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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paying The Bills With Writing (Five Years In–Personal Update)

Writer looking triumphant–despite still being sick.
Today's post is a bit streamy. I'm still sick and still taking it easy, but there's something important to talk about today.

There's this scene in Necessary Roughness (and I bring it up, not only because it totally fits in with my usual melange of 20+ year old pop culture references but that it describes how I'm feeling today pretty well).

Tragically, I can't find a clip of it and this is the best I can do: https://youtu.be/F9xZ6ay5kMg?t=1h26m4s The whole movie is a pretty forgettable flick about college football. It was okay, and had its moments, but kind of blends into the early nineties pastiche of not-quite-eighties anymore, but not quite the multicultural and alternative media blitz that shaped so much of the later part of the decade. The part that I remember liking is that Scott Bakula's character writes a pretty good essay in his composition class and was actually there to go back to college.

I always dig the writer types.

Anyway, they're in a huddle, before the last play. (I hope you are all okay with 26 year old spoilers.) It's fourth down. They're exhausted. They haven't been able to make a passing play for a while.

This isn't the movie's climax. They make the pass and it becomes 21-20. The extra point would tie the game, but they go for a two point conversion and end up winning. (Yay.) THAT'S the movie's climax. It's overly-telegraphed in the dialogue, and involves some cheesy slow motion shots that are more movie than sports. It wraps up some character arcs with satisfying crunches. It's a 90's football movie–what did you expect?

But let's go back to that fourth down. Here's the reason I couldn't find the clip: It's just a line. It's delivered kind of nonchalantly before the play, and I think the director cared more about the joke right before it. But somewhere across twenty years and change in my mind, it became the most important line of the movie. It became the line about the moment where a struggle pays off. In my version, Scott Bakula paused before he said it–a long pregnant pause. He looked around the stadium and saw important people watching. He glanced across the faces of his teammates and saw the doubt in their eyes that their own abilities could get them through. In the background, not overbearing, a long note of music started. Scott took a deep breath, and he said to them:  "Listen up. (pause) You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. (shot of everyone looking wrecked) I am too. I'm gonna make you a promise though. (a long pause) If we make it. In that end zone, when we cross that line....it's not going to hurt anymore. I promise.*"

(*Actual line: "Listen up. You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. I'm gonna make you a promise. In that end zone, you won't feel pain. You hear?")

Something happened earlier today.

My Patreon funds disbursed. I've been making money in small amounts for years now through Paypal, but even my most spectacular months were about half of what Patreon just pulled in, and that's a monthly amount. In the last day or so, I've also gotten a big donor and I am now within $11/month of the second goal. This goal would permanently eliminate my need to teach a second night each week.

That's its SECOND goal already almost hit in a single month.

Image description $589 of $600 for the second goal.

There's a long way to go before writing is my only job. I'd have to cover what I'm making now from the second night of teaching, from nannying for The Contrarian, and the money the Kickstarter is currently covering. And even then, that creates only a pretty a tight, shoestring budget.

But also...as I dragged my ass through this last month of pet death and writing difficulties (because of the inauguration), as I've dragged myself through this last year of break ups and moves and loved ones with cancer and losing the parent relationship I had with T.C., there has been a lot of hurt around getting up every day and writing.

And I know your lives hurt too. And sometimes that's when it's the hardest to keep writing–especially for an audience.

But listen up. You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. I am too. I'm gonna make you a promise though. If you make it. If you get that paycheck, if you have that moment where you realize you're paying the bills from writing–that you've crossed the line of that dream you've had for thirty-two years....it's not going to hurt anymore. I promise*.

*Other shit will hurt because that's life and writing doesn't make it go away, but all those moments you didn't think you could do it and you thought that it was best to just quit and only write when it was fun and you just did not know how you were going to get up and put something on the page anyway...those evaporate. 

Five years in...

