Sept. 6,2020: Writing as Art
I have read a great deal of posts and blogs lately, on the very real struggle of actually earning a living by writing. I hear authors obsessing over Amazon sales and overseas shipping. I read questions where writers ask each other about earnings expectations. I see debates in on-line writer’s groups over the most cost-effective print-on-demand publishers. I see a growing mountain of authors using crowd-sourcing or go-fund-me-pages to survive.
And I hear the anguish of writers who are ready to give up their dream of writing because they “can’t pay the bills.”
As I ponder these very real struggles, I keep coming back to Elizabeth Gilbert and some wisdom she has shared in both interviews and in her own writings. And that is on the power of protecting your art by not putting the pressure on it to support you.
Let’s face it, the arts have never been on lists of most lucrative professions to pursue. The arts of any kind can be fickle, unpredictable, and inconsistent.
Ms. Gilbert talks a lot about the honor of having a job to pay the bills, and then devoting your creative energy to your art.
In her book Big Magic, she talks about how it was not until her 4th book was published (and all three of her previous books were published by big publishing houses, got great reviews, were selling well, and she had even been nominated for a National Book Award) that she actually had the courage to quit her day-job to write full-time. She says, “I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life.”
I love this.
Admittedly, I have a “day-job” that I love. I have a career as an educator that fills me with purpose and passion. My profession as a teacher also meshes perfectly with my pursuit of writing children’s books. After all, I spend my days surrounded by my potential readers.
But consciously choosing to be a writer in addition to being a teacher, has helped to keep my writing-life protected and pure.
True, it is not pressure-free. I still toil and labor to strengthen my craft. I spend time and energy sending out queries to agents and publishers. I deal with a large amount of rejection. I work to fit writing time into my life. I wedge book festivals, conferences, and book signings around my teaching schedule and responsibilities. I face deadlines and failures.
But because I do not have to make sure my writing can pay my bills, I do not have to compromise. I am not forced to take short-cuts or to settle. My writing, and the income it generates, is a bonus. Gravy. The icing on the cake.
I know that this kind of life-balance is not for everyone. But I wonder how many writers out there, who are holding down day-jobs to pay the bills, feel like their writing is not successful because they cannot rely on the income from writing to support themselves. Or how many writers, who at some point have to get another job to supplement their writing income, feel like failures?
It is time to acknowledge, that we are still writers, even if we have another job. And we are indeed authors, even if our royalties are not paying all our bills.