Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Staying Up Till Way Past Midnight.

The day I realized that writing was work--that it was a job like any other--was the day that I took the biggest step in becoming a professional writer.

When most people begin to pursue writing as a craft or an art form they do so with the energy based on pure inspiration. These are the times when a phrase or a paragraph can grip you and send you hurtling along, producing words at a mad clip. Such moments are generally brief and are not enough to see you through to the end. At some point the inspiration will fade, the enthusiasm will wane, and you are left with something familiar to most of us:


When I was a young man I would begin many a yarn with the rush of inspiration. And then I would abandon those tales when the rush of energy abated and, often, those stories would die, lingering on the page to wither forever, waiting in vain for the headstrong youth who had given birth to them.

These days that rarely happens. The only time I will give up on a work is if I find that--at some point--the story is not working. One can find ways around just about any literary barrier, and if something needs to be tweaked, or if the plot needs to be redrawn, or if the characters have to be slapped about and born again, a solution can generally be found. But there are some times when all of the solutions seem to fall flat, and these are the only times that I retire from the field and move on.

I work two jobs. My day-job which pays the rent and provides my family with insurance and a retirement fund and a certain amount of security. Then I come home from that one, wash the grime of physical labor from my sweaty flesh, and begin my second job: writer. It's a tough situation, but it's the one that has faced me every day of my life since I decided that I was going to take the job of writer as a serious matter.

My ideal situation would be to make enough money as a writer to do that full time. But I've been working toward that goal for three decades and it still has not arrived. Some years are better than others, but I have never been able to make more than 50% of my day-job salary in my work as a writer. Maybe that day will arrive. But until it does, I have to keep on pushing.

I love the work of writing. But that's what it is. And not only work...it's hard work.

Where I work.


MarkGelbart said...

I don't remember if I ever told you this before, but on one occasion some shmuck hiding behind a keyboard criticized my writing by saying "don't quit your day job."

Besides being a tired cliche~, that comment is so stupid because 99% of published writers can't afford to quit their day job.

Most successful non-fiction writers are college professors or journalists who really can't afford to quit their day jobs. A book can sell thousands of copies, but the author may only get a few thousand dollars which doesn't go very far now days.

Most best selling non-fiction books are ghost-written for celebrities who are already rich, and the professional ghost writer only gets a tiny fraction of that money.

On the best selling fiction list, there are the same few dozen names out of the thousands of published writers. Most published writers do still need to keep their day jobs as English professors because most published books do not become best selling giants.

James Robert Smith said...

What a dick. I hate guys like that making anonymous statements over the Internet. One of my brothers used to call that kind of talk: "Balls on the phone."

I know a lot of professional writers, and only a few of them make enough money to write full time. A couple of the writers I know who write full time actually just scrape by and live in very tough conditions, surviving on very little and even taking handouts from friends and family to pay the bills in the worst of times.

I have also known writers who once made tons of money and then their popularity faded and they were left with nothing--no savings, nothing but tax liens from the IRS. Those folk are the most pitiful.

I also have several writer friends whose spouses support them while they sit at home writing. If not for the husband's or wife's job, they wouldn't be able to do that. (My wife would leave me if I tried to do that.)

I have made okay money from writing in some years, but nothing like what I make working as a laborer for Uncle Sam. I keep trying, though. Maybe one of these days...