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Monday, December 16, 2013

What is the Writer's Life?

When I meet someone new and they ask me what I do my usual answer is that I am a project manager for a global company by day and an author by night. Unfortunately, by the time I get to the part about being an author, half of them have quit listening. The ones who catch that get stars in their eyes and say, "Oh, that must be wonderful." As if I'm a superhero, complete with cape and fire breathing pen.

I don't want to appear rude, but I have to ask, "What do you think a writer's life is like?" Evidently, it's a very romanticized profession. Some people think we spend a few hours writing and reading, and all the things that normal people do, like cleaning, cooking, paying bills - is done by the shoemaker's elves. Or paid services, like those authors that have made a mint.

The truth is we still have "lives," just like everyone else. Not many authors have made a mint, and out of the hundreds of thousands of authors, only a small percentage are making big bucks. The rest of us, if we're lucky, make enough to pay for our reading habits. And most of us have the dreaded "day job" to pay the living bills.

Writing is an art. And you've all heard the stories about "starving artists," right? Many of us would be starving if we didn't have some type of income to supplement to our writing paychecks, which are sparse. Although novelists "might" get an advance, the truth is we do a lot of waiting.  Most advances are small so you can't live on it. Your book won't come out for 18 months, and you won't see royalties until you've earned back your advance, so it could be more months before you ever see another "paycheck." Everyone get's a piece of the pie: the agent, the publisher, the distributor, the bookstore, and we might get 10% of the cover price - that's $2.50 on a $25.00 book, folks. Not a lot.

While we're waiting on the novel to come out, we're furiously writing a new manuscript, that may or may not be picked up by the current novel's publisher. If we're working another job full-time, our writing time is relegated to nights and weekends. And we've got to eat (feed your family), stay healthy with exercise, not to mention cleaning and maintaining your home. If we're lucky, we have family to help out, like a hubby who picks up groceries on his way home from work. Or kids who can run the vacuum and a dust rag around to get the big chunks. That is if we are lucky. Add a little reading time to stimulate the muse, time with the family and writing time is smaller and smaller.

Authors: "I don't know about you, but I've tried getting up before the sun (5:30 AM) and writing for a bit before anyone else is up. It was fun at first. An adventure. I got tons of writing done because I was fresh from sleep or the edge of a dream, BUT...I also found myself running out of gas about 8:30 PM. What I gained on one end of the day I lost on the other. We all have a finite amount of time and energy."

Am I complaining? A little, maybe. That won't stop me from finding time to write and read and muse about interesting characters. It's what we author's do. Our lives revolve around story telling, so... I hope those people who aren't writers will understand that what we do isn't always easy. Blank pages can be intimidating. Deadlines can be stressful. Money can be in short supply.

Then why do we do it? "Because we're writers and it is our life."


12 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Of course, you are right on target. The writing life is difficult. It's often glamorized, but the truth is only a few authors fortunate enough to make it to the top of the bestseller list really make any money in the profession. The result is that writers need to have day jobs or inherit wealth. I took an early retirement from teaching so that I could finally write full-time. But I wouldn't recommend it for every aspiring author.

BDTharp said...

It's not an easy choice, but sometimes things choose us. Thanks for the comment.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I retired two months ago from my job as executive director of a social service agency, but whenever I introduced myself to people (outside my professional sphere), I said I was a writer with a day job.

Writing is work, as you pointed, out, and keeping up the life of a writer is also work, as you also pointed out. I'm not sure people who don't write understand how much we have to balance and manage in order to get in even one hour of writing time. If people ask me how I do it, I try to explain, but their eyes glaze over almost immediately. This life isn't for everyone.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great post and so true!

I don't drop by often but pray every 5 Star author be blessed exceedingly and abundantly!

PamT

Irene Bennett Brown said...

My writing life for more than 30 years has been the balancing act you describe. Add to that trying to get others to understand over and over and over that yes, I work at home, but I'm not available for long meaningless phone chats or babysitting your kids!That had to be one of the hardest parts.

BDTharp said...

It is very hard to explain to non-writers - you are right! And working from home is still "Working." Most of my family and friends understand that now, but it's taken a while...Thanks for the comments.

Patricia Stoltey said...

All true, but I wouldn't give the writing life up for anything else.

BDTharp said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Patricia.

Mary Fremont Schoenecker said...

Someone commented "it is a balancing act" I agree. It is life between the 3 W's. Write Watch & Wait.

BDTharp said...

Three W's works...Thanks for the comments.

Catherine Dilts said...

Posts like this help me to whine a little less knowing I'm not the only one balancing a day job and writing. Most people I know who retired to write full time were doing the balancing act for many years before retiring.

BD Tharp said...

Ah, retirement. I can't wait!