Why or Why Not?

“I read a piece in Marie Claire titled “I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim – and Then I Promptly Went Broke.” And I caught my head nodding in agreement with the writer. http://www.marieclaire.com/career-advice/features/a22573/merritt-tierce-love-me-back-writing-and-money/

“About once a year I find myself at a crossroad in my writing. I love freelancing, and Funds for Writers, and novel writing. I wish I could do just one of them, but the fact is these days you cannot just do one. You must diversify and spread your name (and talent) around to reach all the pockets of readers out there. It takes diversification to earn a living.” – Author Hope Clark

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if an agent accepts your novel, sells it to a big New York publisher, and the book becomes a bestseller, you’d be ready to work as a full-time author of fiction everybody wants to read. Hope Clark and I read the same article and, as she said in today’s newsletter, she does several things to maintain her income even though she wishes she could pick one of those things and work on it full time.

One way or the other, we need to ask how we can diversify and make it all work. A lot of writers teach. That’s their full-time job and, like most regular jobs, it provides the health insurance and other benefits. Well known writers can make money with speaking engagements. Others work for magazines, newspapers, corporate public relations departments, and other places who need writers. Many, of course, work full-time at some a job totally unrelated to their fiction.

If you have a family, your time is even more limited whether the children are in pre-K and grade school or are in high school or college. Having a family is a joy, if it’s meant for you, but it also carries a lot of time-consuming responsibilities. If you’re working full-time and then coming home to maintain a household and chauffeur your kids around to activities, your writing time during most weeks might be slim to none.

I worked as a technical writer, a job that’s not so much in demand any more. What I liked about it was that–except when my company was kicking off a new software package–the job seldom required overtime hours. On the other hand, when I worked in corporate communications, I always had to contend with deadlines that extended my working hours, or that involved after-work activities.

When a full-time job and one’s family take up most of one’s time, it’s very easy for the writing to fade away. For one thing, assuming you publish anything, it’s probably not going to bring in enough money to justify spending multiple hours a week away from your other chores. So, if you want to write books, the challenge is discovering why you want to and how to manage those reasons into why you want to (or have to) do the other things on your plate.

Simplistically, keeping up with fiction writing often means staying home when everyone you know is at a party, ball game, concert or outing at the park. It probably means that when the fall TV schedule begins, you won’t be able to watch all the new shows. So what are you going to do? Watch this season of “Survivor,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” or slog it out on a novel a few hundred words per evening? And, as most writers discover early in their marriages, the spouse is likely to be unhappy if you sequester yourself in your den every night instead of doing something together whether that’s watching a favor TV show or cleaning out the garage.

So, why are you writing? Perhaps wanting to write isn’t quite enough. Yes, I know, a lot of writers say during their first interview, “I always wanted to be a writer.” When they first started feeling that way, they probably thought they’d pay their dues by writing for pennies, then nickles, then dollars, and then ultimately have an agent and a big publisher behind them helping ensure a steady income. This is like every kid who plays sandlot baseball thinking they’re going to be accepted by a major league ball club. Chances are slim to almost none.

Maybe we don’t know why we write. We just do it because we have to. Okay, that might be enough as long as we understand the realities of the money side of this business. Or, perhaps you have a more complex reason and that lends itself to your involvement in multiple kinds of writing in addition to novels, or in work in businesses and groups that relate to the WHY of your writing–justice, the environment, law, politics. Perhaps that WHY is the foundation for a diversified income that fits hand-in-glove with the time required for writing.

Let’s hope we all find what that WHY is so that we can make our careers work.