Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

“Think of the children…”

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New Yorker cartoon by Richard Decker

Once upon a time, to be sure, it was possible to become rich by writing novels. It was possible to become rich even by writing short stories. It was possible to become opulent by writing both novels and short stories, unless you threw the cash out of the window with both hands, like Scott Fitzgerald. My elders and betters tell me that, before the present tax system was built up, a man might get five thousand dollars for a single short story from one of the big magazines; he might make fifty thousand dollars from a single novel. With virtually no income tax to pay, he could treat that not as income, but as capital; he could, and some did, try to save most of it, buy annuities, build a house, and provide against the possible drying up of his talent. Those were the days in which writers could become rich merely from writing stories. But now, all such windfalls are taxed as income, and disappear as rapidly as all income seems to do…

Writing is not a profession like dentistry. People will always have toothache and pay for its removal; they will not always want to read novels, and they may never want to read Joe’s novels. Or, even worse, they may begin by liking Joe’s novels and then grow tired of them. Like painting, composing, and acting, writing is a hazardous and painfully irregular way of making a living. I remember a bitterly funny cartoon by Richard Decker in The New Yorker which showed a poor cold-water apartment, without comforts; there were a harried young wife, and two thin children playing on the floor; there were piles of typescript in one corner; and there was a table with a typewriter, at which sat a husband, rolling up his sleeves with an air of grim determination. The wife was saying to him, “Bernard, if you won’t think of me, think of the children. Please don’t start another trilogy.”

Gilbert Highet, Talents and Geniuses

Written by nevalalee

August 6, 2016 at 7:30 am

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