MICHELLE GREYSEN - BLOG
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The myth of writing for a living …
(Or … when good Canadian writers must also sell real estate, and other sad tales of the state of the arts in our country)
As both an accomplished professional writer, a past successful corporate businesswoman in a few career ladders and now an equally accomplished Realtor, I feel I can speak fairly to the sad state of funding and support for the struggling arts/writing communities in our country.
What appears to have gone financially wrong for the arts in our Canadian culture is that we value and happily pay for and reward most industries except creatives. Yes, there are financially successful Canadian artists and writers, but the numbers are staggeringly few and the average annual earnings equally minimal. Sadly writers, all creatives in the arts community, are not valued in the social-norm definition of a job or a career choice of respect. Often a fine arts degree, BFA, jokingly referred to as a bachelor of F*ck-All.
In a past survey posted, The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), is calling it a “cultural emergency for Canada”, noting writers are working harder while earning less. Their publication, Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity, also shows an embarrassing gender gap in writers’ incomes in Canada, with women writers earning just 55% of the income earned by their male counterparts. The report shows a median net income from writing was less than $5,000, while the average income from writing was $12,879. Falling significantly below the average Canadian income of $49,000. at the time of the report.
TWUC predicts that “If writers continue to be compensated for their work at these low rates it will inevitably become impossible for professionals in the field to earn a living. With revenues from writing that fall below the poverty line, writers will increasingly abandon the sector for other employment … A decline in the number of writers will affect the quality and depth of materials available to Canadians as well as to the $1.9 billion book publishing industry which relies entirely on the work of writers.”
I view this not as just a business model downfall but a general society attitude problem. I personally have had many kudos and respect for my business success through a few major corporate career paths, but a comparable lack of respect or equitable payment for my published paid freelance, with an even lesser lack of earnings for my published creative writing work.
I worry about what happens to a country which does not value a creative community through supporting the arts. Everyone enjoys a great Netflix series, an inspiring gallery outing, a concert, theatre and especially a good book, yet most do not consider the creative processes in play to bring that enjoyment to their personal experiences. A corporate board room brings a high regard to those who sit around the big table with little notice to the artist whose work hangs on the wall in that very room. Pre meeting casual chit chat of the last show watched, or great book read brings rare mention of the skilled writer behind their enjoyment. The magazines on newsstands country-wide are heavily consumed with little revenue to the writer.
The attitude that creatives are hobbyists is alarmingly out of balance with the respect of professionals in most other industries. Speaking from my own personal experience when a hard-working creative published writer puts that career path on hold to sell real estate in order to pay the basic household bills, there is something fundamentally out of balance in the social attitude and elected voice in this country.
The disregard and lack of support for the creative community to earn a living wage is why Canada will continue to have so many stories go unwritten, art never imagined, and sadly creative energy never tapped.
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