Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Writer’s Economic Theory

by Paula Gail Benson

If you look up the definition of “economics” in Wikipedia, you find it’s a social science that considers how goods and services are produced, distributed, and consumed. The word “economics” comes from two ancient Greek words for “house” and “custom or practice,” leading to the modern idea that economics describes the “rules of the house” for good management.

A colleague of mine who works with the state budget explained to me that economics is more about probabilities than possibilities. He’s in the business of calculating public funding. When you do that, you need a well-reasoned basis for decision making.

I truly admire our fellow blogger Jim Jackson’s posts and discussions about the economics of writing. He attended the Palmetto Chapter of SinC and explained the circumstances under which it would be most beneficial to be published through the Kindle Scout program. (He’s also written about that subject here at Writers Who Kill.) His analysis was fascinating and so eye-opening. I followed his reasoning, seeing how it all fit together and knowing that his ability to do these calculations is a great talent, but not one I possess.

Here’s my theory about writing economics: You have to balance the opportunities you give yourself with the potential return they may yield for your writing.

For instance, the other day, I indulged in a delicious meal, spending $17 at a restaurant known as a ladies’ lunch spot. I was mentally taking myself to task for not selecting a more reasonable alternative when I noticed a group of gentlemen in polo shirts sitting at a nearby table. Their presence in the restaurant was intriguing enough, but in addition one of the men had extensive bandaging over his nose, appearing as if he had recently undergone surgery. Due to the bandaging, he was talking loudly. When his companions asked him about his dating life, he launched into a tale about a recent and on-going experience with an online relationship that was hilarious. Sitting with my notebook open, I took it down word-for-word, not knowing how I might use it, but certain it was gold.

So, did I waste my resources by buying the expensive lunch or did I offer myself an opportunity to gain insight for writing?

Hank Phillippi Ryan tells a wonderful story about how she met her husband and why they celebrate “You Never Know” day. They had been invited separately to share a house with a group of friends in Nantucket and met upon their arrival. Since that time, they have never been apart. And, due to the unexpected nature by which they came together, they celebrate the anniversary of the day before they met as “You Never Know” day, because, as Hank puts it, “you never know what wonderful thing is around the corner.” (To read her lovely account of the story, here’s a link to her message, “How Do You Tell the Real Thing?")

While I respect that moderation is a good guide, particularly when expenses are involved, I like Hank Phillippi Ryan’s approach for leading a happy, hopeful, and creative life. On too many occasions, I’ve been grateful for having taken a chance to do something. I’m not sure I can begin to count the number of story ideas I can attribute to an unexpected experience I’ve encountered. It’s made me appreciate all the more my pocketbook sized notebook and my reasonable willingness to embark on a little adventure or two.

I’ll never forget the road trip I made with our beloved Sam Morton to Murder in the Magic City. Not only do I remember Sam’s delight in participating in that conference and meeting Hank, but also my own appreciation that we were able to stop on the way to visit my aunt. It turned out to be the last time I was able to see her during her life.  

Sam and his great mentor Pat Conroy were wonderful examples of writers not afraid to take some risks in life and then have the courage to write about their experiences. Through their words, we readers have had the wonderful chance to gain new understandings and live our own lives more fully. In my view, that’s an excellent return from a well-spent opportunity.

What are your thoughts about writing economics?


Warren Bull said...

I remember meeting Sam and you at the conference. He was congenial and lively. I'm glad I met him even though it was only that one time.

KM Rockwood said...

I'm so glad your definition of economics of writing is so broad! It certainly encompasses opportunities of all sorts, from story ideas to unexpected contacts, besides finances.

Thanks for sharing this, and for pointing me in a direction I might not have considered.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Seize the day, make the most of every opportunity, mine everyday experiences for story ideas. People watch, eavesdrop, make up stories about strangers at the airport departure gate.

I practice economies (library books and DVD's) with periodic splurges (I edit on paper).

carla said...

