We just had a marvelous week at the family camp we go to at the end of August every year. Alastair has been going with his parents since he was four years old, and many of the same families come back year after year, the same week. So there’s a lot of socializing over meals, etc., in addition to relaxing, playing various sports and games, swimming and boating, taking mambo lessons with Johnny Castle, etc. (Well, not that last one, alas.)
Anyway. People spend lots of time catching up, and I’m frequently asked about my writing. People often say they read my blog (which is nice!), ask how my book(s) are doing, whether I’m working on a new one, etc.
Then they usually say something along the lines of, “But it must be hard to find time to write given what’s going on with Clio.” To which I answer yes, it is. Between that and my day job and all the other demands of everyday life, it’s very tough.
At which point they do a sort of Scooby Doo double take (insert wacky percussion here) and say, you have a day job, too??
Yes. Contrary to the popular belief among people who are not close friends or relatives, I have a day job. I am a freelance advertising / marketing copywriter — a job I work at about 30 hours a week, give or take, and which supplies the lion’s share of our household income. Surprise!
I guess people assume — and God bless them — that I make an actual living (or at least part of one) as a writer. But sadly, I do not. Most of the places I publish online — Salon, Huffpo, Babble, etc. — pay laughably small fees. I will probably never earn out my (small) advance on Double Time and start earning royalties. I make mere pennies from the ads on this blog. (And am actually considering getting rid of them in favor of a “tip jar.” Thoughts?)
In fact, if you added up every dollar I’ve made writing fiction and nonfiction in the nearly-10-years since I’ve been a “professional” writer, it would add up to about what a shift supervisor at Starbucks makes in a year. ONE year.
In other words, I don’t make squat as a writer-writer. But I make a decent living as a copywriter. More like someone in corporate at Starbucks, minus the health plan. (We have to cough up a painful $1,100 a month for that since we’re both self-employed.)
And my case is not at all unusual. The grand, grand, GRAND majority of writers — even those far more successful than me both in their number of publishing credits and their writing income – generally have other jobs. Or are married to cardiologists. Or are bankrolled by their parents.
As in any branch of the arts, there are the few and proud — some of them extremely talented and lucky, some just lucky — who hit it big, and are able to to make their living solely by doing their art. But Alastair and I ain’t them. At least, we ain’t them unless we decided to move to, say, Angola, where I suspect we could live comfortably, if not extravagantly, on our income.
Do I wish I could make a living solely by writing things other than ads, websites, etc.? Well, hell yeah. Not that I don’t enjoy my day job; I do, quite a bit. The variety and challenge, and the people I get to work with — not to mention the flexibility of being my own boss — are all quite satisfying. And the pay isn’t bad, either.
But I love my non-day-job more. I am seethingly envious of people — some of whom I know personally — who make enough money writing books, essays, etc., that they can write full time. But I’m realistic enough to know that it’s unlikely to happen for me.
No, no, no, don’t say “But it will! It will! Just stick with it! You’re such a good writer!” I know you’re trying to be nice, and I appreciate it, but like I said, there are tons of good writers — and I count myself among them — who don’t live on income from writing alone, and never will. There’s luck involved. Market forces. Failing publishing companies. Reality TV.
But is this going to stop me from continuing to write the books and articles and blog posts that I want to write? No! We will not die like dogs. We will fight like lions!
Sorry. Where was I?
Writing. Yes. I will keep writing in spite of the bleak financial prospects, and spite of the difficulty of even getting published in the first place, because I love it. And I think I’m pretty good at it. I take great satisfaction in blogging, and writing essays. I am proud of my two books, and have at least two more that I want to write.
First on the docket is a novel. It’s been a slow starter, and admittedly, I’ve had, er, other things on my mind this past year. But I’ve decided I need to take a more disciplined approach, and carve out more structured writing routine. Because even when I say “I’m going to spend an hour writing at some point today” I often don’t get around to it. Other things — usually day job stuff — take priority. Or I just plain procrastinate. (You may have noticed I’m on Facebook from time to time…)
I was inspired last week at family camp by a conversation with the director, an all around awesome woman who — in addition to the huge job of being the camp director — is a visual artist. And, oh yeah, has 2 kids under 6. She set the goal of making 4,000 paintings in 2012. (Small paintings. But still!!) And she made it happen. You can read about it here.
So, if she could stick to her goal given all the demands in her life, I can do it too. For starters, I’m going to get into routine of getting up an hour early (6:00) three days a week to work on the novel. This may not sound like a big deal, but I HATE getting up early, really and truly. I’ll write whenever else I can fit it in, too. But those three mornings are non-negotiable. My goal will be 10 pages (about 3,000 words) a week.
It’s a pretty modest goal. But if I can stay on track — not make excuses, not listen to the critical voices in my head — I’ll have something approximating a full if messy draft of a novel by my 40th birthday. Which is a pretty good goal, right? Right.
Ready, set, go!
P.S. Clio lost her tooth when we were away last week! Fortunately, the tooth fairy had tracked our whereabouts, and did her thing.