The question that Bob Clary of Webeducator.com posed to me was this: We’re wondering how other writers who write more for pleasure for than for financial gain stay motivated.
- What were your goals when you started writing?
I started writing in grade three, at the age of seven, after having been inspired by the storybooks created by the grade five class. In particular, the story created by Siobhan Riddell, of a knight who fought a dragon to rescue a princess, made me want to write something like that. I sent my first submission to CBC’s Pencil Box, a show that dramatized the stories of its young viewers, that same month.
I didn’t have goals when I started writing. Nothing so formal. I wanted to write something that could make someone else feel the way Siobhan’s story made me feel.
- What are your goals now?
The same. More or less.
Now, however, I have read thousands of books by hundreds of authors.
I have been published as a poet. This is not something one does for money. Especially in Canada. A “bestseller” in poetry in Canada is 500 copies. In most cases, you’re lucky to break even. Many journals pay in subscriptions. Many anthologies pay in copies.
I have won prizes in short story contests, five to date, the prize money ranging from $50 to $150. This is also not a way to earn a living as a writer, but it is a way to get published.
As of this year, I have had three professional sales, all for science fiction short stories. Even with professional rates, though, it’s hard to make a living this way. I’d have to publish a story every working day of the year to make a living wage.
I have now written three novels and am working on two more. None of these have been published. Someday, they will be, if not by a traditional publishing contract and deal, then by self-publishing. I am struck with the thought at how few people in North America actually live by their writing alone if they write fiction.
Non-fiction, journalism, and technical writing all pay better. If anyone wanted to write in order to make a living doing it, I’d recommend any, or a combination, of those fields.
Not that it’s impossible, but it is challenging and it takes a kind of bravery I have to admit I lack. I will not thrust responsibility for my care and upkeep onto my spouse. I cannot let our debts go unpaid.
Having said all of that, I still intend to make a living by my writing one day. There are conditions, namely, that all our outstanding debts must be paid off, I must make enough by writing to replace my current income, or we must become incredibly lucky and win the lottery 😛
- What pays the bills now?
I am a corporate trainer working 37.5 hours a week.
- Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?
That wonderful storybook from grade three. All the books I’ve since read. The ideas that I keep getting that just won’t leave me alone. The fact that my writing is my solace, my entertainment, my therapy, my passion, my calling, and one day, my legacy, keeps me typing, scribbling, and learning about my craft.
Though I started writing young, I have always struggled, and until about nine years ago, I didn’t write every day. I’ve had some very damaging experiences that have led me to distrust my talent and my skill, but the desire to write has never left me.
I can’t not write. I have often said that I will write until age and infirmity (it’s going to take both of them—I ain’t going down without a fight) rob me of the capacity.
Siobhan’s storybook has never left me either, and I can’t fulfill that childhood desire to give readers the thoughts and feels unless I publish more of my writing.
- What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
Read. Read everything. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read non-fiction. Read the classics. Read crappy books. Read books that make you cry or cheer or race to the end (and stalk watch the author’s web site until the next book is out).
Write. The only way to become a better writer is to write and to finish what you write and then to start writing something else. Lather, rinse, repeat. Never stop.
Study the craft. Take workshops. Go to conferences. Read every writing craft book you can borrow from the library or afford to buy. Subscribe to blogs and newsletters. Love learning and be open. I got an MFA, but they’re not for everyone. You can often do more and or better without. Be savvy. Do your research. Trust your gut.
Be willing to work. Work your butt off. Work your fingers to the bone. If you love what you do, the work—well it won’t be easy, but it will be a burden you can bear with a glad heart, because you know that this is what you were born to do.
Invest in yourself. Join professional associations in your genre. Find the money to pay for freelance editing. Get into a critique group. Learn about the publishing industry. Hone your query or book proposal until it is perfect.
Never give up. Persistence pays.
You can see how Roger Sakowski and Janie Sullivan responded to these questions on the Webeducator blog. And here are a few other authors who have participated: