Historians and Money

History podcaster extraordinaire Liz Covart‘s recent tweet caught my attention:

She links to Joseph Frankel’s interview with writer Manjula Martin published in The Atlantic under the title Why More Writers Should Talk About Money.”  Martin is the editor of Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living.  The book, as Frankel describes it, offers a “more personal picture of what it’s like to make a living from-or while–writing.”

Here is a taste of the interview:

Frankel: Essays in the collection call attention to the creative value of day jobs and, in the case of Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), their impact on writers’ output. Others, particularly the piece by Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night, Edinburgh), think that the discussion of day jobs helps to romanticize unfair pay for writers. How do you think about the relationship between other kinds of work and writing?

Martin: I think that some of the stuff Chee says in his essay is particularly valuable for younger writers who maybe haven’t been around in an era where folks were ever really compensated well. I’ve certainly written for free. I’d bet Chee has done it too, and I think he talks about that in his essay. But if you’re hiring me to do work, you need to pay me, is sort of his stance. And I agree with that 100 percent.  You mentioned romanticizing that relationship between work and craft. I think it’s very tricky because there is a lot of dangerous romanticization, and that can set writers up, particularly in the beginnings of their careers, to blunder in a business they know nothing about.

Chee has a great quote in his essay where he talks about how any education in writing should include an education in how to make a living as a writer. There is a place for the romantic in the writer’s life, but there’s a difference between romance and being ignorant. Gay says that really nicely in her interview where she’s just like, “I don’t want to kill the dream of my students by being like, ‘it’s really hard to make a living!’” But it’s also the responsibility of older generations of writers to let folks know really what it’s like.

It drives me equally crazy to read advice to writers on the internet that’s like, “Here’s how to write a bestseller in 7 steps” or “You are guaranteed to get a book deal.” I think that’s the flipside of the same coin.

Writers, it seems to me, have an important role to play in society.  So do historians. A knowledge of American history and the learning of historical thinking skills are essential in any age, but they are particularly essential in times of political change.  I hope that what we do here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home makes some small contribution to the cause.

Very soon we will be recording episodes for Season 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and we could really use your help.  We have a young staff who is passionate about history and podcasting and are willing to work for peanuts.  But they also have families to raise and school bills to pay. I realize that I will never be able to pay them what they are worth, but I would at least like to show them that I am making a good faith effort to reward their hard work.  This is where you can help.

If you would like to hear more quality history podcasting at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, including shows with great guests, commentary, and conversation, I hope you will consider becoming a patron of the show.

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