They mean it well.
“Hey, Jill, how’s the writing going?”
“Good. I’m about to publish the tenth in the series.”
“Ten? Oh, that is awesome! You’re a machine!”
My teeth clench and I smile. I’m not even going to attempt a reply.
Except today, I am.
I am not awesome. Neither am I a machine.
A recent article A Dirty Secret addressed the reality behind so many writers’ lives and I applaud that honesty. Because the opposite – ooh, look at me earning a living from nothing more than my imagination – is in most cases a falsehood.
I am incredibly privileged. Simple as that.
The reason I have written a series of ten books, plus prequel and spin-off and blogs and newsletters, is because my circumstances allow me the time, funds, space and motivation to do so.
My supportive spouse enabled me to quit my job; I have a room of my own, no kids and constant self-inflicted guilt regarding the above. So I write, every single day. Because I can.
Most writers struggle to bring in a living wage, even those doing well. Few of us can afford to live off our royalties without a day job, partner’s earnings, pension, savings account or benefactor.
Checking in with some of the most talented and hard-working authors I know, this is what I heard.
While I mostly loved the work I did it was not fulfilling in the way that writing is and was a damn sight more stressful. I feel guilty at others struggling when I don’t, but then I remind myself that I have made sacrifices to get to this position. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 59. – Clare Flynn
It is still a choice: working part time, having less money, but pursuing something I love. I don’t expect to make a living from writing (even though that would be the dream!), but that illusion flew out the window a long time ago. – Liza Perrat
When I read about the bestsellers, I count every reader who loves my books as MY definition of success. I’ve been published for over forty years so I know what makes for a sustainable lifestyle for me. – Jean Gill
I am incredibly careful with money; we don’t have foreign holidays or eat out. I don’t have a phone that can do apps or internet. I am an expert in charity shops! We don’t have dependents except for a horse (…) quite ridiculous luxury for a freelance like me, but also necessary to life. When you feel like you spend most of your time waving to an uncaring universe, you need something uncomplicated and different to achieve. – Roz Morris
I honestly don’t think I would be making any money even today without self-publishing, as my bestseller (which now makes me a living) was one of my early rejections from the traditional publishing world. – Karen Inglis
I won a very respectable sum of money in a writing competition. The savings and winnings lasted ten years. For some of that time, I managed to kid myself that my next novel would be my breakthrough novel. I now have to live on what I can earn. I’m not sure it’s sustainable in the long term. – Jane Davis
Just so you know, these are some of the most talented pen-wielders I have read and deserve to be better known. Click on their names to find your next favourite author.
Such authors aren’t pulp-fiction-mongers, but organic, creative storytellers willing to do the day jobs to make ends meet. They have an urge to create and will always find a way to put words on paper. Whether those words earn enough to make a living is a different question.
Many other writing colleagues have families, demanding day jobs, health issues, dependants, publishers and agents taking their cut or are responsible for their own marketing. To find creative time on top of all those challenges? That is what you call awesome.
I am not a machine. I’m just making the most of my luck.