Wilde: Writers, don’t give up the day job.

Oscar Wilde attributes his success to not relying on writing for his income, the Telegraph revealed.

Photo Credit: George Eastman House via Flickr
Photo Credit: George Eastman House, Flickr

His 13 page letter replied to an aspiring writer, a Mr Morgan, asking for tips for success. It is estimated to be written around 1890, as Wilde was becoming one of London’s most popular playwrights.

Wilde told him not to rely on earning his living from writing:

“The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer.”

“Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.”

The letter was found, with the first draft of his famous sonnet The New Remorse, in a dusty box at the back of a wardrobe in the home of a Victorian brewer who collected autographed letters and manuscripts. When he died last November they were  passed down to his granddaughter, who called experts to clear the estate in Shippon, near Abingdon, Oxon.

Now, I agree with the idea of compromising your style and selling your soul for commercial reasons.


If you are pursuing your art with all your time and effort (with added hunger pangs) it would make you a) likely the best you could be, by the sheer amount of hard work you put in, and b) more people will read, and connect, from the fact you’re putting more out there and promoting it, and yourself, more seriously, and you’re just living and breathing it more. And, ideally, listening to readers and talking to writers more. More than, say, if you delegate writing to when you’re too knackered.

Also, writing for commercial reasons means you are using your skills for a purpose, even better if they do good (writing a charity campaign, marketing a great product, or selling good newspapers) in addition to doing whatever art you want to do for its own sake. And that art will be improved and informed by the commercial day job.

I’m not saying art takes precedence over jobs; I’m saying build your career on writing skills if you have ’em, because the world needs them too!

Instead of making writing a desperate, escapist distraction from real life (there are plenty of other, better ones, to chose from – like whiskey) make writing your real life.

What do you think?



  1. Another interesting post, and one that speaks to something I’ve often wondered about; whether or not I should be thinking of my poetry as a potential full-time occupation when I’ve spent the last decade working to get the I.T position I’ve currently got.

    I’ve often thought that maybe the constraints of full-time employment are somehow hobbling my creative side, turning my weeks into hectic schedules of working an eight hour day, going straight to a poetry gig and arriving home in time for bed at 1AM. It’s a rewarding way to live but it can be tiring, and I wonder sometimes how much more I might be able to achieve, how much more prolific I might be if I could set my own schedule and make writing my main focus.

    I think I’ve come to agree with Oscar of late, though. On the balance, my full-time work being in a completely separate field means I can keep the creative side of my life as an outlet, and not have to worry about making enough money to get by month to month. I also really love the fact that it means I can attend and support all of the nights I love, and that I have enough to bankroll my own events if necessary.

    Perhaps I’m not writing at the frantic cadence I would be were it funding my next meal, but I really like the freedom my other career affords me to explore my creative one unfettered.

    Very much enjoyed anyways, more please! :)
    – Matt

    1. An interesting comment back! Thanks for your perspective – your life is the perfect counter-example.

      I applaud your decade of dedication to get the position you have! That commitment and skill in IT is also needed. And, wow, IT and poetry? Your brain is amazing.

      The thought behind my post is not to say your should write poetry as your day job/business, but that such a fine skill (writing) is needed in the world. Things need to be written. Things need to be read!

      But the day job is, by definition, less creative. Day job poetry would be Hallmark cards; for a purpose, aimed to sell, neat to categorize. Even IF your day job becomes a lauded celebrity poet writing whatever you like… well, slightly complicated. My point was, for example, if Wilde wrote charity campaigns against class oppression he’d put his talent to use in the world and he’d be a better playwright in his spare time.

      Take my life (more on this): a mix of journalism, copywriting, marketing, blogging, and a bit of poetry too. My writing is my day job, my side hustle *and* fun, because I can? I’d reach my full potential that way, etc.

      But this is where your life is the perfect counter-example. You’re right. Producing poetry with frantic cadence to simply earn meals is not as inspiring as a creative outlet completely separate from your work/IT world. And the freedom to use your earnings to fund events where real pure, free art lies.

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