In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
[Do I write for the money?] The answer is no. Don’t now and never did. Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
You should never lose the dream of being able to make money as a fiction writer.
It’s not unreasonable to hope for, and expect, to make money from your fiction eventually. We’re not just doing it for the sake of the joy of writing. At some point you do need to make some money from your fiction, or you might find yourself burn out or worse, stop writing all together.
It’s also perfectly acceptable to write other kinds of things to make some income. Writing here on Medium for example. Other kinds of freelance writing. Copyediting and editing and things like that. There’s a lot of writing we all do to try to make some income, and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about that.
We all have our different circumstances, but there’s something to be said about actually getting paid for the jobs we do.
Write just to write if you want, but I do think after awhile some income here and there is a very good thing!
What King is talking about is that during the process of drafting, you can’t fixate on money.
When you’re actually doing the writing part itself, that’s when you shouldn’t ever focus on making money. If you’re writing a novel, and throughout each chapter you’re thinking more about the advance you might be able to make from the book one day rather than immersing yourself in the story and your characters’ lives, you’re in this for the wrong reasons.
First of all, there is no guarantee you’ll ever be able to make money from your fiction writing. I’ve been at it for almost ten years now, and I’ve still made almost nothing.
I’m almost done with my twentieth novel, I’ve self-published ten books, I have a literary agent and a book out on submission, I’ve won awards for my short stories and my novels, and I’ve barely made anything. Writing fiction is in no way, shape, or form an easy way to make money, take it from me!
Second of all, the irony is that if you fixate on money while you’re drafting your latest story, that story probably won’t ultimately be good enough to ever make you any money. The more you push the financial aspect aside and just focus on the story itself, the better chance in the long run you might be able to sell the story and be paid for it! Funny how that works, huh?
And third, to put it simply, you should absolutely be writing for the joy of it, not for making money off it.
Sure, there are some genres that sell better than others. If you write a 130,000-word literary novel, that might be a harder sell than a 68,000-word young adult romance novel.
If you want to make money from your fiction, be smart about what kinds of stories you write, but at the same time don’t write in a genre you hate just because you think that kind of work will make you money.
Writing should be about joy, first and foremost. To sit down at your writing desk every day obsessed with aspects of money is not a good place you want to be in. No matter what your circumstances may be, write because you love to write. Write because you have things to say and stories to tell.
Write your heart out every single day, keep pushing yourself, take chances, try different kinds of stories and genres, and see where the work takes you. If you keep at it long enough, you will make money from your writing eventually.
And you will be happy knowing that the money came from the joy of the work, as it should be!