Monday, September 18, 2006

Writing as a profession

I know several writers who manage to make a (good) living from their writing. Among them, some are novelist and some freelance writers. I've never seen bank accounts information, but I know they're well off.

I also know that those whose primary vocation is fiction writing, dabble occasionally in writing a freelance article, or something similar. Same holds true the other way around. The freelance writers try their hand at a short or eventually publish a novel as well.

I guess, what I was wondering is what is important. And you're all probably going to say that this is a stupid question -- what's important is what makes you happy in life. Nevertheless, I was wondering what is important to each writer. Is it the ability to make a living off one's writing? Or is it the actual writing itself -- writing only what one likes? (Of course, if one can combine the two - that would be sweet).

Also, for all you fiction writers out there. Some of you are holding a day job that isn't particularly relevant to writing. Some of you are holding a day job that involves writing of some kind (technical writing, manuals, what not). Some of you are freelance writers, meaning you have a day job, but maybe you work from home, etc. Yet in heart, what you would have wanted to do was to write fiction. So, how much does it matter that you're an architect during the day and a writer at night? Is one of your goals being able to support yourself from your writing? Any writing? Would you rather have a writing related job?

I hope I'm explaining myself properly. Last thing I want for anyone to think I think any less of any writing or job of any kind.

I'll tell you what's important to me. Being able to sustain myself in a job (a job that doesn't make me hate life) and that matches my life's goal and way of life, while continuing to plow away with my fiction writing. One short story at a time. One chapter at a time. And if one day I didn't need to hold a job to do that, meaning fiction writing could sustain me, well then, so be it. I wouldn't say no :)

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Jean said...

Ah. Interesting question -- and I'll bet there's almost as many answers as there are writers. I wanted to write fiction when I was younger. I didn't think I could support myself at it. Then I discovered technical writing. Voila! I could write and get paid for it. I got my degree in professional writing. I've not done much technical writing, but I know what I learned for it will come in handy for query letters.

I'm nearing the end of my day-job career, and I'll have the luxury of retiring with a mostly livable retirement when I'm still young enough to enjoy it.

For someone who shudders at the uncertain economics of a fiction writing career, I believe I'll soon have the best of both worlds -- time to write AND an income I can live moderately comfortably on while I do so.

For the last four years, I've been preparing myself for that day by getting my first couple novels written as a learning experience. Although my writing work ethic this year doesn't support this plan, I also have tried to develop the habit of writing to better prepare myself for the eventuality of a contract deadline.

If I don't make enough to live on, I'll be ok, but wouldn't it be wonderful if I did?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm a lawyer focusing my practice in health care law (regulations, business transactions, etc.). It involves writing, but like you said, a different kind of writing. The bottom line is that although it is an engaging profession, it's rather narrow and mentally limiting. I do write in the hope that one day I could afford to do nothing but writing, but realistically, my chances of replacing that income are slim to none.

Yet, I still keep going.

Deborah said...

Ideally, I'd love to write for a living, whether it's fiction or freelance. It doesn't matter, as long as I'm writing. I'm not there yet (where I'm sustaining myself), but I'm working toward that goal.

Sharon J said...

I freelance for a living but I'm far from rich. I get by, though. The bills are paid and that's the important thing - anything else would be a nice bonus.

Would I like to swap it for fiction writing? I don't know. I enjoy both forms of writing and am mostly happy with the things the way they are.

jayne d'Arcy said...

When I was younger, and working, I kept feeling as though my writing was suffering. There was no way to drop the job and hope my writing might sustain me; it wasn't a choice I had. After my health caused me to leave the work world, I threw myself into "writing for profit" and I hated it. As I submitted stories to magazines or contests, I had to constantly mold my story into whatever the editor was looking for; I lost my creative freedom.

Now I write for myself and to entertain or make people think. That I have the freedom to write as I wish is more important than trying to get a check. I'm fortunate that we're in a financial position where I now have such freedom.

fred charles said...

I think most of us would love to make a living out of writing our own material. I just wonder how many of us are dedicated enough to make that really happen. There are times where I question my commitment to my writing. Sometimes I think I lack the focus required to make it really happen.

Melly said...

Jean, you are so patient. Most people wouldn't be able to think of it so clearly. But then again, I've always admired your life wisdom.
Yes, it would indeed be so sweet if you could supplement your retirement income!

Jason, and what about other kinds of writing related to your profession, like writing for a lawyer magazine? Have your ever thought/tried that? Would it even be something that would interest you?
Yes, unfortunately, at some age we have to accept realizm...

Deborah, I can totally understand you. You like to write, you want to work from home. And so as long as you can combine the two - then that's what important. Well, I have absolutely no doubt you'll get there.

Sharon! What a great answer. So content :) That's wonderful. If we could all be contect with life the way it is...

