John Scalzi on Escaping Poverty

John Scalzi is a best-selling science fiction writer, who has an excellent blog that I’ve been following for a few years. Many months ago he wrote a piece called “Being Poor”. I just checked his site to discover that he wrote it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In any case, this week he’s doing his annual “Reader Request Week,” where rather than writing whatever he feels like writing, he writes on a topic that his readers request. Today’s post is a response to the question “What advice would you give to someone who wants to help folks who are poor (either specific individuals they know, or poor people in their community in general) become not-poor?”

While this topic isn’t specifically directed towards artists, I did find that there were many resonances with what I perceive to be success factors in a creative career.

His key points:

  1. Get an Education
  2. Take responsibility
  3. Get help
  4. Learn patience
  5. Filter Out the Stupid and the Ignorant

To put this in context, Scalzi speaks from experience. Apparently he grew up poor. Now he makes in the high 5- to low 6-figures from a combination of fiction, non-fiction, and commercial writing. I’m not going to quote numbers because he makes a habit of posting them on his blog. If you want details, you can search his site for “The Money Post.”

As I was reading Scalzi’s extensive elaboration of his five points, I kept relating his examples back to life as an artist. Pretty much everything Scalzi covers could apply if the reader had asked for advice for success in a creative field. I would argue his first point about getting an education, but as someone who “only” has a Bachelor’s degree in art, I sometimes wonder whether the fact that I haven’t gone to graduate school closes certain doors to me. I’ve often heard or read that in many of the more significant art markets, the MFA serves as a badge of commitment to an art practice.

Here are the links to the two posts. You don’t need to read one in order to understand the other. I’d read “Out of Poverty” for a view on strategy, and “Being Poor” for perspective.

John Scalzi: Out of Poverty, 30 March 2007
John Scalzi: Being Poor, 3 September 2005