Due to the fairly mild weather where I was today, I went out and did some busking. It was nothing too elaborate. I kept it pretty basic, limiting my set up to just me and my guitar and a microphone stand down by a wharf. Although I did also use a little busking amp (that runs on batteries), to cut through the sound of passing traffic and general street noise.
As a rule of thumb, I tend to get around $40/hr wherever I busk; and today was no different to usual. Which got me next thinking about how impossible it is for me to make any kind of money at all from writing, my other great passion alongside playing music.
Seriously, over the last 20 years or so, I have earned 10’s of thousands of dollars kicking around in dead-end bands and teaching guitar and busking etc. But, please, you must trust me that I’m not telling you this so as to boast about it. I’m just pointing out a fact, so as to put what I’m trying to say in context.
Because, even though I have a degree in English literature and have spent many years trying to refine my writing style — during which time I have also completed a novel, I might add — I’ve never managed to make any real money out of being a writer.
Sure, at the drop of a hat, quite literally, I can stand on any street corner in the country and earn enough money to feed myself, by busking. But, trust me, if I had to make an equivalent amount of cash through writing I would immediately end up starving.
“So what’s up with that?” I ask you.
Yeah, okay, you might argue that busking is simply a less demeaning form of begging. And that people are merely handing over their money to buskers the same way they would to someone who was panhandling.
Well, of course, it hardly needs to be said I totally disagree with this view of busking. And yet while I could next go on to explain exactly why it is that I disagree. I’m not going to for the sake of brevity.
Suffice to say that I’m much more interested, instead, in again lamenting the sorry fact that, as a writer, I have no means by which to make the sort of money I can from strumming a few chords while casually belting out a handful of old Iggy Pop and Lou Reed standards.
From searching the Internet, I gather what I’m suffering from is actually referred to as Starving Writer Syndrome. A condition that evidently is largely fed by a misguided belief that there is something romantic about living in obscurity as a struggling writer.
Notwithstanding the accuracy of this label, I’ve decided to end (somewhat ironically) with a quote from a famous musician about his view on making money from writing. To my mind, it neatly captures my own misgivings about professional writing, more generally. And perhaps it even helps explain why I have not enjoyed any real financial return for my literary efforts so far.
“I didn’t want to write for pay. I wanted to be paid for what I write.” – Leonard Cohen