[Opinion] Should we write for love — or for money?

“I no longer write the articles I love writing”, a screenwriter acquaintance confided to me last week. “There’s no money in them.”

But is “no money” a good reason to stop writing what we love?

This depends of course on how much time and energy we have left after we complete those jobs that do bring in money. We must be realistic. We all have to eat, and some of us have people in our lives who have a right to our time. But if we truly love writing, and are able to do it, then we must write — even if there’s no money in it. We must learn to find sufficient joy in the act of creation itself. We must create for love.

Plato teaches us that the Supreme Principle originates the universe because it’s in the nature of the Good to radiate, to communicate itself. In theological terms, this metaphysical assertion translates as: God created the world out of love. And since we are sub-creators — to borrow Tolkien’s term — it makes sense we too should create for that reason.

Tolkien, by the way, started writing The Lord of the Rings not because he hoped to make money out of it, but because he loved languages and had a prodigious imagination. He’d crafted a beautiful sentence in an imaginary language, and he wanted a world in which it would ring natural — so he created Middle-Earth. He wrote not for profit, but out of the inner need to communicate his unique view of Reality.

Each human soul is unique, so each individual’s view of Reality — and of a myriad secondary realities — is also unique. (At least it is so if the person takes the trouble to look in the right direction.) You see things that none of us sees. But not every individual is an artist; not everyone can create; and fewer still can create with bare words. If you are one of those who can, don’t waste the gift. Find out what aspects of Reality reveal themselves to you alone, then help them manifest in this world.

True, we can’t force ourselves to love something into existence. There has to be at least a spark of inspiration. But when that spark does flash, we should not ignore it for mere financial reasons. If you have the time and energy, and you love writing, write. Write articles. Write plays. Write short stories. If a specific vision is best expressed by reasoning than by emotion, write an essay or an article.

Or even, go beyond the written word. Create a story podcast. Tell a well-chosen story at a gathering of friends. (I did it. It was a fantastic experience.) Tell other authors’ stories besides your own; lend your voice to those authors of the past whom you love, and introduce them to the audiences of today. In all these activities, you will experience not only the joy of creation, but also the joy of sharing.

Be an imperfectionist. It doesn’t matter that your vision exceeds your abilities. Do what you can; if you are a writer of goodwill, truth will find the way to shine through your imperfect words.

Of course, there’s always the risk no one will read what you write. But does this matter? The joy you had in finding the best words to convey the truth you saw is not diminished by the lack of an audience.

And it’s likely that at least a few people will want to read what you wrote. If you write short stories or essays, there are countless online magazines you can submit them to. Hundreds of them charge no submission fees. Some even pay writers — and trust me, though they pay little, it’s a great morale booster to see that someone is willing to part with a few dollars to publish your story.

Learn how to distinguish between mere politeness and true interest, then tell your stories to people who really want to listen to you. If you do so, you may witness your words touching another human heart. This happened to me once. I told one of my stories to an acquaintance, and saw his eyes welling up. In those moments, the storyteller is the nightingale in Andersen’s tale: “I sung my song and saw tears in Your Majesty’s eyes. What greater reward could I wish for?”

True, sometimes bringing tears into a person’s eyes, or a beam of light into their thoughts, may still seem like a small reward for ten hours spent crafting a story or an essay. But that’s only because we are blinded by the illusion of quantity. There is infinity in every human soul, and none can tell what the repercussions of your words of beauty will be. In a sense, to touch one person is no less than to touch all of mankind.

And when we write something truly good, isn’t there a kind of infinite joy in the thing itself? Not infinite in time, but infinite in that “space” which is our piece? Every time we return and re-read it, don’t we rejoice in its perfection, and feel a humble joy at having been the instrument for those ideas to be communicated in words?

Coming down to earth again, I must confess all of my considerations above are rather hypocritical, since I myself don’t write half as much as I could. But I want to change that in myself as well as in others. This piece is the proof of my intention. Many of those who read it will probably know more about writing than I do, and won’t really need to hear all this. But I wrote it all the same — because I saw the spark, and because I thought there are probably a few people in the wide world who will find it helpful, maybe even inspiring.

“If one heart throb higher at its sway, the wizard note has not been touched in vain”.

Thank you, Sir Walter Scott. It’s always good to close with a quote.

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