How Writing is Like Working at McDonalds

What do professional writers have in common with the fry guy at McDonalds? I discovered it while watching this clip from the Colbert Report. McDonald’s has gone on the defensive as fast food workers across the nation have been striking for a living wage. McDonald’s makes the case that it is not that a McWage is not enough to live on, it is juts that its employees are bad at managing their $8 an hour. So they created a sample budget to help educate the work force. You can live fine and even put away some savings each month on a McDonald’s budget as long as you forgo a few luxuries such as heat. This is true– their sample budget includes $0 for heat.

The McDonald’s plan also assumes that the employee is working a second almost-full-time job for a total of 75 hours a week. Clearly someone tasked the promotional department with making a budget work and a second job was the only way they could even pretend to do it, and that is even with the heatless budget and a budget for health care that is less than the cheapest McDonald’s employee health plan by about $30 a month. Watch the clip, it is quite incredible that the corporation thought no one would notice this.

The world of publishing operates on a McDonald’s assumption that writers do not need to make a living from writing because it is expected that the writer will have a second source of income. You will find this assumption at work on every level. Payments are slow to come and often slower than promised. Magazine contracts which pay on acceptance leave the writer in a position of not knowing exactly when, indeed if, she will be paid. Book publishers like to put a clause into a writers contract that they have right of refusal on the author’s next book, but they are never able to make a decision on that until after they have put out the first book and seen how it does in the market place. This means huge delays in an author’s ability to work regularly. To make the median income a writer would have to have two fairly generous book deals a year, which is theoretically doable, but the industry just doesn’t work that fast. The entire philosophy in the industry is like the McDonald’s sample budget. Of course you can make a living as a writer, as long as you have another job to pay your bills.

So here’s what I wonder about the McDonalds budget. As long as they were working up a sample budget with a fictional second job, why not imagine that the second job was something that paid better? If the McDonald’s employee moonlights as a CEO for example, he will have even more money to put away for savings at the end of the month.



  1. Pingback: Author Laura Lee

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