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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

$2500. More Than Most

I've hit a serious milestone this week.

I've made $2500 from creative writing.

Don't get too excited. I don't mean today or anything. That's across the span of two and a half years, so it's still less than minimum wage. And yet, it's a serious milestone.

Why is it a "serious milestone"?  I'll tell you. But first, let me tell you why I'm telling you instead of just jumping up and down on my bed in my boxers and enjoying this privately and with decorum. Because I'm not saying it just to brag.

(Maybe a little--it's pretty cool.) 

I'm saying it because the most endemic and ubiquitous problem I've run into among the many groups of writers I've been a part of (dozens of writers groups, hundreds of forums, and even 20 or so classes full of SFSU Creative Writers) has always, unerringly been a lack of understanding about how much work would need to go into writing becoming a means of making money. Everyone always thinks they're going to write that ONE book, and then they'll be able to quit their day job.

They're still called milestones, even when they're in metric.
Does that seem right to you?
So I'm going to tell you about this one last monetary milestone....

When I first started blogging, I was going to be transparent about my money stuff.

It was partially because I've pledged 10% of any money I make here will always go to children's literacy charities. I didn't want anyone to question whether I was keeping up on that. I'd have posts with screen shots and pictures of receipts and everything would always be on the up and up. No one would ever be able to get in my face and say "Where's the donation. I want the TRUTH!!" Which of course would force me to say "You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has firewalls, and those firewalls have to be guarded by anti-virus software. But if you have that software, you can just go check those pages for yourself!"

Yeah, I maybe spend too much time talking to myself in the shower.

However....mostly, I wanted people to be able to see the cold, hard, broken reality of writing for money. There's no glitz. There's no glamour. There's no one-book rags to riches story. It's a lot of work for very very very little pay, so you better love the process for itself or you're going to end up masturbating in a pile of your own feces and repeating, "I coulda been a contender!" over and over.

I wanted people to notice how hard it was, but also how possible it was to make some money. There's this great fear that making money is absolutely impossible and a writer would either be tragic and unknown or their genius would lead them to create something spectacular and they will be lighting Cuban cigars with hundred dollar bills. And no one lives in the space between. It's ridiculous when you put it that way, of course, but you'd be surprised how many starting writers talk like this.

I wanted people to see how long it took to go from standing in the middle of your friends saying "Uh...guys, I wrote a thing. Guys? GUYS!!!" to making some pocket money, to making money that might pay a bill or two to possibly even quitting one's day job to live the dream. Through traditional publishing, that process is usually roughly ten years for a dedicated writer. Two or three years to make some money. Two or three years to make a enough to pay a bill or two. And four or five years before all those accolades (and maybe a first novel or two) add up to an advance or enough royalties to do writing full time.

Sadly (or, I guess not), I was convinced that that level of transparency was a bad idea for a lot of reasons. I make jokes about writing for less than $1 hour because it's kind of illustrative of how writing isn't glamorous at all, but I've been keeping the deets close to my vest. And I don't even own a vest. But I do want to tell you about this one financial milestone.

First a quick disclaimer. I read this in a magazine some ten years ago. It was the kind of magazine that salons have in their waiting area. (I know that because I was waiting for a haircut and was absolutely delighted to find an article that wasn't either about Brad Pitt or how women should stick fingers up my ass during oral sex without checking first if that was cool.) I don't remember the magazine, and I can't quote it properly or cite it. I have no idea how they came to this figure or even if it's accurate. So take it with all the grains of salt. But I've always thought it sounded about right, and I've kept my eye on it, and this week I passed it.

$2500 is the average amount of money most authors ever make from creative writing*.


Now that average includes Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and their bazillions, but also every single writer who ever got five bucks for a story they put in a community reader. It includes working novelists, and people who published once in small presses. It includes people who wrote one throw-away book that had a very modest run and then couldn't ever get past writer's block to write another.

I don't know how accurate it is, but after blogging for money for 2 1/2 years, I can say (with dubious veracity) that I've made more than most writers ever will.

So don't give up. It's hard work. It's long work. It may take you a couple of years at least. You'll probably never fund the "Hookers and Blow" budgetary expense. But if my typo-making, grammarfail, vulgar, seat-of-the-pants writing ass can pull it off, anybody can.

And as always, I don't think of this so much as my success. I couldn't have done it without all of you (quite literally). It is an overwhelming and passionate gratitude that consumes me when I pass such bellwethers. Thank you all so very, very much.

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