No Shortcut for Paying Dues as Writers and Artists

On a fairly regular basis, I’ll find a message like this in my email box via an online journal where I contribute editorial skills:

“I want to write poetry. Where can I send my work so I can make lots of money?”

Every working writer I know has heard over and over to keep their day job or make a pact with a partner whose salary pays the mortgage. Yet, the question keeps coming up for young writers. And that makes me wonder how our society manages to produce writers who lovingly craft poems and stories at the same time as it produces money-driven people who refuse to craft anything without a large paycheck attached. How do we, as writers, communicate the value of paying dues? How do we encourage writers-to-be to take their time in the development of their skills when they are bombarded with messages to gain wealth as quickly as possible?

This isn’t a new question, but its refusal to be permanently resolved is mighty stubborn. Today, I talked about this whole situation with my son, Minneapolis mixed-media artist Shawn Dalsen. Artists and writers face many of the same difficulties around getting work out to the public while still being able to buy groceries. Shawn, who completed his bachelor of fine arts degree in 2006, has spent much of the past four years making connections, contributing artwork and skills to various causes and events, showing his art in public places like coffeehouses and restaurants, and volunteering to help other artists. I compared that to my own contributions writing newsletters for nonprofits, reading slush for various  publishers, and editing poetry online. It takes time to build a community of writers or artists that support one another and it takes time to find markets that are willing to pay money for the work. Money eventually comes to those who have a track record. If you’re brand new or you haven’t ventured beyond your back yard, you cannot command a majestic fee for your art. But you can be part of the community by going to as many events as you can or reading as much as you can.

If the thought of doing all that makes you gasp, then, perhaps, you need to think about a different career path.


Rogue Citizen, a Minneapolis art collective, recently donated part of their proceeds to the University of Minnesota English Department’s journal, Ivory Tower, and has done other benefit live art events, including the Gimme Shelter Benefit for Haiti at the venerable First Avenue in Minneapolis in February. They’re a great example of young artists doing good in the community and paying their dues. Check out their Facebook page at

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  1. Good points. Money as a motivating factor in writing has never worked for me. Perfect your craft, and eventually, the money will come. (Just usually not in great gobs.) There are easier professions to go into than writing and art if money is what you're after. Believe me, if there were a secret formula to get rich quick in the arts, I would have ferreted it out already…
    There's those individuals who ply their trade with effortless genius in every walk of life. I, however, am not one of them. 😦
    Back to work!
    (My word verification: pytied. Et Tu, Blogger?)


  2. Ah, effortless genius….don't know any of those people. Fear and anger motivate me more than money, but not always in a good or useful way.
    (That word verification genie seems to be a bit sarcastic some days.)


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