Reflections on freelance writing in Iceland.

"Making a living as a writer of any kind is precarious. The stories in the newspapers or on TV about some writer who has just received a million dollars for a first time manuscript is there because the occasion is rare. So rare, that it is news. The struggle of most writers is to pay the rent, the grocery bill, or, as Viðar told us, to buy a pizza to celebrate his son's birthday.

"Over coffee, Viðar talked about the difficulty of supporting a family as a freelance scholar and writer. Not for him, the security and comfort of a tenured academic position, but the hurly burly, high energy world where individuals, corporations and institutions have to be convinced to provide funding for projects like Wakeful Nights."

From an interview with Viðar during his Vatnabyggð stay
"I've been broke all my life, but it was never a decision to make. I have a passion to write, to research. It's all I wanted to do. I never got a full time post at the university. I applied in 1992, but didn't get it. I had just finished my studies. I had my best chance to apply in the middle of writing the Stephansson biography, but I didn't want to put the biography in jeopardy. "Self-publication? Technically, lots of possibilities open up. But people get eager, and go ahead without having a decent editor. It's really important to have good editors, for both fiction and scholarly work. Editing works in Iceland. We have one big publishing house and a couple of others that provide decent editors.

"I keep looking around for biographies that needed written. I can support myself by doing that. But I want to do the things I want to do. It's not difficult to get fresh ideas, but it's hard work to get grants to work on them.. A biography is a story, which can be saleable. You don't put much analysis into it. When it comes to writing works that consist of critical analysis, even revaluation or criticism of current ideas/conceptions, things really get tough.

"Working with big publishing houses in North America? They want a saleable product, they bend towards the market. They want to produce best sellers.

"The translation of the biography of Stephan G. Stephansson? The first contract was 14 pages long. I was almost ready to sign when I read it through once more and discovered that there was a maximum amount of text allowed. Everyone wanted it cut in half. I was frustrated and hopeless. Then Stephan Benediktson decided he'd just publish the book. Nelson Gerrard did the last editing. He did a wonderful job. When people praise my English, it's thanks to Nelson who polished the entire text., Nelson and Jon Sievers and Kenneth Graham were all part of the team. Steve took care of marketing. It really was teamwork.

"Changing conditions for freelancers? The world is about to change. You can work anywhere in the world with a good Internet connection. You could write on top of a glacier so things get easier technically. But we still need appropriate conditions to produce critical, relevant, challenging works of cultural analysis and criticism."

Source: Lögberg-Heimskringla