Wednesday, April 18, 2007


posted by Aunty Cindy

Our very own Bandita Trish is the RWA National PRO Liaison, and in her RWR column this month she touched on a subject that has been a personal sticking point for me. When can you call your writing a “career?" Trish makes a compelling argument that if you are writing and you are submitting your work then you have a “writing career.” If only I could get myself to buy into that concept.

Unfortunately, I can’t.

Call it a mental block, my faulty upbringing, or our overall society’s obsession with monetary compensation. Whatever the reason or excuse, I equate a career with income. While I’m now well into my fourth year of writing as my only “work,” so far I have not earned a penny and therefore do not see it as a valid “career.”

I’m lucky enough to live close to our own Bandita Jo and we are face-to-face critique partners. We were having a discussion about our “writing careers” and the validation of publication a couple of weeks ago. We concluded that a big part of our problem with not seeing our writing careers as such stemmed from our previous careers. In those careers, there were definite milestones to be reached to achieve desired results.

In my previous life, I knew that if I did A + B correctly and diligently, then I would achieve C. And I would be compensated accordingly. So far, this has not been my experience with writing. I’m not bragging, but simply stating fact when I say that for the past several years, I’ve busted my butt learning and doing A, B and even WXYZ, all to no avail. Still no C. Most of the time, it feels like for every step forward I struggle, I’m slapped back two or three. The milestones in my “writing career” seem frustratingly far away. Or, once I do achieve them, turn out to have no real significance in actually reaching my ultimate goal.

Also in my previous life, I’m not ashamed to admit that I started on a very low rung of the government bureaucratic ladder and struggled along for a dozen years climbing through that crowd to rise to a management level that not a lot of people achieve. My point being that I’m not a stranger to goal setting and struggle, not to mention disappointment. Furthermore, when I was clinging on those lower career rungs, I learned a valuable lesson: Act As If. When I was a lowly clerk and wanted to be an analyst, I took my cues from the analysts around me and “acted as if” I were already an analyst. Eventually, I became an analyst and again, used my role models to “act as if” I were a manager. Once again, after the required work and struggle, I became one.

Sorry to say, that so far “acting as if” I were already a published author hasn’t
helped me achieve the desired result. In fact, the way to achieve my goal seems perpetually changing with no clear path. And frankly, without that validation of selling, having my book out there being read by somebody, I don’t feel like I have a “writing career” at all. Am I the only one suffering from this angst? Do I simply need a new and improved definition of “writing career?” I’d love to know about your “writing career,” and any and all advice you’d care to give me about mine.


Christine Wells said...

Hugs, Aunty Cindy! I remember that feeling very well. I think almost every writer would agree.

I suppose I'm a bit of a radical. I think you should forget 'career'. Careers are for people who wouldn't do what they're doing if they didn't get paid. Writers write because they love writing, because if they didn't, part of them would be missing.

But the thing about art is that we need other people's reaction to it before it can complete the cycle. I think that's why publication seems like the holy grail, more than the monetary side of it. It's someone qualified to make this decision, willing to put money behind their opinion that your book is fantastic AND WILL SELL. It is a sad truth that many fantastic books are not published because of the perceived tastes of the market.

I don't think there is any answer beyond persistence, because so much luck is involved in selling a book. But you obviously have the talent, Aunty C. Keeeeep going! I know you'll see your books on the shelves some day.

Anna Campbell said...

Strangely, I was talking about this with someone yesterday. After trying so many agents, she'd nearly run out of options, a famous agent from one of the biggest agencies out there signed her. IMHO, a sale is only just around the corner now. We were talking about persistence and how strangely, for nearly everyone I know who has sold, the tunnel is always darkest just before the breakthrough. I don't know why. Just seems to work that way. And it's MUCH harder to hold on when you're close but can't seem to make that last step, no matter how long or hard you try, than when you're new. So, AC, hang in there. The most profound writing advice I ever heard was from Robyn Donald, who writes category romance. It sounds trite. In fact, I dismissed it until I was where you are right now, AC. That advice was "The people who fail are the people who give up." Good luck!!!

Kim Howe said...

I echo Anna's comments about it being darkest before the breakthrough. When you first start writing, publication is so far away you don't feel pressured about it, but when you start finaling in the GH and other prominent contests, it feels like you should be at the pinnacle of that beautiful mountain you posted. I believe in you Cindy, and know that it is only a matter of time before we're all running into our bookstores to pick up your novel. In the meantime, we'll be here as a support system for each other during those dark days of doubt!



Christine Zampi said...

I understand your frustrations, Cindy. I'm also stuck in the if this is my career where is the money (other than the quarterly $50 check from Liquid Silver for my naughty work).

I wish I had answers for both of us. I started writing in 2000 and full time in 2001 when I was laid off. I also sell real estate (not easy in this market) but really my heart is in writing. I do it because I love it.

But at the same time, reality is setting in that I'll have a college student in less than four years now. If something doesn't happen soon, (or if real estate doesn't pick up) I'll have to go back to office work full time. If that happens, I know what will happen to my writing career. There won't be one.

I'd love to hear other people's opinion on Cindy's post too.

Inara said...

Cindy, as another AYU (as yet unpublished) I call my writing a hobby, and get A LOT of flak for it, especially from other members of my local RWA chapter. Seems that people think unless something is a "career" it isn't worthwhile or meaningful. I object! (and as my career is a lawyer, I'm allowed! :-) ) That smacks of the same kind of narrow thinking that causes people to devalue stay at home moms because they AREN'T paid, or teachers because they're paid very little.

