Let’s talk about money. Rather, let’s not talk about money.
Over on Reddit, I’ve seen this Salon article come up in multiple subreddits. In the article, the author calls out writers who are less than honest about the support they received while writing their books. Ann Bauer (the article’s author) cites two examples of authors who claim to have achieved their success on their own without help despite one being filthy rich and the other having significant literary connections. Bauer then goes on to cite her own husband as the person who supports her so that she can follow her dream of writing.
I think Bauer makes some god points about honesty. About admitting when we’ve had help achieving our goals. And, to be honest, I don’t begrudge those people who have used their financial resources or connections to achieve success. They’d have been stupid not to. I do agree that, if you’ve received help, you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit it, but something has really been bugging me about the article. It’s that readers might walk away from it believing that writers (or other artists) simply can’t succeed unless they have connections or a family who will support them while they chase their dreams, and that’s simply not true.
Do you know who financially supported my writing? Me. My partner doesn’t make enough money to support us both. My mom has floated me the occasional loan when I’ve come up short, like when I had two hernia surgeries in a month or when I recently lost my job and needed a few hundred bucks to pay my bills while I waited for a check to come in, but I pay her back and would never dream of asking her to support me so that I could write. I decided to write full time when I lost my job and to seek freelance gigs to cover the gaps, but if it became impossible for me to support myself with my writing, I’d get a job. I wouldn’t have a choice.
Back when I wrote Deathday and got my first agent (2008), I was working 40-50 hours a week. My job did accommodate me by allowing me to work from 10am to 7pm two days a week so I could have a few extra hours of writing time, but I worked at that job from 2007 until 2012, after which I took another job that wasn’t quite as accommodating. During the years between selling Deathday and losing my job at the end of November 2014, I wrote drafts of 11 full books (multiple drafts of some), sold 4 of those, wrote and sold a couple of short stories, and sold an anthology I’m editing. I also managed to move a few times, maintain a long-term relationship, go on vacations, do promotion, and spend some time with friends (though never as much as I’d like). I also read about 50-60 books a year on average.
Is it easy? Hell no. It’s hard. It means waking up before dawn, writing until late at night. Sacrificing weekends. Bailing on plans with friends. It requires your time. Sure, you want to watch the new season of Orange is the New Black, but you’ve got a book to write. So you write the book. You write it before work, during lunch, after work. You buy your partner a Nintendo DS to keep him busy while you sneak off to squeeze in a few hundred more words for the day.
I think it’s utter BS to suggest that a person can’t hold a full-time job and be a successful writer. That they can’t have kids and be a successful writer. You know who has a full-time job and is a successful writer? Andrew Smith. He still teaches. And manages to pop out two amazing books a year. You know who has kids and still manages to write? Just about every freaking writer I know. A writer I knew was up against a deadline for a second book when he and his wife had a baby. He told me he’d wake up at 4am to feed the baby and then write when it fell back to sleep. That’s dedication.
You know what else is BS? The idea that you can’t be published without connections. I found both of my agents by going through the same query process as everyone else. I thought it would be easier to find an agent my second time around because I’d sold two books, but the truth was that it was harder. I scored my first agent after sending out only 8 queries. My second took well over 50 to find.
I don’t want aspiring writers or other artists to read Ann Bauer’s article and feel like they’re doomed because their parents aren’t rich or don’t know anyone in New York who can introduce them to an editor. If you have those things, take advantage of them…you’d be foolish not to. But they’re not a requirement. They’re also not a guarantee. The only way to guarantee that you write a book is to sit your ass in the chair and write. The only way to guarantee you’ll get your book published is to write a book so good agents and editors will knife fight each other in the street to sign you. You can do those things without a trust fund, you can do them with kids, you can do them if you’re living in a one room flat over a stinky restaurant writing on a ten-year-old computer you pieced together from the garbage.
The only thing that will ever stop you from writing is you.