Writers are told never to write for free, never set our books at “zero”, and never let anyone take advantage of our skills. Writing is an art, yes, but also an act that takes a fair bit of work. Setting aside how small projects like literary magazines often can’t pay, we’re all supposed to go out and remind people that ours is a profession and should be treated as such.
If you’re on a government assistance program however, the amount of money you can make is limited (at points, extremely) and the release date of a book might inspire more fear than feeling of success. Those of us on “welfare or benefits” know how little it can take for the government to look at your income and say: “Well, you don’t need us anymore… or your medical insurance”. For the majority of us, no medical insurance means death.
So, those who still long to be published writers seek out ways to get their writing into the hands of readers in ways that won’t mess up their (literally life-saving) insurance. They self-publish and offer books for free (or ninety-nine cents). They embrace literary journals that don’t pay. They take writing assignments more for the byline than the check.
People not receiving SSI/SSD would consider this horrible. Why, if we can make money, would we ever decide not to? Don’t we want to be independent?
Writers rarely make the type of money that would cover the expenses of multiple medications, hospital stays, power wheelchairs, weekly counseling, and a number of other (quite expensive) necessities. Many of us would need hundreds of thousands per year to cover our costs. And writers like J. K. Rowling are the exception of what a writer can earn, not the rule. If we could support ourselves (and be rid of bigots who turn our lives into a cost-benefit analysis) we would. Maybe a few of us will even get to that point.
We will write however we can, for as long as we can, and do whatever possible to get our words out there. But, we must also be safe and secure in the knowledge that we will have insulin tomorrow, or the ability to go to our dentist appointment next month. No one else is asked to choose between their passion and their lives, and it shouldn’t start now.