A Class Act.

Discussions about class and writing come up from time to time, and evidently, now is one of those times. I’ve a passing interest in them, in the same way that I always have a passing interest in people talking about writing for a living, and what does and doesn’t impact upon it.

When it comes to class, though, I struggle a little. Poverty lines are arbitrary and don’t take into account all sorts of ways in which one can be rich or poor, but let’s just say that if we’re basing class on income, then my family and I are definitely not middle class.

And yet, I assume I’m middle class because I’ve had lots of opportunities for education, and I’ve worked in many different jobs, and I’m qualified to do others. I suppose in as much as I’d put myself in a category, I’m part of the ‘working poor’. Ugh, what a terrible label.

So while I’ve been reading articles lately about writing and how the voices we hear most are from middle class, I wonder where it is that I fit in? My outlook might be middle-class in some ways, but in others, it certainly isn’t. Is writing all about class? Where is that distinction? And is it helpful? If we’re talking about class and writing, are we really, in fact, talking about money?

There were a couple of articles on Salon recently which discussed the idea of being ‘sponsored’ as a writer. The first, by Ann Bauer, discusses how much easier it is to write now that she has a husband who supports her financially. She argues that writers often don’t disclose where their income is from, and that this is something which should change. We shouldn’t just be perpetuating the idea of the struggling writer, living in poverty until their big break. Most of us get some kind of income support, and if that support comes from a spouse or other relative, that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Some have welcomed her openness. Others reject the idea, and argue that writing is something we can do around work. Laura Bogart responds that it shouldn’t be all or nothing. Rather than talking about how we’re sponsored, we need more writers to show how they manage to juggle the many demands on their time: children, other paid work, housework, friends, family. Especially for women, this is an issue, and it’s not an issue which is specific to class, or money.

It’s time, and it’s support. Even if I had the money, there would still be demands on my time. I’m the primary carer for our Offspring, and short of outsourcing that care (which I don’t really want to do), I need to be there for them. I’m lucky in that the paid work I do is flexible and I can do it from home. But what would more money really do? It alleviates stress associated with overdue bills – something which certainly can’t be overlooked – but it doesn’t add more hours to the day.

The issue of class is brought up in the same breath as that of money, and again, I think that’s missing the point. It might be true that those in the middle classes are more likely to write, but I wonder if that’s a product less of their class, and more about how their choice of occupation is accepted by their family and their peers. Parents want their children to do well, to be financially secure, especially if they themselves have struggled with money. They’re much more likely to support their children in a career with a regular income. To be a writer when there are ‘more important’ jobs to do, jobs which have prospects and put food on the table… it is hard to get support for a writing career from friends and family who have known poverty.

I wonder, with all this talk about earning money, sponsorship, and class, whether there is a sense of entitlement sneaking in. More than ever, there are opportunities for people to try to earn money creatively, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll actually do it. Of course I think we should pay for art. OF COURSE. But it’s quite possible that we’ll have to work other jobs while we create our art. It’s quite possible that we might not ever be able to make a living wage from it. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not something of which to be ashamed. We can still embrace the creation of art as a very important, valid part of our lives. But we shouldn’t expect the success and/or wealth to fall in our laps – whether we have someone to pay the bills, or whether we do that ourselves. Let’s face it: most of us are not exactly in the position of scratching out our masterpieces under the light of a flickering candle in a draughty Parisian attic. For most of us, if we can write, we can do something else other than writing. It’s a choice, it’s about persistence, and it’s hard work.

And that’s what it comes down to. As a middle-class-person-who-is-not-really-middle-class-except-I-am, I find the time to write because I want to do it, and when I sit down to finish a story or pitch an article, my social class doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that I have to fit it in around other work, paid or unpaid. What matters is the writing, the butt in the chair, the fingers on the keyboard. If you can’t do that, then all the discussions about class, all the money in world won’t help you.

4 thoughts on “A Class Act.

  1. I agree with your key point. The class issue is more of an internalized definition: it is about more than income. The reality is also that, to make a living as a writer, you have to either get lucky or do a lot of noncreative work. I sometimes wish I brought my family more income, but I would rather work at home to be more active in my son’s life.

    • That’s certainly true that luck has a great deal to do with it. I also wonder if people assume that they’ll get lucky, just like [insert name of very famous author here], and such fame is not typical! I’d rather spend time with my children, too, and that’s a mindset which is more about what I value rather than what class I’m in.

  2. It’s great to be in a class of ones own.

    I think peoples’ definitions often come down to intangible divides such as confidence, education, security and opportunity and will hopefully one day become obsolete.

    We sailed across the pacific this year in a boat we rebuilt, spending only the money I was able to earn as a nurse working in the UK for 5 months whilst my boyfriend was largely unemployed. What class does that make us?

    ‘The harder I work the luckier I become.’

    • I agree, it is different from person to person. According to statistics, we are ‘poor’, even ‘in poverty’, but really? What people decide about classes doesn’t really apply to most of us. There are elements of all kinds of social class… whether we’ll be rid of them ever, I don’t know, but it would be nice to hope so!

      Sailing across the Pacific sounds like a fantastic adventure! Good on you!

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