How do you feel about easy money?

I know that your immediate answer is ‘fine’ or even ‘where can I get me some?’ but seriously, if you’re a writer, stop and think.

Do you really believe in easy money? Do you genuinely, deep down, think that if it only took an hour to write, you should get paid a hundred quid for it?

Do you?

Or do you feel that something would be wrong with that picture? Does your innermost being whimper that there’s something nasty about the idea of getting paid so much for an hour’s literary doodling, when you’ve sweated blood and expelled tears over much better work that’s never found a home, let alone a home with a nice return payment attached.


I suspect that at least half the writers reading this are confronting an inner myth right now, and I suspect this because whenever I lead a workshop this myth, and a couple of others, will seep into the room, or – more likely – will seep through later email communications with participants.

Myths are prevalent. Literary myths are particularly so, because they are beautifully couched in language that works for writers and so they slither into us while we’re still admiring the quality of the syntax. And if you’re a writer who’s never been anything else, myth comparison is not going to be your strong suit.

Consider these famous words: There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith and Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money. Virginia Woolf. Neither is particularly positive about our craft and neither offers much sense of self-esteem, or self-fulfilment through writing. This is the kind of myth I’m talking about.

Now compare and contrast: when Auguste Escoffier created Peach Melba to honour opera star Dame Nellie Melba, he didn’t feel wracked by failure that it only took him an hour to create a new dish good enough to bear the name of one of opera’s most exacting stars, instead he said something along the lines of ‘This great dessert is my compliment to a great lady’. Because what Auguste knew, and what people in almost every other industry know, is that it’s not the hour that matters – it’s the years it took to get there. Vidal Sassoon cut hair like an angel, and when you’d been in his hands for an hour, you looked and felt like a different person. But it wasn’t that hour that counted, it was the years he spent learning his trade that allowed him to know what your hair wanted better than you did.

The time it takes to create something is not generally indicative of its value. I know many a writer who’s been working on a novel for a decade – and all those novels are mediocre. It’s the writers who’ve got on with many projects, who’ve bashed their egos against the publishing industry until the prickly bits have been knocked off or smoothed over, who’ve spent time exploring what fiction is, and why it gets published, who’ve produced good work.

And, dear writer, until you accept that you’re good enough to produce, in an hour, fiction worth hundreds of pounds, you will struggle with an inferiority complex that will make you bitter, twisted and quite possibly, poorer than necessary.

Easy money courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik at Flickr


  1. Vanessa Gebbie
    2nd May 2009

    Oh gaaaad. Your post (great to read, and follows in the hallowed footsteps of Whistler versus Ruskin) resurrects memories of a spat with a very pleasant gifted writer, also editor of a small press mag, no longer around these islands.

    We were talking flash fiction at the time, I said something about ‘when one is on song, using flash techniques, one can sometimes create publishable pieces in a very short time’.

    ‘Rubbish’ came the reply.

    I rose to the bait. “But sure one can”‘ I said blithely. “You’ve published a few pieces of flash fiction that took me about 15 minutes to write.”

    “If I’d known that, I would NEVER have published them,” she retorted, and stalked out. And has never spoken to me since.

    What she wasn’t taking into account was, as you say… it had taken me a few years to learn the craft stuff. So actually, each flash took those years experience to write..

    Thanks for raising this one. And if you are skilled enough to write a nice earner in an hour, great!! Here’s to many more hours like that.

  2. Ania Vesenny
    3rd May 2009

    Food for thought. I realised recently that when I write a story quickly, as though it comes to me on its own, as thought I can’t stop writing, it has a completely different energy from a story that comes slower. My most favourite stories of mine, or flash, as this refers particularly to flash fiction, are the fast ones. I do end up polishing them, but they feel “light”–not in content, but in something else, I can’t really explain. And then there are others, the ones that come painfully line by line, and they are just different–at least to me. I wonder if others can tell the difference, and if there’s a difference, or I only imagine it.

  3. Vanessa Gebbie
    3rd May 2009

    Interesting points. I wonder if we have some little imp on our creative shoulders which says ‘it only took you xx minutes… it cant be that good, just a meaningless yarn,’ hence the ‘lightness’?

    I have the feeling always that if something didnt ‘come along easily’, and was like wading through molasses to write- that the reader must feel that ‘stickiness’ when they read it. It wold be an interesting experiment to stage.

  4. Ania Vesenny
    3rd May 2009

    My recent flash in smokelong ( –was very difficult to write, very sticky, and yet I think it is one of my best flashes. I think the difference is uninspired stickiness vs. inspired stickiness. I was inspired by an image, and even though it was hell to come up with the rest of the story, it was worth it. This flash, in Buzzwords wrote itself:

    I love them with different loves LOL

  5. Vanessa Gebbie
    5th May 2009

    And they both have snow, and hot chocolate!

    Lovely work. Which did I find ‘disappeared’ as I read it? The Smokelong one. ie, I was ‘inside’ the story more than the other.

    Shame Buzzwords has gone, that was a nice place.

  6. Dave King
    5th May 2009

    You can’t believe in it, there lies the snag, if you could we’d all be for it.

  7. Kay Sexton
    11th May 2009

    I didn’t step in, as you two were taking this on so much better than I could. Isn’t that one of the great things about blogs – the way we can raise a question and explore it like this?

    Anyway, I do believe in easy money, but I do also think it bugs me when writing I consider ‘special’ doesn’t attract the kind of money that genre writing that erotica or science fiction does. And I still don’t understand why people look down on genre writing when it pays so much better … paradoxical, isn’t it?

  8. Vanessa Gebbie
    13th May 2009

    Hmm. I know what you mean. It’s market forces at work isn’t it?

    But I’m intrigued. The writing that you call ‘special’ is not your genre writing. So, even though that earns you good £££, it’s not ‘special’??

    (Playing devil’s advocate here. I know what you mean, I think. It’s a shame that semantics has such a divisive effect. After all, literary/special or whatever… its just another genre, isn’t it? But as you say, one that doesnt pay much!)

  9. Ms Baroque
    10th June 2009

    “Do you genuinely, deep down, think that if it only took an hour to write, you should get paid a hundred quid for it?”

    Yes. And I’d like to do that every day, please. And I promise to write something good. Every day.


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