Why didn’t you keep it up?
Me: I did a thing
Them: Great! Why did you stop?
Both times I found myself wondering if we were even speaking the same language or whether I’d fallen asleep at some point in the middle of the conversation and missed parts of it. Eventually, after an embarrassing amount of thinking about it, I realized that it was a matter of the public and the private as well as expectations.
The public and the private
I’ve been writing most days since September 2009. For at least the first year I don’t think I told anyone but my spouse and my sister. Then, slowly, I started taking classes online and at the local adult education center. About the same time, I started talking about it on social media and sending my stuff out to magazines. My rejection slips say this was in late 2011. Since then I have amassed at least 56 short story rejections and half again as many novel rejections. I’ve written two novels and some 20 or so short stories. And I’ve had one publication. And here’s the thing: most of this is not visible to people who aren’t writer friends. Yes, I mention writing once in a while on social media and I blog about writing quite a lot. But unless you’re a regular reader here on the blog or you’re one of my writing friends, you probably won’t see the amount of work I am and have been putting into the thing that can eventually be called a writing career. It is, frankly, enough that quitting after one publication doesn’t feel in any way rational. Not to me at least. It’s not anything that I’ve even really considered.
The second thing that I think is behind the confusion is the expectation of an author career. I have one publication, therefore I must have the option of going full-time and still having a day-job must mean that I’ve given up on the dream. Don’t mind that noise, it’s just a horde of writers a lot further along their career laughing their asses off at the thought of being able to quit their day jobs. Freelancing is not a hugely stable form of making money under the best of circumstances. And writing, especially, comes with a learning curve. So what you end up doing, is spending a lot of time on the front end learning to do the job. There are ways of getting paid while you do so but even those are insecure and the money you get paid may not actually cover your expenses. And even once you get started, the money you make one year may be a lot more than you make the next. And waiting months for the check to arrive is hardly unheard of. So the daily life of the rank-and-file authorship is nowhere near the world of Richard Castle or Catherine Tramell or any of the other fictional authors presented on TV or movies. Anyone who’s spent any time trying to get their work seen by readers knows that never the twain shall meet, or as close to never as makes no difference. But the Stephen Kings and J.K Rowlings of the world seem to justify the expectation to people with no connection to the publishing industry.
Well are you keeping it up?
Hell to the yeah! I’ve been at this for a while and I’m only now starting to see the return on my investments of time and money. I have more ideas than I really know what to do with and I honestly don’t know what I would do with myself if I stopped writing. To borrow the words of Kameron Hurley, this is a long con. And I’ve only just gotten started.