I set this blog up in 2012, of course, to write and to write about writing, but also as a real-time, meta demo of how hard (but possible) it would be to make money writing. I knew from everything I had read, seen, heard, and everyone I'd talked to in the industry, two things stood out almost everywhere I looked:

1) The perceived "legitimacy" of non-traditional publishing was less than that of traditional, but that non traditional publishing would pay out faster. Also the latter was becoming harder and harder to break into–with every passing day, with every tech advancement, writing was becoming less and less a paper and gatekeeper world.

2) That even with the "faster" success of non-traditional publishing, it would take about ten years of solid, legitimate effort to reach the point where I was a working writer. (In traditional publishing those ten years tend to just be almost completely unpaid with maybe the occasional short story sale, and then BAM book deal. (Which usually is around the five year point for a writer going at it prolifically and though it isn't enough money to live off of for long enough to fully write the next book, it marks the moment when a writer can make some "day job" sacrifices for writing.) In non-traditional, you can make your first few cents the same day you start writing, but it's a long slog to the kind of money that pays for more than just your Netflix account. A year ago I averaged $200 a month. A year before that about $75.)

It's now been five years. We're about halfway there. I'm paying about half my bills with writing.

If the symmetry were any more perfect, I would burst.

I'm not particularly talented. I'm not a great writer. Any skill I have come by has been hard fought over years. I don't have the concentration to sit for twelve hours a day like some writers have. I don't have an unfettered life. I'm not doing anything super interesting that folks find compelling. I just do it. I do it every day. And I peel back my skin and rib cage and put myself out there.

The take home here is that it works just about exactly as fast as all these people who are on the other side telling you what to expect say it will. And every day you don't get to work adds another day onto the end of your "five to ten but really closer to ten" years.

For many–especially those just tuning in who haven't seen this as a process as slow as watching the grass grow–I have already crossed the Rubicon from "What the fuck does he know?" to "Teach me your secret ways!" but the "secrets" are all laid out in this blog. It's all there. Every crappy article that didn't land. Every swing-and-miss of fiction (and more to come). Every time you could just TELL I didn't have an article in me, but I wrote something anyway. The way I've foraged an online presence but never made that the end rather than the means. It's all right there.

In the last five years, people have disparaged my choice to go non traditional and disparaged my choice to put some of my effort into self-promotion and disparaged my advice to write daily, and disparaged every bit of advice I've given, but most of them are still in the same place they were five years ago. Of course, I don't think I'm right about everything, and certainly someone could make a fine writing career while ignoring a few choice morsels of my advice. ("Screw him I'm going to get an MFA and write for NaNo every year!") But what I hope keeps happening is that everyone sees that the formula isn't a trick or a secret.

It's just a lot of fucking work.

I do want to make one thing clear though: If you write, you're a writer. That's the part that changes your life. That's the part that opens up your world. That's the part that makes a difference. That's the art and the catharsis. That's the part that makes you feel whole when the bottom falls out–as it will do because life is kind of like that. If you write unpaid, unread, in your room for the sheer joy of it, ferreting your pages into the back of a drawer.... YOU. ARE. A. WRITER.

Everything else is frosting.

But if you're shooting for the frosting dream, and putting up with a lot of pain to try and get there, when you cross that line, all that work doesn't hurt anymore.

Speaking of Patreon:

Do you have a dollar?

I'll spare you all the official fundraising post this month and instead just tack a mention on here.

Just one dollar a month? To support all the writing I do? All the page maintenance, all the blogging, all the political ranting (and eventually all the fiction because it'll always be free–with *at cost* options for e-readers and print copies)? As little as one dollar could support this.

Currently over half my Patreon amount comes from three patrons. And over 80% of the money I'm making comes from fewer than a dozen donors. It's not that each of these isn't breathtaking and so unbelievably generous that I'm moved just thinking about it, but it sometimes makes me feel a little....vulnerable to have so many eggs in one basket.

I would just love it if I had lots more smaller donors too! For signing up to be a Patreon Patron for just a dollar a month, you can get in on the backchannel discussions and participate in Patron-only polls where I really listen carefully to feedback about upcoming projects, current directions, and where I should put my energy.

You can also get more rewards at the higher levels. They're not really "worth it" but it's a small way of saying thanks for the even greater levels of support. However, a single dollar a month would really be spectacular.

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