Writing For Money Isn’t What You Think

Nobody’s selling their soul to the devil, I promise.

By Shannon Ashley

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a creative career. Art, music, writing, social justice… I gravitated toward certain fields because I wanted to make a difference in the world with my creativity.

There was just one problem. I didn’t know how to make it work. When my teachers told me I’d be a great writer one day and that I’d do well covering magazine features in the future, I didn’t know how to break into that world.

Deep down, I wanted to go into writing and art, but doing those things outside of school felt impossible. I suppose it came down to a lack of belief in myself, and the feeling that I had no true control over my life.

When you don’t believe you control your life, it’s easy to just hope for opportunities to fall into your lap. And when they don’t? Well, you take it as an omen.

So, for most of my adult life, I never tried to write because I didn’t believe I was good enough to go anywhere. Which means I didn’t even put myself into the running to go anywhere at all.

Flash forward to 37, and I’m actually writing for a living. In fact, I’m making better money writing online than I ever made with any other job. And I frequently find myself caught in these conversations about art and money, along with the idea that writing for money sabotages (or sullies) your work.


Sometimes work is all about the money.

In lieu of pursuing my passions, I wound up choosing jobs that would pay the bills and keep me off government aid.

The funny thing is that some people believe my work is all about the money for me now that I’m earning a good income.

But in the past when I wasn’t writing, my work was only about the money. I worked one job after another which I hated, and I did it just to get by.

I used to work at Bruegger’s Bagels, Michael’s Arts and Crafts, The Dollar Tree, GE Money Bank, and Ecolab, Inc. More recently, I worked for a social media marketing agency.

Nobody ever accused me of “just being in it for the money” when I had any of those jobs. And ironically, I was 100% in them for the money.

Some work is not all about the money.

I began my online writing career because my former work at home gig wasn’t going well. As a struggling single mom, I was desperate to create a better life for me and my daughter. Desperate to avoid another shitty job I’d only hate in the end.

If I was going to build a better life, I decided that I needed to take a big risk and finally create a career that I love. I was already about to lose everything (again), and I think there’s something really beautiful about that space.

People say the timing is never going to be just right, but I think that desperation is a pretty damn good time to put everything on the line and see what you can do.

I put everything I had into starting an online writing career in April 2018 because I was sick to death of only working for money. Sick of spending my days emotionally drained.

I love what I do because I’m following my heart.

I’d like to believe that there’s a place where the passion and money can intersect. Needing money is unavoidable as a single mom without a real family or support network. If I get into a jam, it’s all on me.

Money is a necessary part of life, but I don’t want to dedicate myself to soul crushing work. This is how I’ve always been, but I didn’t do anything about it until I became a mom.

I had a therapist in Minnesota who once told me that some people need a creative career to function at their best. It’s not enough for some of us to simply have an outlet after work.

Doing what I love makes me a better mother.

People drain me. The world drains me. I get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated, so I need an awful lot of time alone to regroup from everyday stressors.

One of my biggest fears during pregnancy was that I wouldn’t be able to handle work and parenthood at the same time. I knew that if I took a job I hated, my kid would suffer because I’d come home emotionally spent.

Writing for a living is a dream come true to me. Well, if I’m writing whatever I want--that’s the real dream. You know why? Because that’s what I really love to do.

I grew up voiceless. I grew up afraid. I have all of these issues from being on the spectrum, having borderline personality disorder, and being abused that I now have a lot to write about. I’m passionate about telling stories to help other people realize they aren’t so alone. Passionate about showing folks that it’s okay to be flawed and honest.

Regardless of whatever else is going on, writing never actually burns me out. If anything, it fuels my fire. And it helps me cope much better with my life, which in turn allows me to be a more patient and even-tempered mother.

I don’t actually write for the clicks.

Sometimes, it’s hard to explain to people that I’m not putting on a show. My writing comes from me and my life experiences. Me and my own feelings. It’s not contrived to fit into a certain box for success, mostly because that would be really exhausting. I’m enough of a rebel and Aspie that any pretense gets really old really fast.

I cover a wide variety of topics because I’m interested in a wide variety of issues. I publish stories according to my particular mood.

Sure, I’m human and sometimes I think a certain story might get “big.” But that doesn’t actually change the way I write or what I write about.

I’ve been doing this thing (writing online and earning money for it) since April 2018, and I still can’t predict which stories will pay well and which ones won’t.

Some folks like to say that writers like myself only write for clicks. Lazy writing, clickbait headlines, and TMI details. But guess what--those people aren’t my audience. It’s no wonder they dislike my work when I’m making money writing about issues they don’t even understand.

I write for my daughter. And I write for people like me.

So, I’m a little bit awkward. I don’t do great with social cues. Some of it is the way I’m wired. And some of it is my upbringing.

It’s hard for other people to understand the value of vulnerable writing if they never grew up being silenced and shut down at every turn.

I can look back at my life and see every point where if I’d known better I would have made better choices. But I often didn’t know better because I thought I couldn’t speak up and use my voice.

Even now, using my voice means shutting out all of my demons that say I have no right to tell my truths. It’s not about selling out and prospering because I somehow write juicy garbage the public likes.

When I write, I do it for the people who have found themselves just as voiceless. I write for my daughter to let her know that there is no shame in our honesty.

Writing for money doesn’t need to be a passion killer.

A lot of people talk about how writing for the wrong reasons (like money) kills the passion. Again, there’s this backwards assumption that if you’re making money doing what you love it’s not really legit.

In my case, writing for a living is the best job I’ve ever had. Do I think about how to write more and become better at what I do? Sure, that’s natural.

But money doesn’t drive me to write anything I don’t want to write about. And money doesn’t change my mind about what I want to do.

So, here’s what I want you to know. If you want to make a living as a writer, you’ve got to stop selling yourself short. Stop replaying the myth that only writers who sell their soul or stifle their passion can earn a decent living because that simply isn’t true.

The world is full of people who feel stuck in jobs they hate so they can pay the bills. If you’re a writer who doesn’t love or even like your day job, there’s nothing wrong with making writing your day job.

You don’t have to write shit you don’t believe in to make a living. But you do need to believe in something and write about that. Be passionate, be bold, and be brave.

Don’t let the world ignore you or count you out. Get over the pain of being disliked by some people. People aren’t going to like it that you have the audacity to write and make money. They’ll feel better about themselves if they tell everybody else that you’re shady.

That’s just something you’ve got to get past. It doesn’t make the critics right.


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