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I’m writing this while sitting propped on pillows on my bed, while in the next room, my partner helps our youngest son with his Year 5 Ancient Egypt project. I did my bit on the project already, having been integral to the model-making process yesterday.
I was out in the garden earlier (it’s Sunday) considering where I’m at with my writing life. I’ve currently got a book on submission to the US – it’s a really good book, in my opinion, but being on submission is always terrifying because you just don’t know if anyone else will like your book enough to buy it. I have another job offer – I’m a teacher, and I could go back more consistently to teaching – and I feel lucky to have alternative income options. But the idea is a little depressing too: writing is where my heart is, and working two jobs (or more) is tiring. We all do it, but it’s tiring and I’m getting older now.
Tangentially to this, we had an election in Australia in the last 48 hours and the outcome was…not great. People have voted the conservatives in again and I’m a bit devastated, to be honest. It feels like a tenuous time – for my writing career and for my country.
It’s got me thinking about why I write and the reasons I keep going with it. Being an artist of any stripe is always ‘tenuous’ and ‘not great’ as far as a reliable income for supporting a family goes. I keep at it. But I’ve had to map out a few important things I consider when I’m writing or making decisions about my writing career. And now I’m sharing them with you. So here we go.
Don’t do this job for the money. And don’t do it as a job – unless you’ve published a book that’s sold a million copies. And even then, have a backup plan.
Write because you love it. Write because if you don’t write, you’ll die inside. Write because you can’t not write. Because it keeps you sane, it keeps you whole.
Write just for you. Write the stuff you love, for the absolute joy of writing. Write like it’s fanfic – not expecting glory or remuneration, just for the sheer enjoyment of bringing your dream to life.
Or write as a gift for someone else. To capture a memory, or an emotion. Write to tell someone else you love them, in a way you can’t say directly.
Write to tell your story. Because no one writes these stories but you, and you’ve never found them anywhere else. Write to affirm that what you experienced was real. Write out of empathy and understanding. Write the truth.
Write because you’re angry. Because if you don’t tell this story, if you don’t explain it and make sense of it and get it out there, you’ll explode. Write the frustration out. Get it out of your body before it poisons you. Write to blow all that away.
Write at your own schedule. Write every day, with urgency, if you can manage it. Don’t worry if you can’t. But if writing is important to you, make time for it. Schedule it in, like you schedule exercise or a lunch date or any other appointment. No one will make that time for you. You have to create it.
Publish if you want to. Polish your work and submit it to agents, to publishers. Or publish it yourself. Don’t expect anything from it. Don’t expect it to be a bestseller, or to make your reputation, or your fortune. That will depend entirely on luck. No one owes you anything, remember.
Keep writing. If you sell something, keep at it – frontlist sells backlist. If you don’t sell anything, keep writing if it’s something that gives you pleasure or that you need to do.
Don’t rely on any money you make from writing. Whatever money you make, remember it’s just gravy. One book deal is not an income. Even three book deals are not an income. You have to eat. You have bills to pay. Keep working. Keep writing.
Don’t sacrifice everything for your writing. Your family, your job, your self-care – they all need attention too. Remember what Stephen King said: Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.
If you sell a book, and it’s successful, don’t imagine it’s from anything you did. It’s just luck. You may never hit that mark again. And that’s okay. Enjoy the success, but don’t put any store by it. Don’t care about the success more than the writing.
But work hard at your writing. Keep learning. Be smart about it. Be honest with yourself. The best writers are always learning, always improving.
If you do well with publishing, be professional. Be polite. Be responsive and courteous. Everyone in publishing is working equally hard. They have families and problems, just like you. They’re giant word nerds, just like you. Be considerate and treat people the way you would like to be treated.
Try to help other writers. If you’re successful, help other writers achieve the same success. Lift people up. You will never hurt your own career by helping another writer out. You will not miss your chance because someone else became successful. Writing and publishing is not pie. Feel jealous, if you want, but don’t get mean.
Don’t imagine you know everything there is to know about writing or the business of publishing. The landscape is constantly changing. Ask for advice if you need it. Don’t make writing rules, even for yourself. Stay flexible. Keep adapting. Grow.
Make your writing a light in the dark. Make it the high point of your day. A gift for the reader. Something real and something true. Otherwise, why are you doing this?
Stay the course.
Enjoy the writing.
That’s all that matters in the end.