Thursday, May 25, 2006

If it's this hard, why write?

From yesterday's (Toronto) Globe and Mail:

The image of the starving artist might seem romantic to some. But that's not a story you'll likely hear from the many established authors in this country attempting to squeeze out a novel on crumbs. This week, the Writers' Trust of Canada will add a little fat to the bones thanks to a $1.87-million bequest -- said to be the largest cash gift to writers in Canadian history -- from the estate of literary giant George Woodcock and his wife Ingeborg.
Here's why they want to give Canadian writers a little help:

"Writers are one of Canada's greatest exports," said Don Oravec, executive director of the Writers' Trust of Canada, "yet many endure near-poverty, as the writing life offers no health benefits or pension plans."

Indeed. Canada's writers, on average, earn less than $9,000 annually, according to a 2003 study for the Department of Canadian Heritage. Oravec says the added support for the Woodcock Fund "will encourage and preserve our literary heritage by rescuing those works that would otherwise be abandoned."

That's $9,000 Canadian, friends. My trusty calculator calls that US$8,114.79. Not a lot of clams, is it?

I know more than a hundred published romance writers, and most of them simply aren't able to live on what they make writing books. Some make what seems like a lot of money until you realize they have no insurance unless they can find an affordable plan on their own. And here in the U.S., writers pay twice as much as an employed person does to Social Security. (Your employer picks up half of your tab; writers are self-employed, so they're on their own.) That's why so many writers keep their day jobs or depend on their spouses' jobs for insurance, retirement, and other benefits.

The joke in writing circles is that if you can quit writing, you absolutely should. That's because most aspiring authors will never sell. Yes, I said most will never sell. And even those who do will probably never make enough to live on. Sure, some authors make a tidy living and a few strike it stinkin' rich. But we're talking about the average published writer, remember? And the average published writer does not make beans in this business.

Why write, then? If the reality is that most writers will never be published, and most published writers will never make a good living, why write?

We write for the same reason a college kid drops out and starts a rock band or a pretty young woman sells everything she has and moves to Hollywood. We know the odds are wildly against us ever making it, but we're dreamers. We know this business wants to tear our hearts out, but we don't allow ourselves to dwell on that. We believe it's going to be different for us because we're going to make it different.

People talk about writers being a little bit crazy. Forget that. Writers are a whole lot crazy. But I like that about us.


tristan coulter said...

I'm dropping out of school to race bikes.


Brenda Coulter said...

Shut. Up. I wasn't talking about you quitting school.

I take it this means you did well in Tuesday's race? I've been waiting for you to call. I didn't want to bother you because I thought you might be STUDYING.

Susan Kaye said...

If writers are inherently dreamers, Oregon should be their Mecca. Our state slogan, (not to be confused with the official motto: "She Flies With Her Own Wings."), is: "Oregon, We Love Dreamers."

The amount paid to the marketing agency Weiden+Kennedy, creators of Nike's, "Just Do It," was incredible.

I doubt it is indicitive of what others can expect.

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, who else's wings would Oregon fly with? Sorry, but that's just goofy. And why do you need a motto and a slogan, anyway?

Camy Tang said...

I hate how expensive it is to be a writer. Throw in one or two writer's conferences a year, and you're in poverty.

I guess that's also why many writers strive to write as fast as they can, write as many books as they can a year. More money. Hopefully the speed doesn't suck away quality and creativity.

I'm so lucky--my husband got a stable job with benefits, so I could quit work and write. We also don't have kids. It'll be lean for a few more years, but not impossible.


Candice Gilmer said...

I dont' have any plans to quit work, I know even if I make three sales this year (uh huh.. anyway), I won't see anything for quite a while.

I am lucky, I work as a self-employeed hairstylist, so I can write in between my clients. (Well, I try to anyway). And I also am familiar with the whole "Self employment taxes".

However, did you know you can claim your expenses from writing? Down to your utility bills for the year, if you have a home office? Also, you can claim all your book buying expenses, because as a writer, every book you read (fiction or non) is research for work. And (if I am getting this right from my tax lady), you can claim to be a writer on your taxes, and take a loss for the year, if need be. :)

Interesting, eh? I thought so. ;)

GeorgianaD said...

Why write? What else would I do at midnight?

Seriously, I couldn't stop it if I wanted to, which I don't. I've tried before and I just get cranky.

Brenda Coulter said...

Camy, "expensive" is the word. I plan on spending $2,000 every summer on the RWA conference alone.

Candace, I deduct the paperback romances I buy, and also my monthly membership to (I borrow a lot of romances from them.) This is definitely research for me, as I was not a romance reader until I started writing it.

Georgiana, I hear you. ;-)

Katrina Stonoff said...

I think (for me, anyway) it's more than just dreaming. Yes, I dream of bestseller lists and major motion pictures and National Book Awards, but the truth is, I don't expect them.

I expect to be published (yes, I know that's arrogant). I hope to build a backlist long enough and respectable enough (and in print long enough) to live on someday.

But I'd write even if I thought I'd never publish. Heck, for many, many years, I did exactly that.

I must write. I have an overwhelming need to create Story. I hope for an audience (I long for it), but I'd settle for two or three people who really got it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Kristina, I don't think "making it" means the same thing to everybody. If you want to know what it means to me, I've already made it. Bestseller lists and riches have never been goals of mine. All I wanted was to finish that first novel. The moment I did, I was a success.

Brenda Coulter said...

Katrina. Katrina.

Sheesh. It's not like I don't know your name.

Missy Lyons said...

I never heard that joke before about quitting writing but completely understand why. There is so much working against you as a writer and it's not easy to become successful.

brian msunder said...

This is a wonderful article. . Yep. . I joined a rock band too .loved it... I've not earned a cent yet even though I now a published author My childrens picture book which was 5 years in the making (well 5 years in seeking out a publisher during the world financial crisis and personal misadventures and modus operandi tangents)... was just released in print 1 month ago. .. no advances. .. Just the thrill of having your work shared snd and hopefully loved by many... and the knowing that the commission is still in the pipeline . Hopefully enough to pay a few bills.. One of the other awesome things that has happened in the process is the working relationship I now have with a publisher. .. no agent needed. .. if things go well with this book. .. possibilities of others im sure are real.... but. .. its hard time consuming work. .. and as I said. .. ive nit earned one cent. .... yet.