’ve got the stamina to become an authority on the fascinating hobby of butterfly collecting, there is without a doubt at least one publisher who has a home for your work. But you might prefer tap dancing back and forth between that butterfly collectors article and a series on classic car restoration – followed by a piece on responsible parenting – which leads to a shot at interviewing Justin Timberlake on the transition from child performer to adult stardom.

Either way, you’ll find your fingers on the keyboard and your brain stretching to find the right words ahead of your deadline.

Perhaps the least asked question writers ponder is the least obvious. Why write in the first place? You may choose to write in order to vent your considerable passion for the arts – or to fill your wallet. Neither choice is wrong. Although to be honest, the financial motivation is considerably more difficult to satisfy than the creative impulse might be.

Ideally, the work will find a balance of those two opposing forces.

The drive to create has its place. It’s this insatiable yearning that causes us to write, rewrite and if necessary, rewrite again. When we finally read our finished piece in print, we may feel a sudden twinge at finding that our editor has made even more changes to our finished product, however slight. But that public lesson in grammar and sentence construction sticks with us. We vow to do a better job next time, to write a perfect piece. And we set out to do just that. Often we fall short. But on occasion we hit the mark and we find confirmation in that fact. Writing is our destiny.

But life in the real world has a price. There is no shame in sitting down at the keyboard with an eye on ultimately cashing a check in exchange for the work being committed to the page. The publisher is in business to make a profit, as is the distributor of the magazine you’re submitting your work to. The magazine stand that sells the copies your name is so proudly carried in is also hoping to see a positive cash flow from their efforts. Why not you too? Writing is a job as much as it is an art form. So why not acknowledge that fact from the outset. The act of attaching a dollar figure to your work may be a real motivating force for some of us. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the work matters in ways beyond our own ego. There’s cash at stake. Do a good job and there may be more. Fall down on the job and there won’t.

The question has always been there. It will always hang over our heads, our hands and our hearts. Do we write for art or are we driven to create by our hunger for compensation. The honest answer just might be, both.

So be it.

Jamie Beckett

Author – Burritos and Gasoline

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Filed under Articles, Book Promotion Experiences, The Writing Life

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