Sunday, January 13, 2013

Don't give up the day job?

From Bo's Cafe Life

I've just been reading You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing and it made me think about what it's like to be a professional writer.

Scalzi has an interesting history. He's known since he was around fourteen that he wanted to write for a living because it was easy for him compared to say, maths. He's making a good living at writing but not mainly based on writing novels (or not at the time he wrote You're Not Fooling...) He's written a lot of non-fiction including articles for various publications and he's willing to take on most commissions if they pay well enough.

It clarified for me why I don't want to be a professional writer. If you're a writer you have to write whether you want to or not. Now I've done my fair share of writing for a job and quite enjoyed it. I had five years in the Civil Service mostly drafting documents, and I had regular reports to write in my last job for The Place2Be. That was fine but it's not what comes easiest to me. If I had to choose a job based on making a living at things that I'd want to do anyway, I'd choose to work with children.

And I do! (And what's even better is that we'll soon be getting a cook at our after-school club so I won't have to do the one bit of the job that I don't really care for.)

You know you're doing a job you like when you don't keep having to remind yourself "Well, at least I'm getting paid for this."

According to Scalzi, most fiction writers earn their living at something else. For him it's non-fiction writing; for me it's working with children. I'm not ready to give up my day job and I'm not sure I ever will be. What about you?


Debbie Coope said...

I write for pleasure, at my leisure. Sometimes it's to a deadline like NaNo, or a target I've set myself. I'm not sure how I'd feel about writing full-time. Anyhow, like you, I like my job.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I'd rather be writing than anything else so I make that my daily focus. I also love working with children and have taught English, so sometimes I run children's writing workshops - love doing that!
I also loved working with dogs and in the past ran my own dog grooming business while studying to teach at uni. It was great fun but hard work. I don't wash other people's dogs anymore, but do include dogs in almost everything I write :)

Simon Kewin said...

My day job is software development and that's something I love doing, too. But would I write full-time if I could? Hell, yeah.

fairyhedgehog said...

Debbie, it's so great to have a job that you love!

Charmaine, children's writing workshops must be such fun! It sounds like you're able to focus on your writing now and loving it, which is great.

Simon, I'm sure the day will come...

Old Kitty said...

Lovely fairyhedgehog!! I love that you love your job working with kiddies! That's brilliant. I don't detest my job(s) (just that some people I work with annoy me! LOL!) but it's totally a means to an end. I need to pay the bills and the rent and the cats' needs! LOL!

Oh but if I could just write that one novel that will tell me I'm on my way to giving up my day job - or at least go part-time and give up one of my two jobs...! Watch me go!

Take care

Landra said...

I see the point Fairy. It's definitely not easy going the full time route. I think I would have a hard time giving up my job because I love it so much.
But I want that freedom to create creatively all day, every day. :)

P.S. Wish I was there to take over the cooking duties. I do a lot of that in the day time.

fairyhedgehog said...

Kitty, well I hope you get that big break! You'd need to earn a lot of money, though, to support the kitties in the manner that they'd like!

Landra, I obviously just don't enjoy writing enough.

Or cooking. I'd love for you to come and cook for me at home! I don't enjoy it and I'm not good at it. I wonder if the two are related!

PJD said...

Scalzi's book has been recommended to me, but I haven't gotten it yet.

There's no way I'd quit my day job because I actually really enjoy it, I think I do it well, and it pays probably five times what I could make in a typical year on writing alone. Plus, I don't want to write what others tell me to write... I want to write MY stories.

I don't think there are that many people who are the primary family earners whose job it just writing novels. We, as a culture, seem to accept the idea of the actor who has to wait tables to make ends meet, but we have trouble with idea that a novel writer must have a day job to pay the bills. Personally, I have no problem with that concept. It's worked well for me so far.

fairyhedgehog said...

Peter, I don't know what your day job is but it's great to do work that you enjoy!

I have the feeling that very few writers can live on novelling alone; not unless they're Stephen King or Terry Pratchett. I suppose it depends whether you choose a day job that's also writing, albeit non-fiction, or do something else entirely.

I'd never make a living at writing novels because I've yet to finish one. I do think readers like a book to be finished when they read it!

Sarah Wynde said...

The math of writing has always been terrible for the writers and in traditional writing has only gotten worse. A moderately successful book--one that hits the New York Times bestseller list but doesn't stay there for more than a few weeks--might net its author something like $50K to $80K. That might sound okay, but the only people who can live on that are people who are managing a successful bestseller every year. Earning a good living as a successful fiction writer is really a lot like winning the lottery.

It's much easier to earn a living writing things other than your own stories -- non-fiction, articles, training materials, marketing materials, and so on. But it's not fun writing and if you've spent the day doing that, you don't really come home wanting to write some more. I earned my living for three years as a freelance writer and by most standards I was successful--simply earning a living from it means that I was in the 20% of writers who achieve that--but I stopped writing for fun entirely and it took me ten years to get the joy of writing back. I'd rather have my writing be a beloved hobby that I thoroughly enjoy than the thing I rely on to pay the bills. (Of course, I'd like to win the lottery and have a really successful book someday, too, but if I have to choose again between writing for money and writing for joy, I'm keeping the joy.)

fairyhedgehog said...

Sarah, it's interesting to hear from someone who's made a success of writing for a living and decided that that wasn't the way to go. Ten years is a long time to be put off writing for pleasure!

I see from your blog that you've had (still have?) the dreaded winter vomiting virus. I hope you're starting to feel better now.

Sarah Wynde said...

This virus is so unpleasant! I thought yesterday it had to be over and ate normal food and I've been paying for it for the past twelve hours. Yuck.

I did spend that ten years as an editor, so my job basically involved me working on words all day long. I might have gotten back to writing faster if I hadn't been sitting at a computer for all my working hours. :)

fairyhedgehog said...

Sarah, I'm sorry to hear you're still so poorly. It sounds dreadful.

Editing sounds like the worst possible job for inspiring creative writing because it must be so hard to turn off your inner editor for long enough to come up with a story. Plus, as you say, you'd had enough of computers by the time you got home!

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