Making a living at this

I couldn’t quite figure out what to write about today, so I decided I’d share one of the many links I’ve acquired along the way.  (I drop them into a folder of “specific articles” and when I’m stuck I go and stare at them and try to remember what they were about and why I thought they were worth bookmarking and sharing at some point.  I have over 50 links in there, so no worries of me running out of things to post for a while.)

Jim C. Hines is much more brave than I will ever be.  Each year he posts a summary of his writing income for the year.  Here’s 2011.  The article itself has links to 2007-2010.

As he mentions in the article, he’s been writing and submitting since 1995.  It sounds like his first book release was 2006, so you have a decade of working on his trade before his first book was published and now he’s slowly building a following.  And, based upon the early success of his most recent novel, it sounds like he’s solidly on the writing path.

Now, there’s probably someone out there who hasn’t dipped a toe into corporate life or who doesn’t have student loans that could’ve paid for a small home who thinks $50,000 a year is pretty damned good.  And it is pretty damned good.

If I can ever make $50,000 a year writing, I’ll be awfully pleased with myself.  (Of course, me being me, I’ll expect to make more the next year and that’s not quite how it works as you can see from his chart.)

I remember graduating undergrad and thinking that all I needed to take home was $13,000 a year.  This would let me drive a newer version of the cheapest car on the market, live in a small one bedroom apartment, pay my student loans, and eat.

Very, very quickly, I realized that would not be enough.  I had to actually wear good clothes to work, it turns out I liked my co-workers enough to want to socialize with them, and  I decided maybe it would be useful to have a home phone.  Things start to add up.

And, perhaps this isn’t true of everyone, but for me it was pretty easy to move up in a corporate setting.  You show up, you work your ass off, you try not to offend too many people (or at least the ones that can fire you), you keep showing up, you keep working your ass off, and you move up.  And the whole time you’re doing that, you’re getting a paycheck deposited into your account every week, every two weeks, every month.  Whatever the schedule, that check is showing up like clockwork.

Writing is completely different.  You can put your butt in that chair every day.  You can work and slave at it.  And you may succeed.  But you may not.  And while you’re writing that first novel, you are receiving zilch for your efforts.  Nada.  Not a penny.  And at the end, that novel may not even be publishable.  It may take writing five novels to finally break through.  And the first four?  You received nothing for them and likely never will.

It’s a learning curve, but no one is paying for your learning period.

Which is why I think you hear the common advice that you shouldn’t write unless you love to write.  If you can do something else, you should, because you’re much more likely to be happy and eating food on a regular basis if you can find something to do other than write fiction.

At least at the beginning.

Early on I wrote a post about how I’m not one of those people who MUST write.  But I’ve figured out through this process that I am one of those people who must observe others, who must think about what motivates people to do what they do, who spends long periods of time creating imaginary scenarios in my head.  Whether I ever write a word on paper, I’m always going to be making up stories.  Stories are how I puzzle out the world.

And I’m going to keep putting those words down on paper, because wouldn’t it be great to someday make a living at what I can’t help but do?

In the meantime, I have to have to have to remember, that I do in fact need a day job.  It’s tough at times and not what I want to hear, but getting paid on a regular basis is quite helpful.  Because making a living at this writing thing does not happen overnight.  And may never happen if you can’t make enough elsewhere to stay out of jail, keep the power on, and keep from starving.


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in Advice, General Musings, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Making a living at this

  1. Keri Peardon says:

    I started writing my first novel while I was unemployed. It wasn’t until I got a 9-5 job and started blogging and doing all the work required to market myself and my stuff that I realized how much time writing takes.

    It’s a part-time job, and there are times when it borders on a second full-time job. I had to drop my hobby (medieval re-enacting) and all other creative endeavors and house projects in order to write and market.

    I’m hoping that I will be able to go full-time in 1-2 years (seems average for good writers who take their self-publishing seriously and who continue to publish at least a novel a year) and I can have some free time back!

    • mhleewriter says:

      Keri – that would be great if you can go full-time in another 1-2 years. It does seem that steadily publishing novels and having at least three novels out there really does make the difference.

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