I may never earn minimum wage, but I'm not in jail because I get to kill people on paper!!!

Gloria Alden said...

Paula, such a lovely blog. Sometimes friends and family shake their heads when I take on something new, like taking off for Malice Domestic that first time not knowing anyone, and not even a member of Sisters in Crime at that time. It is what really got me started on my writing career. Could I support myself with my writing? Of course not, but the pleasure it gives me is worth every cent I spend on supporting my writing career. Thankfully, I do have enough of a pension to support myself.

Shari Randall said...

I don't know if the usual economic rules prevail when following a passion. (hope Jim doesn't read that!) Some experiences are priceless and I try to balance the big outlays (conferences) with little writing economies (library books, using both sides of printer paper, etc.)

Jim Jackson said...

Paula -- Thanks for the kind mention.

Many people have picked up a reference that economics is referred to as "the dismal science." Most people do not know the origin and why this apparent insult is (to my mind) a positive comment.

Thomas Carlyle in the mid-19th century was trying to justify slavery in the West Indies based on economics. It didn't work out the way he wanted (i.e. it was not only morally unjustified, it was, surprisingly to him, financially unjustified as well), which he considered "dismal."

The situation you've described, Paula, in economics literature is called utility. I.e. the value of something is based on its total satisfaction of human wants. For you, that includes not only the fine meal, but the opportunity to observe human nature and use it for the further pleasure you receive in writing short stories.

So, it's all justified by that most dismal of sciences.

You can thank me later.

Jim Jackson said...

Oh -- and Shari -- read my response to Paula. I've got you covered.

However, when "economic analysis" comes a-cropper it is often caused by those running the analysis counting all the positive utility of a change but reflecting all of the costs related to the action. For example, pulling Flint's water from the river rather than paying Detroit's higher rates makes no economic sense when all the costs of cleaning up the mess are considered -- but those in charge rushed the analysis, cut corners on implementation, and lead-poisoned children are the result.

When we talk about human live, the problem for some (not any of you, of course) people is they overvalue immediate experience or pleasure and discount future utilities. [Was a Lexus necessary when a Subaru would have done fine when it means running out of money later in life?]

The problem for many depression area children of my parents' generation was the opposite: they couldn't enjoy their wealth as much as they "should" because they were always worried about the future catastrophe.

Okay, hopping off my soap box now and burying myself in an Excel spreadsheet to get away from words for a while.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Warren, it was a wonderful conference and I'm glad we could all get together then.

KM, I would always want to err in broad instead of narrow construction. I hope my theory leads you to delightful new paths!

Margaret, you make a good point. And, I agree, while editing on paper may be a splurge, I think it's more reliable. Surely there's a study to support that theory!

Carla, I'm glad you dispatch folks on paper, too. I like reading how you do it better than having to get you out on bail.

Gloria, I'm so glad you come to Malice because that's where we met. It will always be a wonderful memory.

Shari, balance is the key. The same way you balance writing short stories with novels. In a way, one can fuel the other. (Remember that your short story fans are waiting as you write your wonderful novels!)

Jim, I knew you would be able to put my theory into proper perspective! Utility. I like that concept. It's a good reason to explain why I bought and hold onto my aunt's non-electronic 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt. It runs economically and leaves more funding available for conferences!

Thanks so much, everyone, for your terrific comments.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I'm so glad your post isn't just about money and the economics of writing. I have gathered inspiration from the oddest places too and there is no value that can be attached to that. BTW, Handsome proposed on April Fool's Day. Yes, I had him ask me again the next day. LOLOL

Sasscer Hill said...

Nice blog, Paula. I love the stories from you and other authors. I picked up great dialog for my books listening to the bettors at the racetrack over the years. Some of what they said I haven't used because it would burn the paper!

Kaye George said...

That lunch was NOT wasted! I'm glad to find another shameless, note-taking eavesdropper. I've gotten golden material that way. Very nice post!