In this month’s essay, When Income Envy Comes Home, Valerie Weaver-Zercher writes about the envy and outrage she felt when her author/husband earned an ordinate sum of money for a speaking engagement.
Have you ever defined your own writing success in economic terms? Have you ever felt jealous of those who seemed more prolific and better compensated? How did you come to grips with those feelings?
Cara Holman wrote:
At the tender young age of twenty, armed with a technical degree from a university with name recognition, I landed a job that paid more than I have ever earned since. Over the years, I have ruefully watched my financial contribution to our family’s assets plummet, as I subsequently became in turn, a full-time graduate student, a stay-at-home mom and volunteer, and finally a freelance writer. At least when I volunteered, I could count on a steady stream of compensation in the form of thank you gifts such as refrigerator magnets, gift certificates, and home baked goodies. At the moment, my writing proceeds are rather hit or miss.
Thankfully, I have never doubted that what I do is important, and learned early on not to use earning power as a measure of success. Had I done so, my sense of self-esteem would have been completely eroded by now. While it would be lovely to be liberally compensated for my writings with more regularity, I have learned to make do without.
My attitude about the value of money has largely been shaped by the fairy tales I so voraciously read as a child. If they were to be believed (and I believed them), it is better to be poor, but honest than corrupted by the lure of money. Poor, but honest, at least as regards my writing life, seems to be what I am destined to remain for the moment, as compensation is not the determining factor in where I submit my writings.
I must admit to experiencing an emotion suspiciously akin to envy occasionally, when I discover other writers who possess a seemingly natural gift for words. Why can’t I write like that is the thought that runs through my mind at these times. It is another story altogether, however, when I see authors that crank out formulaic and bland books year after year, earning a disproportionately large income and an assured spot for their books on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. This offends my sense of fairness.
As my father often asked rhetorically, though, “Who said life is fair?” Dad’s answer to the intrinsically inequitable nature of life was simply to encourage us to seek out our own strengths, to do our personal best, and to work hard. He never lost any sleep over factors that were beyond his control, and I have learned to follow his example. I concentrate now on writing to the best of my ability and don’t worry so much about external measures of success.
Fairy tale endings can happen, and perhaps one day, more widespread recognition and adequate compensation for my writing efforts will come my way. A girl can dream. For now, just being able to indulge in my lifelong passion for writing full time sure feels like success to me!
Cara Holman can be reached at cara(dot)holman(at)gmail(dot)com.