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“Make Sure You Want It”
Once upon a time, I was told that writers, on average, don’t make any money. I laughed at this. Of course they make money. Ever hear of James Patterson? Stephen King? J.K. Rowling? Should I continue? Writers, too, can make money, even better money than their doctors and lawyers. All they need is Powerball level luck. I got this.
Yeah, I don’t got this.
When I took English as a major in college, I saw the possibilities waiting: copywriting jobs, editing jobs, marketing jobs, and so on. Do you want to teach? they’d all ask me. No! I saw copywriting, editing, marketing, etc. in my future. I graduated over a decade ago.
I now tutor for a living. That’s one stage below teaching.
When I was in high school, and the counselors asked what I “wanted to be when I grow up,” I didn’t know what to tell them. I settled on “computer applications” because I liked computers, but I didn’t like programming; I liked writing. I settled on this fusion of job goals for most of my high school career because it seemed to be what aligned closest to my actual goals. I was fully aware for most of that journey that what I was essentially saying was that I wanted to be a secretary when I grow up. Eventually I stopped lying to myself that this was an aspiration, caved to reality, and changed my focus. When I got to college, I chose “Liberal Arts” as my major, since that was in “Communications,” which was the only field I could stomach as a career choice given my options at the time. None of that would lead me any higher than the rank of secretary, most likely. I sucked it up because I trusted the education system for some reason, and I assumed it would all work out in the end.
Finally, when I got to the University of Central Florida, I could choose the major I wanted most: English. And, to my even happier surprise, I could choose a specific track tailored to creative writing. Finally, I could work toward the life and career goals I actually wanted: I could become a creative writer when I grow up!
English? Do you want to teach? No! I want to write for a living.
I got that degree, but I couldn’t get any real opportunities with any company to write anything. I’ve been told time and again that technical writers, copywriters, editors, copyeditors, etc. are paid reasonably well (at least three times better than what I make in education currently), but what I wasn’t told is that you need a portfolio of contracts you’ve fulfilled with other companies prior to getting a job to show off what you’ve done (not what you can do), that freelancing is often reputation based (meaning, someone had to take a chance on you once upon a time, and then you had to do such a great job that they’d be willing to hire you again), and that to get a job doing anything worth the education you have, you have to know someone on the inside who believes in your ability enough to give you that shot (and as I’ve discovered in certain cases, sometimes that’s not even enough to get the job).
The end result has been heartbreaking, frustrating, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret investing thousands of dollars into getting what amounts to a useless English degree. I like helping people get better at writing, but I don’t like swimming in debt while having to live in a garage to spare myself from paying rent or a mortgage to anyone. Not to mention, my poor car is looking like it’s ready for the junkyard, it needs a paint job so badly, a paint job that would break my budget. It would’ve been awesome if one of these companies I’ve applied to over the years had believed in me enough to give me a shot.
The things we dream and the realities that follow…
This is why we write fiction (or nonfiction in some cases). We need something to perpetuate the dream as far and as long as possible, as reality tries so hard, and often succeeds, at killing it.
When we make the decision to write and publish our own books, we set ourselves up for a new level of heartbreak, under the same exact conditions given to the job market: It doesn’t matter how good we are, or how well we can entertain, educate, or prove our talents; if no one is willing to take a chance on us, then we will come up zero every time. You can love your craft all you want; until you get someone else to believe in you enough to actually give you money for your work, your craft, the love of your life won’t feed you or give you a stable roof over your head.
At the end of the day, you need to make the decision that you write because you have to, because it’s the only thing that makes sense to you. Maybe you’ll get lucky, like Stephen King, who says in his book On Writing that he couldn’t imagine doing anything other than writing, so that was his excuse for taking the gamble on a writing career (it worked out just fine for him, by the way)—sometimes the chance pays off, too. But even if you know you won’t make a dime, you need to make the decision that you’ll write anyway, because you have to, not because you expect it to make your dreams comes true (except for maybe that one dream about writing a book someday).
But you should still strive to make it work in your favor. You have a message to share, a story to tell, a reason to need to write. At some point, you’re going to realize that writing is a terrible career if you want to eat something other than soup seven nights a week. But defending criminals in court for six figures a year is equally terrible if you’re betraying your heart or your nature. Sometimes you just have to realize that there is no greener grass, that all of it has its pros and cons, so you may as well just stick to the thing that gives you the most fulfillment. For me, that isn’t defending criminals who deserve to be locked up. For me, that means writing.
If you feel in your gut that you need to give writing a chance, and by proxy, publication a chance, then be ready for the pain. But, no amount of pain can deny the end result: a book you can be proud of, and a wide world in which to share it in. If anything, sometimes the pain is worth it. Any woman who gives birth to a happy child could testify to that. Sometimes, in spite of the statistics, the naysayers, and the quite likely reality that you won’t make any of your investments back, you just got to do it anyway. When that story or instructional burns within you, you’ll lose sleep if you can’t get it out, which is worse than losing money.
Of course, if you’re smarter than me, you’ll get that six-figure job and make time to write on the side. Doctors and lawyers publish books all the time. As do secretaries and people who work in education.
If you’re looking into the future and you want to see success, do what you can to secure it with something realistic first. You can always write on the side. Chances are, if you specialize in a field (we’ll say politics for laughs), you can use your knowledge to tell even deeper stories than those of us who have no specialization. What can a doctor write about? Medical dramas! What can an English teacher write about? Literature analysis dramas! Wait…no; that sounds awful. Or does it?
The purpose of The Marketing Author 001 series is to show you how to be ready for the opportunities that come your way, assuming you have decided that you need to write. Next week, we’ll talk about money. But before we worry about money, we need to get our goals in order. And, in order to prioritize our goals, we need to understand what our goals will get us. We need to make sure that we want this, this writing life. It’s an exciting life, sure. But like anything else, it comes with its buckets of stress. You ever wonder why writers drink so much? Because it’s a stereotype that isn’t necessarily true today. But also because writers don’t know how to relax. There’s always a story to tell, just as there is always a bill to pay. Stress comes from not knowing which will come knocking first.
Can you handle that? If so, then let’s get on the rollercoaster together.
Come back next Wednesday for Part 2, budgeting.
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