Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writer's Life

I have been a writer pretty much since I could crawl.

Granted, it was probably mostly scrawls, but I honestly cannot remember a time when I wasn't reading -- the Mama says I was doing this by age two or so -- and trying to copy what I read.
     In school, I entered writing contests. Wrote for the school papers. Kept a diary. (I also kept up a prolific note-writing correspondence with the brother of a friend. He wasn't that exciting -- but his notes were.) 

The strange thing is that once your thoughts are 'in print' on the page or computer screen -- well, at least for me, they become something else. Although I still know technically they're 'me,' that person -- and her words -- are separate. Different to the point that she feels like another individual.

The huge bonus: that you can actually get paid for writing what you think! The first prize still looms in mind: a $5 or so check from the American Foreign Legion. This was at a time of 50 cents weekly allowances, and I still remember how rich I felt. Even the first advance I got -- for writing Hanky Panky -- pales in comparison to that fabulous wealth.

But living on your writing?

Lawrence Block did a piece on 'getting by on a writer's income.' It's surprisingly honest, from a guy who's managed to crack the blockbuster shell and extract the golden yolk. Yet Block warns that getting used to living at a higher standard is the real danger -- there will be lean years along with the prosperous ones.  " I won’t be poor, though, not so long as I’m able to recognize that being broke is a temporary thing, that it’s part of the business, and that it doesn’t have to interfere with either my writing or my living."

*It  won't always be wonderful. You may write a bestseller this year -- and get rejection after rejection two years from now. Maybe the economy's changed, or you're in the wrong market. (I shudder for newspaper reporters -- they're in a very uncertain field right now.) Maybe things are quiet because you need a rest, or a new approach. Maybe someone you love is in the hospital, or dying from cancer. Hunker down and keep working.

*Keep the bills paid. Got a big advance...a bonus...or an inheritance? Pay off your mortgage before you take that lavish cruise, or buy a new car. Clear away the credit cards. (And resolve to pay them off in full every month. No exceptions.) Put some aside for an emergency fund. Ok, now you can splurge on something.

*Can you do something else? Being able to cook, do carpentry, drive a bus or secretarial jobs will not only get you through hard times and barren periods; it will give you ideas for future books. My parents said that you should be able to do at least three things well -- that way, if there's no market for one or two, you've got something else to fall back on. They were right.

*Can you go into this with someone else? Stephen King said that he wouldn't have gotten far without his wife, novelist Tabitha King. Not only did she fish out his crumpled manuscript of  Carrie manuscript from the wastebasket, but she took on various jobs, including Dunkin' Donuts, to help out. Having a partner along for the ride is priceless. (Yes, I'm talking about my own husband, the Brick. His income has kept us going through many a lean period, and his love and support always. Does he read what I write? Not much...but he listens.)

Writing can be exciting. Boring. Intriguing. Irritating. But I do know that whatever happens, I will always be a writer.
     And that's fine with me.

Any number of things can happen to render a freelance writer insolvent, and if you stay in the game long enough, all of them will happen to you sooner or later. But the point of this piece is not that dire events will occur, but that you can survive them.  -- Lawrence Block

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