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6 famous writers who never made a dime
We all love the art, but we often forget the difficulty of being an artist. Here are some of the most famous, greatest writers of all time who never could quite make a living doing it.
The image of the broke writer is engrained in the popular imagination. The often tortured artist who writes until they remember to eat, and then eats too little as to stretch out their failing budget.
While this image doesn’t apply to most writers, there are a few remarkably famous authors who hardly made a dime by writing. This didn’t stop them from joining the ranks of the most celebrated poets and novelists of all time. Here we have six such authors for your consideration.
Lovecraft was an American writer whose work in “weird fiction” has had a lasting influence. His Cthulhu mythos, a collection of interconnected novellas and short stories, has inspired authors from Stephen King to Alan Moore. The word Lovecraftian has come into use to describe his brand of cosmic horror and Cthulhu himself often appears in popular culture.
Despite working his entire life as a writer, he was never able to earn enough money doing it to cover even his most basic expenses, at the lowest points of his life he was forced to skip meals to afford postage stamps. A planned project with Harry Houdini which would have earned him a great deal of money had to be abandoned with Houdini’s death. A lack of business acumen also cost him; he once failed to reply to a publisher that inquired about any novels he might have ready.
Lovecraft, whose desire to make a living as a writer never faltered, died in 1937 of cancer at the age of 46. The entirety of his work can be read here.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
(Translation: In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming)
- The Call of Cthulhu
Kafka was a Czech writer living and working in Prague in the early 20th century. His writing often focused on the alienating powers of bureaucracies, byzantine systems that worked to promote themselves, and the isolating features of modern life. Among his works are The Metamorphosis and The Trail, both of which inspired the existentialist philosophers and have had such an influence on literature that the word “Kafkaesque” was created to describe his style.
Franz Kafka (Wikimedia Commons)
Like Lovecraft, Kafka did publish some works in his lifetime. Kafka, however, kept most of his work to himself and ordered it burned after his death. His friends went to the publishing house instead. Unable to support himself by writing, Kafka took up several jobs that allowed him to write in the evenings and quit those which took up too much of his time. He had a long, relatively prosperous, stint as an insurance clerk at a work safety agency where he may have invented the hard hat.
Kafka was relatively unknown during his life but became famous almost immediately after his death of Tuberculosis at age 40. Several of his works can be read here.
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams; he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect."
- The Metamorphosis
Emily Dickinson was an American poet who wrote nearly 1800 poems, of which less than a dozen were published during her lifetime and were often heavily edited. Dickinson’s poetry has been continuously published since her death in 1890 and has been highly praised.
Dickinson wrote prolifically during the American civil war and carried on correspondence with others to gain feedback on her experimental style. She, like Kafka, asked that her papers be burned after her death in 1886. Luckily for us, that promise was not kept. Her younger sister found the trove of unpublished poems and had them printed four years after the burn by date. A collection of her poems is available online.
"Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
- Because I Could Not Stop for Death
A French writer in the early 20th century, Proust is best known for his monumental work In Search of Lost Time, parts of which were only published after his death. It is often considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
He halfheartedly held other jobs, he once took a post at a library and had such an extended sick leave that he was presumed to have resigned. He lived with his parents and then on an inheritance left to him. While Proust did make some money as a writer, his work was unfished and not fully appreciated until after his death at age 51.
"We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full."
- In Search of Lost Time
Edgar Allen Poe
An American writer who hardly needs any introduction. Poe was a master of Gothic horror and the inventor of the detective fiction genre. His works are required reading in any American literature class and his most famous work, The Raven, has been recorded and parodied countless times.
The Raven was extremely popular upon publication and earned Poe precisely nine dollars. He was the first notable American author to attempt to make a living on writing alone. He was often unable to do so and held several other jobs during his lifetime. He was found delirious in a gutter in Baltimore and died of still unknown causes at a nearby hospital. To add insult to his death; a popular biography falsely depicting Poe as a degenerate made a great deal of money and has poisoned our image of him ever since. A collection of his work can be found here.
"Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'"
- The Raven
A Germanic philosopher who co-founded existentialism, Nietzsche has had a tremendous influence on philosophy, politics, psychology, and the popular image of a philosopher. His works are often referenced by people who have no idea what they are talking about, and he remains a philosopher who is well known even to those who have never studied philosophy.
He abandoned a career in academia, where he was made a professor right out of college, to try and make a living as an independent writer and philosopher. He was unable to make much money from selling his books and often begged from friends. This didn’t deter him, and at the height of his writing he was cranking out a book a year of high quality. At the time of his death, he had achieved some fame, if not wealth, from his writings. Slightly older versions of his work can be read here.
"I am no man, I am dynamite!"
- Ecce Homo
Join The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live at 1 pm ET on Tuesday, July 14!
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."