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 ™.

Stick a Fork in it.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a novel, which has also formed the basis of my MFA thesis. I sent in the final draft. Now I’m going to throw it away because it sucks.

This is the part where well-meaning people ask if I’m sure I’m not being too hard on myself, and after all that work surely I can salvage something and maybe I just need a break? reassure, reassure, reassure.

Let me address this.

I’m probably being a little hard on myself, since no writer has good perspective on anything they’ve just written. But I’m not being too hard myself. Parts of it are good. Parts, I like. Parts could be substantially improved with contemplative time and some effort. But major parts are just not working.

Could it be salvaged into a workable novel? Technically yes. If I were doing a manuscript evaluation of my own novel, I’d point out these parts and encourage the writer to dig deep and work it out, just as my own thesis advisor did for me. But when I actually sit down and try to write and revise these bits, I find myself fighting with the characters. I’m pushing them in directions they don’t want to go. Then we end up in a big fight with the end result being them kind of vaguely pretending to do what they need to do and me being to tired to say anything but “Fine, be that way, I don’t care anymore.”

This is the fundamental problem. I don’t care anymore.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that as much as I study form and rules and structure, everything good that I write comes deep from my intuition. In this novel, I started with a situation that wasn’t going anywhere, and imposed a direction on it, one which sounded really good in theory and then spent five drafts trying to make it work in practice.

I can see now I should have just started with the idea that wasn’t going anywhere and explored it. The parts that work best were the parts that I had no clue about when I started writing them.

Do I just need time? I don’t think so. After I realized that this wasn’t working, I pulled out an old short story, tinkered with it, got some feedback from my writing group and tinkered some more. That’s how I remembered what it’s like to work on something you love. Every time I come back to that story, I remember that I love it. Putting that story out into the world, with my name on it, feels pretty good.

I’m retiring the novel because I don’t love it. The relationship is over, and we’re not going to marriage counselling. There’s a tendency to think of giving up on a project as having been defeated by them, but frankly, I think I’m going to enjoy not beating my head against the wall anymore.

In the meantime, I’ve learned from a lot from this project, about how to write a novel, and also who I am as a writer.

I have some vague niggles of ideas about how I could still do something with this, but not enough of a burning niggle to try.

In any case, I’m done. I’m glad. I spent a lot of the time writing this wishing I was writing something else, and putting this away frees me up to do that.