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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why you DON'T want to make your living writing


I know, weird, right? Usually writers dream of making money writing; we drool over all those great e-mails telling you how you can quit your day job and spend forever doing what you want.

But I'm here to tell you maybe you don't want that.

I totally lived that dream, and I'm glad I did—quitting my day-job pushing pills probably did more for my business-sense, faith, and guts than any other experience in my life. Definitely my first choice for a full-time job, if I don't make it in medicine. I didn't get rich, and I didn't get famous, but for almost a year my frantic typing and lots of grace from above provided just fine for my tiny family (me, in-college husband, and hedgehog!). I ghosted four books, tons of articles, and even got my name out there a little bit. One of my ghosted books made it to Amazon best seller's list in its category for a week. (Because it was ghosted you have to ask me privately for my client's permission to prove that, but I totally can if you're curious) Yeah, it was awesome. 

But you know what? I'm a much happier writer now that it's not keeping the air conditioning running. Because--
When writing isn't your bacon and cheese, your rice and kimchee, your bread and butter, you can write:

1. What you want

Sorry, but if you blog for a living, or ghost, or even write news, at some point someone's going to tell you, “I want it like this.” And at some point, unless you have magical mind-control powers, you are going to have to obey. It's the client's blog, it's the client's voice in the book, and it's the client's money. Fortunately, I've worked with some really good clients and editors who listened to me and played a pretty decent back and forth, but I've also worked with folks you can never please, folks who lose your work, and folks who make grammatically-destructive edits (cringe). And even the best clients in the world won't pay you to write your dream novel. They want you to write theirs. That's fine, but if you've got a story to tell, it's frustrating spending all your time telling other people's stories.

It's not much different in fiction-writing, from what I hear. I mean, think about it, if writing brings home the tofurkey, not all the publishing people living off your established werewolf-driven urban fantasy will let you just up and start writing historical fiction. They know people in the new genre might not take you as seriously, and they don't want to risk their incomes because you got some Roman classics on the brain. So you either jeopardize your income stream because your established crew won't publish you, or you keep writing the same lycanthropes until you vomit silver bullets.

Or, if writing's not your main source of sizzling, greasy, life-sustaining bacon, you go ahead and write that historical fiction anyway. You've got time for rejections.

See how much easier that is?

2. When you want

Sure, if you're a writer for a living, you can write all day long. And sometimes all night long. And then you have to spend the next day catching up on networking. And then you realize “networking” became wasting time on twitter and you have to start all over again with five energy shots to pump out 15,000 more words in the next eight hours. And then you have writer's block for a week, and your husband comes back from class in his clothes and you're still dead exhausted in your pjs with drool in your hair, and you know he's wondering if you're all going to starve.

People often underestimate the physical pressure of having to write all the time—and I think people really underestimate how that affects the quality of your work. You get tired. You need to experience life. Living creates new ideas and scenes and expressions for your writing, and without brain stimulation from science and problem-solving and people and struggle, your writing can stagnate fast. Your life is outside your writing. Writing is what you do about it.

So, it's definitely pretty great to set your own schedule for work and everything, but it's also pretty great not to have to. Stealing an hour a day, or half an hour a day, into your own little sanctuary without worrying about deadlines—that's lovely. Freedom from yourself, really, is kind of nice.

3. How you want

The junction between art and writing might get you into museums, but unless you can prove your avant-garde Arizona-tea-labels-glued-to-the-wall will make $$$ it's a no-go for a paid writer. You wanna add a comic strip to your novel? Make a digital hyperlink chase all over the internet? What's new and unique to you looks weird to other people. Not to me—I love it—but it's tough to get money put down on stuff that's not proven itself before, especially during an economic down-turn. 

That's not to discourage you from trying crazy new techniques. Absolutely not. There's Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Youtube—tons of ways to pull in money for your crazy new mind-meld. It's just easier to run that crazy new idea when you know it's not going to put you out on the street.

So.

I am not saying all this to tell you to keep your soul-munching office job. No. Please quit that. A veteran newspaper editor I respect once took the time to tell me a secret: “They want all of you kids to finish college and work for a corporation or the government where you're neatly controlled, like in a commune. But that's not what you're supposed to do. You're all supposed to be graduating to start your own small businesses.” It sounded kind of intense at the time, but you know what? We were meant to be masters of our own lives. Running a farm, or your own little market stall, or hunting and gathering your own food may not sound glamorous to most modern people, but our souls stagnate without risk and opportunity, just like our immune systems attack us without parasites to fight (that's where autoimmune disease and allergies come from). We should be creating and fighting for products and services we believe in and coming up with new ideas, not just taking what's there. Please quit your job and write instead of melting.

But you know what? Maybe writing full-time isn't the risk you're meant to take. Maybe you're meant to be an astronaut or ITC gal or brilliant home-maker or that pizza-guy who arranges peperoni into hearts for people in long-distance relationships. (True story) Maybe you've got something else to add to the world besides the words on your page.

And maybe then you'll always have something to write about.

4 comments:

  1. Great post.

    I'm happy to have struck a balance. Freelancing is a thousand times better than my day-job, and I'm happy to relinquish creative control to pay the bills in exchange for pursuing the kind of fiction I want to write, even if that might *never* pay the bills.

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    1. I like that! You've also got a pretty diversified writing platform, too, it seems, and I think that helps. I also think not everyone understands the struggle between creative control and financial freedom, so it's great that you're able to find a balance. You'd mentioned elsewhere I think that you're full-time free-lancing, so how long has that been going on, and how long do you think it took for you to find a balance?

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    2. Sorry, I wandered away from this and never responded.

      I started freelancing part-time in 2011, and quit my day job in a call center at the beginning of 2012. It was more of a leap of faith than anything -- I had no idea if it would work, but I couldn't stay in the old job any longer. So I've been doing that since.

      I will say that I've been less productive, fiction-wise, since I started. I'm still trying to really strike a balance between the two because they use such wildly different parts of my brain.

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  2. Wow, love this post. This really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing.

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