When I first found my way back to writing, a big part of my motivation was that I wanted to quit my job. I wanted to wake up mid-morning, drink a leisurely cup of coffee, write, meet my editor for a wine-filled late lunch, read, perhaps wander through a museum, have a nice dinner and then answer my fan mail. Wait, no, my assistant answers my fan mail, so I would be binge-watching Netflix.
But the burning question was, how do I do that through writing? How do I, while hating my job that sucks up all my time and energy, find time and energy to write something that will be sufficiently brilliant and best-selling that I can quit my job and have time to write brilliant and best-selling things?
It’s an impossible conundrum.
I come from a long line of accountants; knowing exactly how I’m going to pay for my food and shelter has always been front and centre in my mind.
I don’t have the answer to this because there is no answer. There are writers who make a living exclusively from creative writing, but very, very few and most did not start that way. There are writers who make a living from non-creative writing, some freelancing and some employed. There are writers who make a living from teaching. There are writers who are financially supported by their partners. There are writers with jobs. There are many, many writers with jobs.
Many of these writers, even with jobs or other financial support, still need the support of arts grants to enable their writing.
I am a writer who had a job and had a business and now has investments and a business. I am also a writer that grew up with financial privilege and had a lot of luck and family connections to help me have investments and a business to support my writing. I am a writer who makes money from writing but I still could not pay the mortgage with that.
I’m not tackling the issue about whether or not writers deserve to make more money, or if it should be possible to make a living from art instead of having to treat it like a thing you do on the side even if in your heart it’s the most important thing.
But you know, many writers do get disheartened that they can’t live the dream and financially survive solely on writing. And honestly, if I were set that as my goal, to live on writing alone, I think that I would personally feel so pressured to write the thing that makes money that I do not know how I would write at all. I don’t know that I would be able to put my heart and soul on the page and trust that my heart and soul would be worth enough in the marketplace to feed myself.
I think this is why many writers get so caught up in the idea of the biz and marketing yourselves and having a social media presence and chasing trends. Because we want to quit our jobs and write full-time. And it seems like short of winning the lottery, the only way to get there is to write something that sells so well that we can do that. So we stop thinking ‘writing’ and start thinking ‘marketing’.
It’s the kind of thing that’s bad for writing.
Listen, I can’t tell you how you are going to be able to afford to quit your job and devote your life to writing only things you love. Perhaps this is my inner bean-counter speaking, but I don’t even think that’s a realistic thing to aim for, not without some other source of income that ensures you do not starve to death whilst writing what you love.
But I can tell you that the business of writing is not writing.
The business of writing is not writing.
Marketability, trends, and a social media presence are not writing. Being able to feed yourself from writing is fantastic, but it’s not writing. Making money from writing is awesome, but still not writing.
Yes, one day you will write something and want to put it out in the world, and that day you will take off your writer hat and put on your business hat and go out and sell it. But the point is that these are two different hats. Don’t confuse them.