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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's Really Okay Not to Write. Really. (Part 6)

The Pencil rules you.
All hail the pencil.
Even if you're writing for money, it doesn't have to be your day job.

Intro and Part 1- The Journey Begins  

Part 2- Chesslectric Boogaloo

Part 3- The Search for Sporadic

Part 4- Live Free or Write Hard 

Part V- The Expense Strikes Back

Part VI  The Half Blood Prints

-or-

It Doesn't Have to Be Your Day Job

[Apologies for the very long break between part five and six. We saw something shiny that looked like a groupie in a nightie and we were chasing that for a couple of months (it turned out to be a bicycle pump with a sweatshirt draped over it). We should be finishing up the last entry in this series very soon.]

Okay so you've decided that you want to be a writer. Really.

Wait....really?  You know you don't have to. No one is going to stand over you. No one is going to yell at you. It's okay to sort of casually imagine how rich and famous you would be without actually doing all that work (that likely would never make you rich or famous anyway). You don't need to go around looking for permission not to write or talking about how it feels like a chore or finding other writers who tell you it's okay to not write. You can even enjoy books and appreciate language and occasionally jot something down for sheer pleasure without it being about being a Writer with a capital W. There is no reason--

No?

You really want to do this?

Really?

Okay.

Fame? Fortune? Groupies? They will be mine.
I am the premier rock band recorderist.
You're not just doing it because someone told you were good at writing--probably back when you were in junior high--and you feel a responsibility to pursue your talent. You figure it's the best shot you've got at being rich and famous since you throw up during public speaking and the only instrument you learned to play was the recorder back when you were five?  This isn't how you plan to break into your real dream of being a big Hollywood director or something, right? You really want to write?

Really?  Okay.

You don't have to do it every day though. You can just do it when you feel like it.

Lots of people have hobbies that they do when they want to. It's okay to do it only when you're in the mood or you're feeling inspired. Lots of people play baseball for fun or enjoy video games when they are in the mood for them. They don't sit down every day and do them like a training regimen. It's okay to decide that you're only going to do it when inspiration strikes you like unicorn puke.

Have some fucking inspiration, motherfucker!
Photo by fluffycatheven

No?  You want to go beyond the capricious desires of your muse, and pursue writing with a greater dedication, treating it more like work. You want to improve and practice and do it even when you'd rather not, and be the best you can be.  Are you sure? Because at this point you're probably starting to be a little OCD about it. You don't mind being like a crazy cat lady, except with writing?

Okay then.

But of course you know you don't have to make money from it. Lots of people practice at arts and crafts to get better without thinking that they are going to make money from it. I knew a guy who rehearsed in his community choir three nights a week and practiced almost an hour a day with no intention of being a professional singer. It's perfectly okay to just write for fun without holding to the idea that some day it will make you money or be your job.

It's okay not to enter the business side of writing--which involves all kinds of non-writing crap like promotions and agents and publishers and learning the industry, but also involves a whole new dimension of not just writing for pleasure, but putting your work out there for all to see, getting feedback (most of it probably pretty negative) and just a grinding demand for constant productivity.

No? You still want to try.

Okay then.  Here's the next thing to consider when you're thinking about how it's really okay not to write. (Really.) You still don't have to make it your principle source of income. People who write have a strange sort of tendency to wish that was their main and only job. They never want to make a little money--they always want to be full time writers. You already know you're not going to get rich or famous probably ever, but certainly not by working three hour days and sipping espressos in the French Rivera. No, this is going to be actual, real work. Every goddamned day.

Lots of crafty people have little sideline businesses making soaps, knitting Jayne hats, or making jewelry. They do it on the weekends or maybe after work, and it's mostly a labor of love but they manage to make a little money doing it. They are interested in improving and doing it for money, but after they update their Etsy site or spend a day in a booth at the farmer's market they go back to their real jobs as accountants and lawyers and telephone sanitizers and make the real money they need for things like food and rent. It's okay to do it as a part time job.

I have given up my practice to sell
speckled ceramic frogs on Etsy.
Because the shit thing is, if you want writing to be your day job, you have to do it every day. And the real ass noodles is that you probably have to take a pay cut, even if you work more than a full time job.

Let me hit you with some sobering news: most fiction authors can't quit their day job, even if they wanted to. The money short stories pay out is probably not worth the time it took to write them, and royalty checks are dribbles until an author has several popular titles. Basically until you're regularly writing bestsellers or sell movie rights, you are likely going to find that your income isn't really able to support you.

Even the writers who sort of make money writing are usually faking it a little. It's some creative writing and a lot of jazz hands. They work as anthology editors or for literary magazines or as writing teachers or editors, or they are writers of a non-creative type to pay the bills. While they can say "I'm a writer" with a professional sense of pride, and probably care more about their creative endeavors, if you broke down where the paychecks were coming from, you'd find that their other job really paid the bills.

People who LOOK like it's their day job are probably faking it too. (Well, most of them anyway.) They have spouses whose income is large enough that they can afford to make a pittance, they are living in a situation where they basically have no expenses like with parents or on trust funds, they have some kooky set up like I do (where I am a househusband to a couple I live with) or they are mainly keeping the boiler lit during the winter months at a remote haunted hotel in the Rocky Mountains where evil twins and gallons of blood like to ride around in the elevator. They have managed to set something up where it's basically okay that they're pulling in less than minimum wage because it's more important to them to spend as much time as possible on their craft than to have big paychecks.

(In fact, if you really want to be a full time fiction author, you probably have to give up your expectations for an ordinary paycheck altogether. I had a mentor--an absurdly talented writer--who worked some sixty hours a week teaching at three different institutions plus a writing workshop for three hours a week (plus prep) who often felt vaguely dissatisfied that his writing career wasn't going anywhere even though he felt financially unable to give up any of that teaching time to dedicate more to writing.)

The reality of writing fiction is that it's brutally hard to make a living doing it, especially if you can't spend several years to a decade doing it in a less-than-day-job capacity. This recent Guardian article says that writers make an average of £600 pounds (a little less than $1000 USD) per year.

I've been writing 5-7 entries a week on this blog for very close to two years. My numbers are pretty good for a solo blog running for only a couple of years. A thousand hits a day is damned respectable. I make roughly $100.00 a month. Nice right? A little more than the average I sited above. Except that's about 25 hours or so a week I spend on it so, lemmie do the math here....hmmmmmm.....carry the one.....move that over....imaginary numbers.....square root of 9.....humanities major here...I took math for liberal arts.....

Ah yes! About one dollar an hour.  Or roughly 1/7th the current federal minimum wage or less than 10% of San Francisco's municipal minimum wage.

Don't get me wrong, the hundred dollars is a wonderful reminder that I'm making progress, but there's no way I could live off of it. Even at ten times that amount, I'd be struggling in most major cities.

So it's okay if you don't want to try to get to some point where you can quit your day job. That's going to take a long time, a lot of passion, and more work than you probably ever wanted to give this stupid friggen hobby. It's really okay for you to just work it as a sideline gig.  Maybe publish a short story here and there and enjoy the money it gives you to buy a video game or catch a movie. It can be a nice addition to your real income.

It's okay to not want to live in a room of a couple at forty and not have a car because you are passionate about your art. Even if you want to dip your toe into making money as a creative writer, it's okay not to give it your day job's worth of effort.  It's really okay not to write that much.

Really.

Go to Part 7 The New Blood

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