Monday, 22 August 2016

On Writing for the Church

As the American-and-Canadian side of the Catholic blogosphere has lit up with the news that Mark Shea is no longer writing for the National Catholic Register (not to be confused with Canada's plain old Catholic Register), I have some thoughts. The first is that nobody gets rich writing for the Catholic media. There are some "rock stars" of Catholic publishing--I am thinking of Fr. Ron Rolheiser and Sister Joan Chichister--but however much their books bring in, that goes to their religious orders. They have vows of poverty. They don't have kids.

If you want to make money in the Catholic media, don't become a writer. Become an editor or a fundraiser or part of a sales team, or anything that looks like a 9-5 job that pays more than minimum wage. Become a graphic artist. Design computer programs. Become tech support.

Of course, if you are are a writer, the kind of person who would rather write than do anything else, then you rejoice whenever anyone buys one of your pieces, and you are pleased when you get a column in a Catholic paper or magazine. I am very grateful that there are Catholic editors out there--probably not terrifically well paid themselves--who like my stuff enough to offer me space in their journals. A column here and a column there and a piece on this here and an interview there eventually add up--especially as, unlike Mark Shea, I have not been blessed with children.

Stop me if I've told this story too often, but when I gave some lectures in Poland--and Canada's Mr Coren was quite right when he told me appearances make more money than writing--a shy young lady asked me how to become a writer. I asked her when she had started writing. She hadn't started writing. It was just an idea she had--a wish to become a writer. At risk of being a total writer cliché, I told her not to become a writer. If you're a writer, you write. You just do. And the pay is terrible.

I didn't tell her that the writing that pays best is not the best writing. My mother is addicted to softcover fiction, and yesterday I began reading one of the books she took out of the library. It is set in Sheffield and is about three women, a Bridget Jones knock-off whose boyfriend keeps a spreadsheet rating their acts of intimacy, an empty nester who discovers her husband in bed with a blonde, and a young woman whose fun life of working in joe jobs all around the world comes to an unwelcome end when Brexit  she is summoned to her father's hospital bedside. Eventually all these women will meet in, I think, Italian class--the reason I chose this of all Mum's library books to read. Eat, Pray, Love will no doubt ensue. It's a fun (if also disturbing) read, and as intellectually nutritious as a bowl of vinegar crisps. The sex-based humour is very ho-ho-ho, men, eh?

It's a bestseller. The author is bestselling. She's very talented at what she does, which is write that sort of women's novel. I would like to be able to do that too--quite apart from the money, it would be fun-- except that I read  Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner and Possession by A.S. Byatt, which ruined me for "OMG," typed Alice into her mobile. She didn't know what else to say. Tony had been hinting about this for awhile now. Maybe she was just a prude. Sandra's attitude was that she would do anything once, but Alice retained a sense that there were things a girl who had once won a blue ribbon at the Chuffing Village Gymkhana just should not do. 

Back to Mark Shea. I wasn't a regular reader of his stuff, since he wrote about issues of more interest to Americans than to anyone else, but I liked him at his most cheerful, and I was pleased when he linked to Seraphic Singles and echoed my plea to the Catholic men of the world not to talk about chastity and sex on the first date. At the time, I thought of him and Father Z as the kings of the Catholic blogosphere. I think Mark liked that. (Father Z didn't write back.)

My hope for Mark Shea--keeping in mind that I have no pony in the U.S. horse race--is that he gets a job in the mainstream media. There are serious difficulties for Catholic laymen whose livelihoods come entirely from the Catholic media vineyard, and Mark Shea's Catholic career is proof of that.


  1. I didn't realize he was supporting his family just through his writing! Wow, I give him kudos for that.

    I've just seen him be nasty too many times to be terribly sad about him not blogging anymore. (The first post of his I ever read was a judgmental piece on how he assumes any couples in church that aren't well on their way to a baseball team full of children-as he was-are contracepting. And I stopped following Simcha Fischer on Facebook after I saw him and Damien Fischer eviscerate a poor woman who believed that Creation happened in 7 days and was honestly trying to figure out why other Catholics didn't agree. Seeing two prominent Catholic writers smugly leave someone in bloody shreds all over a Facebook thread was . . . at least, very disheartening. :( I know mocking people who don't share your opinions/beliefs sells, especially on Facebook, but . . . it just makes me really sad.

    Which, incidentally, is one of the reasons I love your blog!! :) You present important issues and things you don't agree with, but in a sensible, charitable way, instead of the 'You're so stupid/not Catholic/not pro-life because you don't believe in vaccinating your children/welfare, etc.' that seems to be so popular among other Catholic bloggers I know. :( (Although, to be fair, not Simcha Fischer.)

  2. Thank you. I just don't have the stomach for starting or continuing online fights. More on this later, I imagine!

  3. Booklover, my weekend activities have exposed me to more nutty Catholic behaviour. A friend and I wonder how it is that our non-religious acquaintances seem to have more basic human formation than our religious friends do.

  4. There is nuttiness everywhere. I was recently at a party in which a highly Politically Correct non-religious dame told me she wouldn't mind if she were executed by ISIS for they were just a bunch of silly boys. She said Britons who had a problem with Islam were just jealous because they didn't have a religion of their own. In her defense (sort of), she was drunk.