Book Review: SCRATCH by Manjula Martin

Photo credit: Goodreads
When I asked for recommendations of non-fiction craft/writing books that were beyond the basics, a friend recommended Scratch edited by Manjula Martin, so I added it to my TBR list where it stayed for a while. Then my birthday came along and a relative with no knowledge of my Goodreads TBR list sent it to me as a gift. 

I've had money on the mind a lot lately, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Before I get into the details, however, here's the Goodreads summary:

"A collection of essays from today’s most acclaimed authors—from Cheryl Strayed to Roxane Gay to Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen—on the realities of making a living in the writing world. 
In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. You should never quit your day job, but your ultimate goal should be to quit your day job. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch, Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money? 
As contributors including Jonathan Franzen, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Nick Hornby, Susan Orlean, Alexander Chee, Daniel Jose Older, Jennifer Weiner, and Yiyun Li candidly and emotionally discuss money, MFA programs, teaching fellowships, finally getting published, and what success really means to them, Scratch honestly addresses the tensions between writing and money, work and life, literature and commerce. The result is an entertaining and inspiring book that helps readers and writers understand what it’s really like to make art in a world that runs on money—and why it matters. Essential reading for aspiring and experienced writers, and for anyone interested in the future of literature, Scratch is the perfect bookshelf companion to On Writing, Never Can Say Goodbye, and MFA vs. NYC."

So I saw some reviewers say they found the book depressing, but maybe my expectations for making a living as a writer are super low or something because I actually found it encouraging. While not all of the essays focus exactly on making a living, the ones that did were frank and honest and most importantly to me—though most of them struggled at first, they did eventually reach the point where they were comfortably making ends meet, often through multiple streams of income. Some were more open about numbers than others, but they all ultimately talked about their own experiences and how they got to where they are today.

The interviews and essays reveal many different options out there for writers—everything from writers living solely off their fiction, writers living off several writing income streams, writers with full time jobs, writers with part time jobs, and writers dependent on someone else's income. To me, it was an encouraging reminder that one way or the other, writers figure this stuff out, and so can you.

While there were a couple essays/interviews that I didn't particularly care for—especially one interview that was pretty literary elitist and eyeroll-worthy, to say the least (looking at the lineup, I'm sure you can probably guess which contributor it's from)—I found most of the essays and interviews to be enlightening, interesting, and even entertaining.

All in all, if you're looking for some frank talk on a writer's income from a variety of professional writers, I definitely recommend picking up Scratch. Whether you find it encouraging or depressing will probably depend on what you're expecting in terms of how writers make a living, but either way it's an eye-opening read that I'm definitely glad arrived in my lap at the time that it did.

What are some of your favorite writing craft books that go beyond the basics? 

Twitter-sized bit: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5 stars to SCRATCH by Manjula Martin. Is this frank look at a writer's income on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Looking for honest takes on how writers make a living from published writers? Check out SCRATCH by Manjula Martin. (Click to tweet)

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