Is it necessary to be a starving artist?

Dear Literary Ladies,
It's so hard to make a living at writing these days. There used to be so many more paying outlets for short stories, essays, and sketches; now everyone expects writers to contribute free content. How did you manage to earn a living while building your reputation? Do you think it's necessary to be a "starving artist" until one's ship comes in?

I always took little dull jobs that didn’t take my mind and wouldn’t take all of my time, and that, on the other hand, paid me just enough to subsist. I think I’ve only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing. The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water.

And I think that’s all wrong. Even Saint Teresa said, “I can pray better when I’m comfortable,” and she refused to wear her haircloth shirt or starve herself. I don’t think living in cellars and starving is any better for an artist than it is for anybody else; the only thing is that sometimes the artist has to take it, because it is the only possible way of salvation, if you’ll forgive that old-fashioned word. So I took it rather instinctively. I was inexperienced in the world, and likewise I hadn’t been trained to do anything you know, so I took all kinds of laborious jobs. But, you know, I think I could probably have written better if I’d been a little more comfortable.

—Katherine Anne Porter, The Paris Review Interviews, 1963


Laurie Schnebly Campbell July 3, 2009 at 4:09 PM  

What a great blog! I'll enjoy sending friends over here, and checking back for new posts. :)

Nava Atlas July 4, 2009 at 5:10 AM  

Thanks so much, Laurie, and I would appreciate that, since this blog is so new. I hope to keep posting about twice a week.

Anonymous July 5, 2009 at 6:26 AM  

This is great fun, informative and inspiring. Thank you for putting this together.

Linda Moore July 9, 2009 at 4:23 AM  

The advice from Katherine Anne Porter about doing lots of things to keep body and soul together seems appropriate for gaining color for one's work. If a writer stayed at home all the time, the work would lack a sense of what was really going on in life. Even a fantasy needs a launching point; something from which to deviate.

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Wouldn't you love to get advice from  classic women authors on writing and the writer's life? Here I fancifully pose the questions, and the Literary Ladies answer in their own words.

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