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Book review: Scratch: Writers, money, and the art of making a living

NB: Apologies for the vagueness when talking about titles (or not) of accounts that I did or did not enjoy. I am writing this from our holiday-bungalow in Cornwall. I thought I’d packed Scratch, tabs and all, but it turns out that I left it behind.

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the art of making money is a book which simultaneously discusses what it promises and does nothing of the sort. Edited by Manjula Martin, founder of Scratch Magazine, a publication dedicated to the same topic, this collection converses the uncomfortable ground between creative ambitions and the need to earn a living.

I became aware of this collection after watching Ariel Bissett’s video: 7 books I want to read that nobody cares about. I was drawn to it due to my increasing scepticism of formulaic writers who seem to have a new release every year. I don’t know, and perhaps I am being unfair, but writing such similar plots with such consistent publication dates seems almost incompatible with a love for the process. It feels conveyor belt-like. Keen to find out more about my feelings, and also to gain a writers perspective I set about hunting down this title.

Drawing on a wide range of writers and authors such as Roxanne Gay, Cheryl Strayed, and Jonathan Franzen, Martin has created a collection which illustrates the complexity of the conversation, the difference in experiences, and the fragility of financial success. While the majority of these were of interest and enjoyable to read, there were others that fell flat, some to the point that I stopped reading. The reasons for this were most likely personal to me. For example, Franzen’s interview had me rolling my eyes so often I couldn’t have read it if I had wanted to while one of the essays contained so much technical jargon and acronyms that it was going over my head. A reader more familiar with the industry would not have such a problem.

The blurb promises that ‘Manjula Martin … confront[s] the age-old question: how do creative people make money?’ and that ‘Scratch honestly addresses the tensions between writing and money, work and life, literature and commerce. The result is an entertaining and inspiring book that helps readers and writers understand what it’s really like to make art in a world that runs on money—and why it matters.’ I wouldn’t feel unfair in advising potential readers to take these statements with a grain of salt. Whilst the want behind this collection is clear and while, in its own way, it does bring something to the conversation – predominantly on the wide base from which it draws – it doesn’t delve much deeper. Already aware of my own feelings, and somewhat of the wider conversation (mostly on Twitter), I wanted more, not a reiteration. I wanted more of the nitty-gritty, the figures, the effects of success on the process. Do the personal emotions and goals attached to a manuscript differ when an agent (?) sets a deadline; when it becomes more of a job? Does self-imposed pressure – such as after quitting ‘the day-job’ – make the work in progress less of a labour of love and more of necessity? Can those two things exist in harmony or can there only be one or the other?

Maybe it was unfair of me to expect this from a collection of personal accounts. Earnings is a sensitive topic, something that perhaps we want to keep private and confidential. Writers shouldn’t be expected to feel any different. However, with my feelings and hopes as they were, I was ultimately somewhat disappointed. Although my questions may not have been answered, the reading experience was something I enjoyed and having read their essays as a taster of their work there are definitely a few of the contributors whose novels I am keen to read; notably Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Porochista Khakpour.

 

Have you read this book, what did you think? How do you feel about money/making a living and the creative industries? Let me know in the comments below.

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