If someone said they were a painter two hundred years ago, one imagined a person with an easel painting portraits for a living, while occasionally painting for his artistic vision. Today if someone says their profession is “painter”, we imagine someone with ladders, paint-splashed overalls and lots of buckets. A painter today is most likely a painter of houses, fences and interior walls.
The idea that one could make a profession from their art is one that many of us dream about, but today’s world does not make it easy. The profession of “writer” is morphing, even disappearing completely. At least, the idea of a journalist and their typewriter/laptop painting prose pictures of world events is disappearing. One correspondent and some AI takes short wire service blurbs and turns them in to “reporting” for multiple news sources these days.
When I was young, many many decades ago, I did dream of being a writer. It seemed like such an idyllic existence, painting prose pictures of the visions in my head. By the time I reached adulthood, I was under quite a bit of economic stress. I had to earn money. Off and on throughout my twenties I would try to “write for money”, but most of the time that meant taking a very low-paying journalist job or a slightly higher paying copywriter job. In either case, I would not be able to write what I wanted, but only what the bosses said I should write.
Since I was writing code as a computer programmer, I knew exactly what it felt like to be told what to write. I found I couldn’t write “words” at all, if it was for money. It is hard enough to write code for money, but at least in the case of the programmer, I was paid a lot better. By the time I was in my thirties I had long since given up the dream. The idea of writing words for money became abhorrent to me and I just stopped.
I just made money. It’s what Dads in America MUST do. I told myself it was self-indulgence that allowed me to think I could make anywhere near the money writing words instead of code. I reminded myself it was a foolish fantasy. In the ruthless capitalism that is America such fantasies are viciously punished.
Finally, though as the years went by and my mortality became clear, all the words that had been in me for so long were crying to get out. I knew I had to write again. I knew I wanted to write, but only what I wanted to write. It was the only way to generate the passion and energy to write.
I wrote about the political state of my nation and tried to create a political vision that was not so destructive. I got that book done, and tried to market it, but it died on the vine. In retrospect, it was pretty crappy as far as its craft. That is the only reason why I can see writing for money and that is to improve your craft. Hiring editors has been my workaround on that issue, because I simply cannot seem to write something on spec unless I really and truly want to do it. Not only that, I have learned many editors are actually frustrated writers. They do “things” to your prose before it gets to print. They are paying you, so you have to let them.
Since the first book went poorly and I had learned the craft a bit more, I started on a new version in 2017. I started writing chapters and putting them out as essays with the idea that I could get to a book this way. As I did the prep for releasing Libertarian-Socialism: American Style I received heat from the “fans” of the previous book “Progressively Restoring American Greatness” . The use of the term socialism was a big problem for them. By the time Libertarian-Socialism: American Style was ready I had gone from 2000 fans on the Facebook page to barely 1000.
I actually had internal debates with myself as the “unlikes” grew. I wondered if I should soften, tweak or otherwise change my message so as to hold onto the eyes which are currency on the Internet. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t generate the effort to rip the words and ideas from my head to the paper if I had to change it for audience and money. If I wanted to write for money, I needed to change what I wrote and this became quite problematic.
Admittedly, I am lucky. I can write whatever I want and I need not worry about whether anyone likes it or whether it makes money. We are in the midst of a transition in writing as painting went through a couple centuries ago. Writing as a craft is no longer valued. People do not pay for it. However, there is still no better way to express ideas than writing. That fact still holds and presumably will hold for some time, but that does not mean one can make money.
Sure you can make money if you write what other people need, like ad copy or obituaries. You can also try to leverage Medium by carpet-bombing the subscribers with slightly tweaked essays that come every other day. I see people on the platform claiming certain incomes doing just that. I am seeing writers that are simply retreading old verbiage so as to put out the “volume” required to make some small amount of money. I think this is sad. It is a race to the bottom and I think it will destroy Medium. There is only so much retread pablum that an audience can take.
Medium is constantly tweaking their algorithms to capitalize on the writers they lured here, so don’t believe you can make money here. The algorithms are a black box and can change without any notice. How can one base an income on that? I strongly suspect that human curation has been decreasing and there are now algorithms doing the curation. Without the humans, I fear that what I write can never get curated, because it is so non-standard. I rarely even bother with checking the box to “allow curation”.
Yes, I like the tools and the other writers. I leverage the ability to write wherever and whenever. I subscribe to support the community of writers here. I also get access to other content, which is nice. Nonetheless, the platform is morphing trying to turn a profit. The writers who came here to make money have suffered, because of this in my opinion.
Whether Medium continues or not is an open question. At first, it appeared Evan Williams would be a patron of writers. He promised to create this fabulous environment for writers. He would create a great place for ideas to be born. Now, perhaps his bank accounts are low. Medium started to take ad revenues from publications. The revenue sharing changes have driven many publications from the platform.
However, that is actually neither here nor there. In the 20th century, people continued to be painters, but they did not paint for money. They painted for the love of the art. They painted to create beauty. If some of that beauty made some money, so be it, but painting no longer was a “profession”, it was an artistic endeavor not done for profit.
Writing is moving to becoming an artistic endeavor in the 21st century, so don’t write for money. Write for the sake of the art and for your own well-being. Write to convey ideas. Write to create beauty. Write to honestly document your arc of experience, because to walk in another’s shoes is to gain understanding on the human condition. Write for yourself, not for the marketplace.
The pursuit of money prostitutes everything it touches. I hope what you write makes you some money. Do not come here thinking you can make money writing unless you see writing the way a house painter sees painting. It is an employable skill that will put food on the table. Of course, you probably should not be on Medium, if that is how you see writing. Rather you should be working for businesses to create engaging product descriptions or advertisers keeping eyes on pages, or doing some ghost-writing for some rich person’s vanity book.