Time and Money

Every once in a while I’m tempted to quit this “writing thing.”  I run the numbers and they don’t add up.

I hear an agent talk about how you should have six to seven books in print and selling steadily before you think about writing full-time.  I listen to the multiple people who say that most writers have day jobs.  I read about how it took someone ten years to sell their first short story and how it takes a couple years after you’ve found an agent and a publisher to get published and I think “why the hell am I doing this?”

I know there’s that advice out there that if you can do something other than write that you should.  And I can.  I’m not a compulsive writer.  I don’t get twitchy fingers if I can’t put pen to paper.

I am a compulsive storyteller.  Make me wait at the doctor’s office for ten minutes and odds are that I’ll be spinning a story in my head.  I don’t do that for anyone else.  I do that for me.  Because that’s the way my mind works.

I’m a scenario person.  I take a moment and I spin all the different directions that moment can take.

So why write?  When it’s solitary and full of rejection and you can’t see the progress you’re making until you’re there?

Partially, I think it’s because I keep trying to find something to fail at in my life.  Yes, that’s weird and not a normal goal.  (And I could probably do that much easier if I just took up bull riding or something similar.)

I want a challenge.  I want something that I can’t master right away.  My day job requires expertise and skill, but it isn’t challenging–not in the all hands on deck sort of way that I want.

And this whole published author thing is looking like a challenge all right.  But every once in a while my practical side steps in–the one that has to pay bills and worry about paying those bills for another fifty years or so–and says, “Is this really worth it?”

Because right now I’m spending a lot of time and money on this and not getting any financial return back.  (I think I am getting some emotional and spiritual return.)  I’m going to do a writing workshop in July and was debating applying for another one later in the year, but that little voice in my head says, “Why?  There’s no guarantee that next class will do anything for you.”

But then it occurred to me today that when I went to college I was paying a lot of money for something with no guaranteed return.  I spent four years of my life (and a hell of a lot more of my time than I do on writing) studying for some unknown potential reward.

Obviously, that path is a little more certain.  I went to one of those schools worth the money you pay for it, so there was a pretty high chance that I’d be employed as a result of those four years.

(And, unknown to me when I started down that path, going to that particular school means that for the rest of my life when people hear where I went to school they’ll say, “Oh, you must be smart.”  I’m not sure whether that’s because they think I’m an idiot when they meet me or whether my school has somehow branded itself into the American subconscious as the school of smart people.  Anyway.  Back to the point.)

When I frame things that way, then the less than two years I’ve devoted to this so far don’t seem like all that much.  If it took me four years to get a degree to get that first professional job, then I can put four years into getting that first entry-level writing success.  And if I spent (insert obscene amount of money here) on getting that degree then I should expect to spend a few hundred or a few thousand dollars a year on learning to write.

I could maybe get to my goal by sitting in my room and writing, writing, writing and not attend any conferences or writing workshops.

I could have also learned Mayan by getting ahold of the tapes and studying them by myself.  But I doubt I’d have made the same progress in doing so as I did taking a formal course for a year.

The fact of the matter is that almost anything worth doing requires time and money to get there.

And you really can’t see at the start of the path just how far it will or won’t take you.

When I took that first professional job out of college I extrapolated what my salary would be ten years after I started based upon the standard promotion and raise cycle.  I even tried to factor in bonuses.  By the time I left that job after eight years I was earning almost three times that amount.

There was no way going in that I could’ve known that would be the result.  Sometimes the only way to see what you can accomplish is to go for it.

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.
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