Do you write to live or live to write? It's a question I see pop up on writing websites and blogs from time to time. And it's a hard one to answer. If you say you write to live, that implies that money is your endgame, and I’m fairly certain that money doesn’t top the list of reasons why most writers write. For one thing, money in this business is often sporadic, unscheduled, and uncertain. To depend on money regularly is just plain risky.
Now, money certainly has a spot on the list of reasons why most writers write, but I suspect the majority of us do it mainly because we like it. I’d even go a step further and say that we need it. Writing makes us tick and gives us purpose. Without being able to write, we would not be fulfilled, and that would make life for us less than satisfactory.
So does that put most of us writers in the live-to-write category? Whether it does or not, living to write—like writing to live, with all its risk and uncertainty—has downsides too.
First of all, we writers need recognition. We can’t expend all that mental energy and not get rewarded for it. (Actually, we can and sometimes don’t but not usually by choice.) Rewards, whether in the form of money or praise, empower us and help validate us as writers. Second, the live-to-write mindset can make us stagnant. While writing to live might force us to write about topics we have no passion for or in styles that aren’t truly ours in order to appease clients, living to write can keep us from delving into new subject areas, learning different techniques, and experimenting with our own voice. Essentially, living to write can, if we let it, keep us from growing and developing as writers.
But whether we think we write to live or live to write, the best place to be is probably somewhere in between. If we write to live, we risk losing our true writing self as we try to meet the demands of readers and our financial goals. If we live to write, we might forego recognition for our work, the opportunities to reach wider audiences, and the chance to flourish at our craft.
If, on the other hand, we aim for a little of both—writing with passion on topics that appeal to us while being open to taking risks in areas that are new, and doing it for fulfillment, growth, recognition, and rewards—we might just win. We might find that happy medium that makes us full and complete, the writer we were meant to be.
Image by Ramunas Geciauskas