Image by Fred Pixlab via Unsplash

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

Some of my fellow authors

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

Origami books by Sarah Buchmann

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.

The Fiction Factory

    5 replies to "The Writing Machine"

    • Alice

      Good for you Bill. Your dream come true.

    • chris corbett

      inspiring read – thanks!

    • Lesley

      Great article Jill although I don’t think that circumstances, time, funds, space and motivation are not enough. Well done you for to have the discipline and determination to write and to keep on writing. I’ve earned my living as a copywriter, journalist, editor, throughout my life. The pay check spurred me on. Now my part-time lecturing at business school is winding down as the design programme is closing and I’m looking at time, funds and space to start writing again and I’m terrified. The loneliness, lack of communication with others and isolation are the problem. How do you deal with that?

      • JJ Marsh

        Hello Lesley and thanks for your kind words.
        Mixing with other writers has made me some of the best friends and colleagues in my life.
        I met many online, but attending workshops, writers’ brunches, critique circles and finding a writing buddy have taught me so much.
        If I’m not wrong, you’re in Geneva, which has a thriving community of writers.
        I make time to have coffee, go for drinks, informally compare notes on top of all the official activities.
        In particular, it’s eye-opening to meet people who write in different genres.
        These days, you can have a great community spirit and lots of communication with like-minded people by finding the right online group.
        And why not come to Zürich for a day, hang out with our writing group, have lunch and discuss projects?
        Good luck with the new writing project – I know you have the determination to make it work.

    • James Lane

      Thank you for this post. A while back we discussed the similarities between writing and painting; solitary work, frustrating at times, no short cuts that are worth taking.

      This sentence alone made me want to know more about this author.

      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

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