I have no problem calling my writing a hobby. I don't earn anything from it, and even if I was published, I would have to be a NYT bestseller to approach my current salary by writing. So what? I write because I'm driven to write, because I love what I'm doing and it makes other things in my life richer and fuller. I really really want to sell a book, partly so I know that other people think what I'm doing is worthwhile, and also so I can share my romantic vision with others and hopefully make them smile. But neither of those goals have anything to do with money. Writing isn't going to replace my "real job" or my "career" any time soon, and that doesn't change the way I feel about it one iota.

My husband is a cyclist and there's no doubt that cycling is his passion. He bikes hundreds of miles every week, dreams about biking, and spends lots of time surfing "bike forum" web sites to chat with other cyclists. Sound familiar? I don't feel like it devalues his hobby to call it a hobby, and my feelings aren't hurt when he calls writing a hobby. He doesn't approach cycling any less seriously because he isn't paid for it, and I don't approach writing less seriously because it isn't my career.

I think the only one who should define your writing is you. If you think of writing as a career, complete with salary and future earning potential, that's fabulous. I would love to be able to do that someday too. But if you view writing as a pasttime, a hobby, or even as a passion, because you have another job that you take seriously that you don't intend to quit, that's fine too. Don't judge your writing by the label it's given. Judge your writing by the emotion, drive, and energy with which you approach it.


Anna Campbell said...

Beautifully said, Inara!

Joan said...

Wow, I needed that today Anna and Kim.

While I've always believed there is a kernal of truth in every old adage (A light at the end of the tunnel, darkest before the dawn etc.)today I had one of my rare but always intense "boo boo" days.

I received feedback from an editor that while not exactly negative did not come across as very positive either. I'm a very determined person...passionate in the things I believe in and overall have developed a sturdy layer of thick skin. But today I just felt like "whuh...dang it."

It probably wasn't helped by a hellasish day with "the crazies" at work but I had to call up my CP and get a phone hug.

So, I take your words of encouragement to heart, am taking a deep breath and using them to add another layer of skin and am moving forward.

Thanks guys :-)

Caren Crane said...

Well, I recently realized my husband considers writing more of a career for me than I do. He was doing our taxes, you see, and has been taking deductions for my writing expenses for the past three years. So this year, we had taxes to file for both our "real" jobs, plus (his words) "our two businesses". He has a PC repair business as a second job.

It surprised me to hear him refer to my writing as my "business". But it was nice, too. In another recent conversation, he referred to it as my second job. I think I needed to hear that for some much-needed validation.

As I commented to Christie's recent post, sometimes I have periods of no (or very little) writing. These - and I'm going through one currently - are hard times. So, my husband's words made my writing feel real.

Will my writing ever be my sole career? I hope so. But it would take a lot of great contracts and bountiful royalties to earn as much as an author as I do as an engineer. Fortunately, college money is socked away for the three kids, so if the contracts come in, I'm set there. But I will always have to have group medical insurance, so I am bound to the corporate world for the long haul (or my husband is).

Is my writing a career? It's a second career; however, it is far more in my mind than a hobby. It feels close. I can almost taste it some days.

Other days, it seems like a fond and distant dream. I am persistent like Joan, though, and hope to achieve the C before too much longer!

Tawny said...

Wow - great post and alot to think about. With my first book hitting the shelves, I admit, I do feel like this is finally a "career". I take career planning workshops, I've written a business plan, I obsess over career direction to maximize growth potential.

Because of all that, my writing itself is taking a hit. Not the love for it, I still LOVE writing. But in the sense that I stress over placement, number of books per yer to... you know, do that maximizing thing. And as has been said here already, to earn what I was making in my own consulting biz will take considerable sales.

To me, the shift from hobby (to borrow Inara's word) to a career means I've simply taken on one more job. The writing- thats the same as before I sold. But now it has to share itstime with this career thing, too.

Kate Carlisle said...

I'm jumping in here a few days late but I'm so glad I did. I really needed to read all these encouraging and heartfelt words.

I feel your pain, Aunty. Currently, my "Writing Career" consists of me wondering if I'm slipping into a deep dark depression. I don't write, I don't even blog (OMG!), I barely read my emails. I sit by the phone and wonder and worry and pray and chant and dance skyclad (it's a cell phone, okay?). I stare at the screen to make sure it's working. I WILL it to ring. No, I BEG it to ring and for the voice on the other end to say "YES!"

But no. Grrr. It seems I'm on "hold" with some massive, soulless bureaucratic machine. I'm trying to get through--get sold!--but instead, all I get is stultifying music in my ear along with the occasional disembodied recording telling me "someone will be with you shortly." They're lying, of course. In fact, they're about to hang up on me! Bastards! Hmph. I'll just call back.

You, Aunty, are a brilliant writer and your books will sell BIG TIME. And so will mine! We'll have a party and drink champagne! Oh, but then we'll worry and get depressed and freak out about something else...the next contract, the next book, the next award, the next phone call...

Why do we do it?? Because we're freaks! No no, wait. Sorry. It's because we're WRITERS, that's why. We're GOOD writers! We're stubborn, too, and we will prevail. We'll make it through those dark days of doubt Kim talked about. Doesn't matter whether you call it a career or a hobby or a dream, you're a writer.

(Champagne helps. Let's meet in the baaa and discuss this further.)