I’ve recently been in New York City and it got me thinking about the life of a writer as portrayed in Sex and the City. It made me realise that basically, Carrie Bradshaw’s existence as a columnist was a pack of lies.
Myth #1 Writers ‘have a right to shoes‘
Unlike Carrie Bradshaw, most writers don’t have $40,000 to spend on shoes. In fact, most writers don’t have $40,000 of disposable income period—even if they are living in a rent-controlled apartment.
Sure there are the J.K. Rowlings of the world, but most writers, whether they’re copywriters, bloggers or journalists are earning a modest living. Most novelists, if relying solely on their royalties are just scraping by.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the median wage for writers across all fields was $55,870. But even then the disparity in earnings was pretty steep with the top 10% of writers earning over an estimated $115,000 per year.
In the last eight years, income for writers has dipped even lower—so low in fact that many authors are reported as making a salary way below the standard required for acceptable living standards. Unless earning another income, writers—especially those who only write a weekly newspaper column like Carrie Bradshaw—can in no way afford the $485 Manolos to get stolen in the first place.
According to a survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society the median income of professional authors in 2013 had dropped 29% since 2005. Indeed, the survey found that just 11.5% of professional authors earned their income solely from their writing compared to 2005 when 40% of professional authors were reported to do so.In 2013 only 11.5% of authors earned income solely from writing Click To Tweet
In 2014 the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey reported that over 77% of self published authors make only $1000 annually while 53.9% of traditionally-published authors and 43.6% of hybrid authors reported their yearly earnings as below the same threshold.
I don’t know about you but I find this hugely distressing.
To put it in perspective, even highly acclaimed authors like Richard Flanagan who won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North can find themselves in dire financial straights.
When asked what he would use his £50,000 winnings from the prize for he responded ‘life’.
‘I’m not a wealthy man. This means I can continue to write,’ he said. ‘A year and a half ago, when I finished this book, I was contemplating going to get what work I could in the mines in far northern Australia because things had come to such a pass with my writing. I had spent so long on this book.’
Flanagan added that ‘there’s nothing unusual about that for writers. Writing is a very hard life for so many writers.’
The prize saved Flanagan from a life he didn’t want and just seven days after the win he’d sold another £140,000 worth of books. But not every author can win a Booker or a Pulitzer, or even get nominated for such prestigious awards.
And yet the thing is there are not many occupations more difficult or time consuming than writing but in most circumstances the work produced by writers earns a menial amount. Sure there are those few writers who make a lot of money (emphasis on the word few), but the vast majority don’t. There needs to be revolution in the industry and a greater awareness among the general public so writers can be paid fairly. The truth of the matter is any kind of writing whether it’s literature or journalistic is so important to documenting, adding to and enriching the cultural fabric of society. What better way to learn about humanity than by reading a novel like Richard Flanagan’s?Not many occupations are more difficult than writing & yet writers earn a menial amount Click To Tweet
In the mean time, don’t become a writer if like Carrie Bradshaw the main thing you want from your career is money to spend on shoes.
Myth #2 Writers lead a life of leisure
I’ve watched every episode of Sex and the City and I would bet that less than 1% of all screen time shows Carrie actually writing. Her days are instead spent brunching, shopping pursuing/flirting/stressing over her latest man —her nights, cosmopolitan drinking, partying, pursuing/flirting/sexing her latest man. Sure there is the occasional shot of her in her underwear or PJs smoking a cigarette, and lolling about in her Upper East Side apartment before typing a sentence on her MacBook. But one sentence does not a column make.
She never seems to edit her work either—a paramount part of being, not only a working writer, but a good one. Perhaps this is why her articles seem to be exclusively made up of quotes you’d only find in greeting cards?
Myth #3 Writers don’t catch the subway
When Carrie ends up in financial crisis and has to live on a budget she still refuses to catch the subway.
This rings untrue to me because firstly, most writers in New York City would need to catch the subway—refer to myth #1—and secondly they would see the opportunity of catching the subway as a way to further enrich their writing. What better opportunity to people watch?
In fact, what’s really at the crux of this myth is Carrie’s limited world view. She only visits certain parts of her city, she only mingles with certain types of people and she complains (and wears heels) for the entire holiday she takes with Aidan to his cabin in the woods*.
Good writers are the opposite. They take every experience as an opportunity to acquire more material for their work. They relish learning about people from different walks of life and discovering new perspectives. They know that this is going to enrich their story telling.Writers take every experience to acquire more material for their work Click To Tweet
*This perplexed me because the cabin, Aidan and indeed his dog Pete were all completely charming!
Myth #4 Writer’s can be complete technophobes
One of my favourite moments was in the episode Baby, Talk is Cheap when Carrie freaked out because Aidan was online.
In all reality to be a successful writer in this day and age you can’t be a complete technophobe. Sure there are still those amazing literary recluses who don’t engage with modern technology at all, but most writers don’t have the luxury of being them. Most writers rely on technology to get their work out there, whether that’s promoting a traditionally published book via social media platforms or engaging in a form of writing that completely relies on the online sphere, like blogging.
In the episode My Motherboard, My Self, Carrie’s laptop dies, taking with it all her work because she had no concept of backing up data on external drives. This seems pretty fanciful to me, especially considering the fact she was meant to be such a successful journalist.
I’m not saying you have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg but just be familiar with the basic tools you can use to get your writing out there. And in regard to backing up your work? Well that goes without saying.
Myth #5 Good writing sounds like a greeting card
I’m all for a good pun or a perfectly placed rhetorical question but it seems that’s all Carrie writes. Throughout the series it seemed there was no substance to her columns but that instead we were being quoted a string of sayings from greeting cards.
Still, I loved watching the show. And while Carrie may have not have seemed like a real writer, that’s because she wasn’t. The real writers were the people who wrote her every week and they were pretty amazing. All in all one must remember that it’s entertainment and should be taken as such, rather than assuming it’s a true representation of the life of an average writer.
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What do you think about Carrie Bradshaw and her representation as a writer in Sex and the City? Are there any other fictional characters you feel have popularised fictional myths about being a writer? Let me know in the comments.