Note: I wrote this piece after seeing this image sometime in December 2014 on Facebook. I was reminded of it recently and thought I would repost it here:
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There are career paths and structures that support various other occupations but some of us don’t get that stability when doctors, lawyers, accountants etc can. And you can sell a million books and still make less than $10,000 per year because you get a small percentage of each sale as royalties.
Every writer or artist or anyone in a similar occupation that has to deal with this weird pay inequality gap type thing has to a) support themselves and b) limited time and energy that has to be somehow efficiently prioritised both on some sort of work that does pay and their actual work like writing or painting or even in some cases, awesome social work. And doing good work takes time and a lot of mistakes made.
So 1: It’s not glamorous, it’s hard and while I love how much you believe in the eventual quality of my work, it’s far more statistically probable that I won’t win major prizes or sell several million copies. There’s no problem believing in that possibility but I must also be realistic and focus on the now so please limit that enthusiasm a tad. Besides there aren’t enough writing prizes and there aren’t enough with any sizeable amount of prize money really when you realise that a writer who might win one doesn’t get a $60,000 salary every year like everyone else in a fulltime job and so even a third of that is awesome but is highly unlikely and is probably down to chance. And writers have insurance, taxes and super like anyone else does. To you, $20,000 prize money may seem a lot and of course it is but you are adding that to your annual paycheck, your benefits and savings.
For many writers that is the first big chunk they may get and maybe the fame from winning the prize may get them a few more copies sold but unless it really blows up it probably won’t make a difference in royalties. Ask any writer who has been around long enough – no one writes for the money, unless somehow you have tapped into some really odd market.
You write because you are compelled to, somehow. It’s weird, don’t ask. Virginia Woolf told us that we need a room, we need money and time to write – not just women, anyone. That was over a century ago. It’s still valid.
2: It is hard to create something complex that reads simply on the outside, saying everything you want to, and to make everything connect and work and leave the reader room to subjectively experience it how they want to. It takes time, I don’t completely know how to do this and even after several books I still won’t know how to do it bar sitting down and writing and going with my gut on what works and what doesn’t within each piece.
So when you ask me to hurry up with Sedition because you are excited – thank you my pre-ordering member of my eventual fan club, hold on, wait. I may finish writing it, then it has to be edited, then a publisher needs to like it enough to take a financial risk on publishing it and there are millions of writers both better and worse than I am, both a better and worse financial risk than I am – so you may not get to read Sedition for years yet. All I am aiming for is finishing the manuscript – baby steps, people. EDIT: Sedition‘s first draft is done and you can keep up with the new book HIM and support me to get Sedition edited on Patreon.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, asked people years ago to stop putting the pressure of creating genius work on demand on creative people in her TED talk because we can only sit down and write – genius is beyond our control.
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3. I can’t write to the tastes of a market two to ten years from now. My stories don’t work like that – I have minimal control. The plot is the plot, it’s driven by set characters, I just dictate which scene I need to look at and what works and what doesn’t and then write it.
4. It means a great deal of balancing and sacrifice, something I don’t think other people realise. I have room, time and energy in my life for paid work and writing. In between those two things, I just may have time for other things like doing something awesome for the community I am in, or time with friends and family (whom I barely see, sorry frown emoticon and thanks for your patience), or a scattering of hobbies. And frankly speaking, a lot of the time, I am torn.
There are other things I do want to do as well – degrees for example. To do my postgraduate degree was frustrating because I wanted it but it also meant putting my creative writing to a side – easy to do but hard to bear. There wasn’t room in my life for it when my life was so full of general chaos and all the other things above and I am not someone who can do it all – I have a personal individual limit on what I can juggle at any given time.
And so when you ask me why I am not married yet with kids, I am not saying one cannot have it all, I am saying I have sacrificed actively looking or having a relationship and kids and such things because those things require time and effort on my part and I don’t have that to give right now and it would be unfair – wait till the book is written at least, ok. Also why are you asking me about private matters, you nosey parker you?
5. I am not the only person with this balancing act, one job to support another job issue.
For some of us, we need other jobs so that we can support ourselves doing our actual jobs unless we are lucky enough to have financial support from spouses or patrons or some other source.
I mean, it’s additional stress that others don’t have to deal with once they land their first full time job in their occupation of choice except we kind of have it all the time – I kind of want to ask for hazard pay now. I think that a system that makes that a reality is a bit weird and needs to be changed. If only so I don’t have to tell a parent that yes her child can be a writer but she should probably qualify as an accountant or something else that doesn’t exhaust her or drive her mad so that she is supported and has time and energy to write because the system means that being a writer alone doesn’t pay. Because we think writers are cool but we also seem to think they shouldn’t be paid.
If you want to believe we are all making money as writers, then change the system. Make books more expensive to buy and be ok with that or allow publishers to somehow make better returns at a cheaper cost and give us all $60,000 AUD a year salaries (including our editors whom we adore and who face the same dilemma of not being financially valued properly for the work that they do especially since good editors are invisible – that’s their job). I don’t know how you will do it but change the model, change your thinking.
Or understand how much goes into certain types of work, creative or socially changing or otherwise and value it as much as you value your awesome doctors, your awesome lawyers, your awesome accountants and engineers. And then change the collective thinking to reflect it so that something can happen. And we can get paid and not get anxious, angsty and depressive and all those other stereotypical things that can often be generally true.
If we were paid properly, then we could produce more because we wouldn’t need to run around with other jobs and the more time we have, the faster we would learn how to do things, how to fix our errors, the faster we would produce good stuff to knock your socks off.
Love your writers more. We write about you.