Jayne, indeed you are fortunate. I've also been there at some point, trying to tweak my fiction for the sake of an editor. Never again!

Fred, I think we all think that way occasionally. Self doubting and what not. I always hope it's a phase, and usually it is :)

Leo said...

I would love to write all day every day and get paid for it. I think its every writers dream. But I agree with you. As long as I work to maintain my family, then Im content with writing in my off time. Its something that I do because I enjoy it, because I love to share it, not neccesarily because I want to make a living off of it.

Nienke said...

I am a full-time editor and writer in my day job (for a trade magazine publishing house). There are good points and bad points. I make pretty good money but after being on the computer all day, it's hard to sit in front of it again at home.

I love my job too, because I get to make a living writing but there's a limit to the creativity... some of it gets repetitive. However, even tho it's non-fiction, I believe I'm still honing my craft - something that would not happen if I was working in another profession.

Finally, because of my experience at work, hopefully it will enable me to work from home sooner rather than later. I could work on my fiction and freelance to make ends meet (until I hit the bestseller list, anyway! LOL)

Edie said...

I think a fiction writer has to write for the self first, simply for the love of the process. I don't believe in changing one's work just because of someone else's opinion. I always tell my students that it's their work and ultimately they're decision to change the work. The writer’s job is simply to consider the feed-back and decide based on what they want their work to accomplish.

The love of writing has brought me far, academically; however, I did get stifled along the way. I’m working my way out of that, and starting a writer’s blog is a part of working through; it’s complicated. Money has never been my motivating factor…if it were I never would have done a degree in something called creative writing. Sure, it would be nice to make money doing it but I’m not convinced that I’ll become rich through writing…heck, I’m not even convinced that writing will grant me enough of an income to pay my school loans. I am working at writing for myself.

Melly said...

Leo, wise words. Didn't we all have to simply grow up at some point?

Nienke, you're probably well on your way to being there. Working from home and all that. You just need to take the leap, no?
Having a book on the bestseller list, that a very good living ;)

Edie, probably a good attitude to have. I mean, first, of course a fiction writer has to write for his/herself, but it would be nice, wouldn't it? :)

Rich said...

Excellent point Leo, and Melly. What some writers do not realize is that there are always tradeoffs when a writer starts to shift from writing for yourself, family, or whatever, etc. and toward writing for a living. When I started as a freelancer, I still wrote fiction and poetry. Now, years later, I seldom have time to write fiction or poetry. My focus has shifted and I seldom write for myself.

Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. However, any time I start to write a short story or otherwise, I begin second-guessing myself and turn my attention to the job on deck.

The same holds true for most writers I know, commercial writers, reporters, or novelists. Whether it's the deadlines or the pressure to produce something marketable, the dream (of sometimes making a living by writing) doesn't always add up. Not bad, but different.

sarah flanigan said...

Provocative topic. Nice.

I've done both - worked as a writer (technical) and worked in a disrelated field. I was stunned to discover that I didn't like the technical writing at all. It was dry and boring, though I was good at it and always had lots of work, I finally quit doing it. I found I didn't feel creative when I got home and wanted to work on my fiction.

As to making a living as a writer, certainly that is the dream for me. Whether it will happen or not, I don't know but I don't think I would be happy just writing for myself. LOL. It's too much work to do just for my enjoyment.

Perhaps it boils down to what you have to say and how the strong the need is to publish those ideas broadly. That may be what drives some to strive for publication and success. Or not.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, my goal is to supplement my disability income with my writing. When I'm feeling well, I want to write; I enjoy writing. Since I can't hold a traditional job, I thought maybe my passion could help me survive.

Patry Francis said...

At present, I'm supporting myself with my
fiction writing; but before that happened, I preferred a non-writing job that didn't drain my creativity.

Melly said...

Rich, I'm living right now that transition, what you're saying, but I still hope. Still would like to one day...

Sarah, good points. That probably exactly what drives us all (or not ;).

Missy, I do truely hope that works for you.

Oh, Patry! Do I know. I may not have been there with you from the beginning, but definitely through the transition. How wonderful :)
It's interesting you say that about your preference though, because I'm still deciding. Seems though, that I manage to get somewhat creative after a few hours lull.

crissachappell said...

Teaching keeps me going....

Melly said...

Crissachappell, teaching sounds like it could be easier to do for a writer than a regular 9-5 job. Do you agree?

Matthew C. Keegan said...

November 7th marks my 4th anniversary of working freelance. Fresh off of a job layoff, I decided to give it a go and I have no regrets. Some months I am rolling the money while other months I feel I may qualify for food stamps, but overall there is plenty to balance it all out.

I work harder now then ever before and I recently joked about becoming a mind reader when it comes to anticipating what people want. Yet, there is no turning back even if it means that I work a little bit harder!

Melly said...

Mathew, sounds familiar :)
Congratualtions on the four years!
Mind reader indeed.