Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators - Monica Ali
A friend of mine teaches middle school and one of her students, an aspiring author, wanted to interview a writer for a paper. Of course, I said yes… moments later I had thoughts of… Egad… she wants ADVICE? From me? I don’t even know what a dangling participle or a preposition is (really, my critique group had to tell me)
Well she rang me a few days later and we sat down to chat. We covered the usual things – where did I grow up (San Francisco, Saudi Arabia, London), when did I want to be a writer (age eleven), who were my literary influences (innumerable), so on and so forth. Then she asked me what I had studied in college. I told her accounting. She paused, a bit confused. (I could tell she was expecting me to say English, creative writing or literature)
Uh, why? Didn’t you want to be a writer?
I told her yes, I did, but I was also passionate about new technologies and products, and the reality of it was that a job in the business field actually gave you a dependable paycheck. On the end of the line I heard dead silence… I could hear dreams shattering. I felt terrible. I softened my approach and told her the realities of becoming a published author – the statistics on actually finishing a novel (a novel that is well written and the material is hot for the current market), landing an agent, AND getting a deal with the publisher are pretty miniscule. AND, if you do all that, as a debut author you will probably not make enough to pay your bills.
Sad… but true. There are very few JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyers and other overnight phenomenas out there – many of these writers, we later learn, also paid their dues and built successful writing careers, one book at a time, over many years. So, I told her, you could one day become an amazing, successful author who does manage to do it for a living, but it will take time – so get a day job in something else you feel passionate about. This is what Tamora Pierce told me - it took her a couple of years before she gave up her day job and wrote full time.
I told the student that her day job could still be in the field of writing – she could go into publishing, technical writing, or maybe even become a librarian. But honestly, I told her go to college and pursue a career in something else. I don’t know if I convinced her or not, but she said that that made sense. I told her that the majority of writers I know have a day job. Some make a decision that writing is all they will do, and that’s okay, but usually there is a spouse working or a trust fund involved. Writing, first and foremost (for me anyway) is about personal fulfillment. If it turns out that you become published and your book does well, that is the icing on the cake. And then, if you can write full time, that is truly awesome.