Money

I come from a long line of accountants, so the question of money is always interesting to me.

I think most newer writers–and not-so-newer-writers–have this dream in their heads that one day, when they’ve Made It and they are a Real Writer ™ they will also make their daily living from writing. But most–particularly the not-so-newer-writers–are keenly aware that writing pays peanuts. And so how exactly does that work?

There are some people, who through a combination of writing, freelancing, teaching writing, grants, credit, residencies, supportive partners, debt, cheap living, prize money, the kindness of friends, selling stuff, the kindness of strangers, luck, etc. managing to make their living solely from writing and writing-related activity. Here’s a fun article about Michael Crumney winning the Giller Prize and only having $411.46 in his bank account. What’s he using his prize money for? Credit card debt. Rent. Food. Glam life, right?

We tend to see these people as Real Writers ™, but I am here to tell you that this is bullshit. It’s hard to concentrate on your literary career when you can’t make rent or buy food. Lots of writers have full-time jobs that aren’t writing. Or part-time jobs that aren’t writing. Or other ways of making a living that aren’t writing. Still Real Writers ™.

In the context of all the recent sexual violence issues in Canlit, I think this idea that we must make our living solely from writing becomes particularly dangerous for those of us who aren’t regular ol’ white guys, because it puts you at the financial mercy of predatory people, and the systems that support them.

Fair? No. Reality? Yes.

I’m not saying don’t do it. I don’t know anyone who feels like they have enough time to write, and so the idea that you don’t have to take 8-10 (or more) hours out of your day to deal with work, commuting, etc., is definitely tempting. Also, as a person with the tremendous privilege of being able to not have a job, I can confidently tell you that jobs suck and life is better if you can get your bills paid without one.

But I am saying, don’t feel like you have to do it if you want to be a writer. Chekhov was a doctor, and considered it his principal profession his entire life, and I’m still waiting to hear someone claim that Chekhov was not a Real Writer ™.

You do what you need to do to get fed and clothed and sheltered. You write anyway. That’s how you become a Real Writer ™.

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Give it a Rest.

Writers write. They write every day. There is no writer’s block, there is only resistance so write, write, write, the cure to not writing is writing, even if you don’t feel like writing, just write. WRITE!

Bullshit.

(There is a certain irony in that this blog post comes after I have spent many months not writing, but such is life.)

In all the advice about writing, one of those most common is to write every day. Write if you don’t feel like it. Write a set number of words, for a set number of minutes, at a set time and place every day. Because to be a writer, you have to write.

It’s good advice because I still haven’t found a writer who isn’t a master procrastinator. I mean, why write when there is Netflix? Have you seen how much good stuff there is on Netflix? They say this is a golden age in television, you know.

(Sometimes I can convince myself that my Netflixing is really studying structure in both episodic and long-form, but really it’s because I like TV.)

But the big problem with this advice is that you are not an automaton. You aren’t a machine churning out words. You can’t just put butt in chair and expect words, words, words, magic, magic, magic.

If you are sitting in your writing place with a feeling of dread, if it feels like pulling teeth, if you are beating yourself up for not putting words on the page but then have to force every word of you so that you are still beating yourself up WHILE putting words on the page… you need to stop writing for a while. Make it a vacation, one with a defined beginning and end. Important to define the time so that you can release any guilt over not writing. This isn’t not writing because you are procrastinating; this is deliberately not writing.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve had guilt-free non-writing time, make it a long vacation. It’s not a vacation if you spend the whole time beating yourself up for being on vacation.

Now, go have fun. Spend time with friends. Drink something ridiculously fancy. Check out that art gallery exhibit you’ve been meaning to see. Organize your closets for the sheer satisfaction of having neatly organized closets and post pictures of them on Facebook for admiration.

You cannot expect yourself to write without end without rest. Rest. Enjoy your life.

You may love it so much that you decide that not writing is better than writing and that is fine. It’s no reason to worry that maybe you aren’t a writer. You are still a writer. Doctors are still doctors even when they are lying on a beach beside a margarita. Actors are still actors when they are home doing the laundry. Monet puttered in his garden and was still Monet. You are just taking a rest.

At the end of your rest, open the notebook again. Fire up your laptop and read the last thing you wrote. Write that first tentative sentence, those toddling steps, so uncertain and unsure.

Let it all come back. It will come back. Promise.