Saturday, April 9, 2011

Affording to Write

_MG_2664My son is interested in guitar lessons so I called up a teacher that our friends were using for their son’s lessons.

The guitarist and I talked for a little while about scheduling the classes. “Actually,” he said, “I’m at the point where gas prices are so high that I am thinking about not driving around to students’ houses, but have them to come to mine.”

Still trying to work these lessons into our weekly craziness, I asked him where he lived. He hesitated, then mentioned a neighborhood that admittedly doesn’t have the best reputation and was a good 30 minute drive from here.

“It’s not as bad a place as you think,” he said quickly. “The neighborhood is pretty safe. You really wouldn’t have to worry about your son here. My wife and I are both artists, so we’re just living where we can afford. And I’m holding down three jobs right now and still can’t make ends meet.”

“Oh, I totally understand,” I said. “I’m a writer.”

He laughed. “So you’re scraping by, too.”

“Not even! But I’m luckily married to someone who isn’t an artist, so I’ve got a personal patron of the arts.”

It’s a sad fact that most writers, artists, and musicians don’t make enough to live on. I get asked a couple of times a month if it’s possible to make a living writing books. It isn’t for me. But maybe if you’re writing a blockbuster book or if you end up with a TV or book deal, or if you write a lot of midlist books in a year (and are getting royalties on your backlist)…yeah, you could do it. But I still don’t think it’s a great living. It makes for nice additional income. Do you have children? Need health insurance? You probably shouldn’t even consider leaving your day job.

To get a hint at what most YA, romance (and, I’ll add—mystery) writers are making for books, here is Brenda Hiatt’s famous “Show Me the Money” post where authors have anonymously written in to tell their advances, etc.

How do most artists get by? If they’re not married to someone who can support them, they have a day job.

You could even find a writing-related day job. I’ve had those in the past. I’ll still occasionally submit articles to one of those weekly or monthly free local periodicals that you’ll see in restaurants and coffee shops, just to keep my hand in it. But I’ve worked for them full-time before, too—you can write articles, sell ads, etc.

There are a lot of writers I know who teach—either part time or full-time.

I know quite a few writers who also freelance. I know a couple of journalists, too.

It’s probably more fun for a writer to find a writing-related day job, but it doesn’t have to be that way, either. And one writer believes that you shouldn’t feel pressured to find a high-paying, prestigious day job, either. I read an interesting post a week or so ago: In Praise of Crummy Day Jobs, on the Genreality blog.

In the post, author Carrie Vaughn mentions that many writers overlook the fact that they don’t have to find and hold down a career-track kind of job…they can find an hourly-pay gig and then come home and write. She wrote:

The thing about all these jobs: I rarely had to work overtime. They weren’t difficult. I usually came home ready to write. In fact, especially at the book store, I’d jot down notes about the current work in progress throughout the day, shove them in my pocket, and in the evening come home, pull out all the notes, and write.

There’s a lot of truth to hackneyed sayings…and ‘starving artist’ definitely isn’t too far off the mark.

Although making time to write involves sacrifice, the nice thing about writing as compared with some of the other arts, is that we can easily slip a notebook into a laptop bag or a purse. We can write a couple of sentences here and there. Harder to do that when you’re lugging around a harp or a baritone or a canvas.

How do you work writing into your life?