By Julie Wright
I read a quote that made me laugh and cry--or at least feel like crying.
"I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes . . ." --Philip DusenberryAs a mass communications major, I found that absolutely hilarious. As a novelist . . . well, it hurt a little, only because it is so dang true.
I've always known I had to go into an occupation that involved writing since I wasn't good for anything else. I wanted to be in advertising--wanted to win a Clio. I wanted to write ads so awesome they'd be played during the Super Bowl. And, to be completely base about the whole thing, I wanted to make a lot of money.
And then one day I finished my first novel. The moment of completion can only be likened unto Dr. Frankenstein with his monster. I'm pretty sure I cackled like a mad man scientist, and the manuscript felt very much alive. The novel had started as a side note for me--a way to prove to some idiot naysayer that I could write a novel, but at that moment, it was everything. The feeling was so immense, I knew I would have to do it again. I needed that feeling again.
Writing became my personal drug.
Writing became my personal drug.
It would be another several years before I learned anything about really writing. It would be another decade before I was actually any good at it. And over that time I discovered a distinction between the emotional validation that comes with writing and the monetary validation.
I once believed that writing a novel and getting it published guaranteed you big royalty checks. For the most part, that isn't true. Sure there are exceptions, but I wasn't one of them. My first check was disappointing. Then I got with a bigger publisher and my checks started coming in with actual commas in them. That was pretty exciting and I realized I could actually make a living at this.
I know some people who support their families off of their writing. I know others who can't take their families to McDonalds on their royalty checks. I started writing for a niche market. I am successful in my niche market, but it's still a niche market. I knew that going in and of course I am branching out to those larger markets. But I've heard of other authors who are out there in their huge markets, and all the potential those markets have to offer, and they make less than I do.
So why keep doing it?
There is the other validation--the one that has nothing to do with dollar signs and everything to do with achieving something great. It has something to do with that buzz that comes when you reach the end of a draft--when you took nothing and made it something.
That validation is pretty intense. The emotions that come with it can be likened to the thrill of jumping off a cliff into a void and as you fall the void turns into mountain ranges or skyscrapers or castles. And you land safely in the middle of a murder mystery, or an epic fantasy, or a hilarious contemporary romance.
Dave Wolverton always tells people that a decent living can be made at writing, and I absolutely agree. but like anything it takes work. Unless you are that entirely rare fluke, it isn't going to be something that happens overnight. One of my best friends recently got a six figure deal and that was for North American rights only. he'll do great with foreign rights and movie rights. And I am thrilled for him. But he's worked his butt off for years to get to this place. Because of the work involved--a lot of people drop out. They can't handle the time it takes to write a GREAT manuscript versus the decent-enough manuscript. They can't handle the rejections. They can't handle the waiting. That is why that other form of validation is so important. Knowing why you're doing it, knowing that it takes time to get the draft right, to get that agent, to get that publisher and then to build your audience, knowing all that makes it easier to live in the mental and emotional validation versus the monetary one.
And it make it easier to laugh at jokes like this:
Three guys are sitting in a bar.
#1 "Yeah I make $80,000 a year for a living."
#2 "Cool. What do you do for a living?"
#1 "I'm a stockbroker. How much do you make?"
#2 "I should clear $65,000 this year."
#1 "What do you do?"
#2 "I'm an architect."
The third guy has been sitting quietly staring into his beer when the others turn to him.
#2. "So what about you? What do you make a year?"
#1 "Oh really? So what kind of books do you write?"
Know why you're doing it, and you'll live through the myths and make it to the validation. :)