The Middle Way

The first bit of advice anyone gives when you start writing is “don’t quit your day job.” That’s not because they want to keep out any new competition, as some people like to charge, but rather it is hard-won common sense.

Writing is a hard way to make a living. Very hard. Even if you bust out short stories and freelance projects every week (along with whatever novels you’re writing, or are intending to write), the money is…well, terrible. And freelance writing is a whole lot like prostitution: you have to get out there and hustle yourself constantly, then be whatever your john…err, client wants you to be.

It’s also a lot of work just to drum up business. I know, I’ve done it…to an extent. It is exhausting, time consuming, and frustrating in the extreme. But writing novels is worse. Those people you see on TV? The writers with the huge advance for a first book, a massive apartment in downtown Manhattan, and hot chicks hanging on their every word? Yeah, they’re about as real, and as watchable, as a Jar-Jar Binks rendition of MacBeth

But how do you write, I hear you ask, when you have to work full-time as well?

It sucks, but there are folks who pull it off. The hard part, unfortunately, comes when your job takes so much time and energy that you don’t have anything left for the writing. There is also, in all honesty, that feeling that you’re not a “writer” at that point. And that is frustrating on an inner level and can (and often will) affect your ability to, well, write.

But there is another concept, one that tries to walk a fine line down the middle of those two options (suffering as a freelancer or suffering as an office monkey). You have to decide what is more important to you: the writing, or the security of steady work. For me, it is – and was – the writing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had left a perfectly good career to start my own business anyway…when that business failed, turning to writing just made sense.

Writing had also become more important to me, by that point, than a traditional career.

So I currently try to walk that middle line. That means the writing is first priority for me: everything I do is there to support the words. But, to help with the writing (and the reality of life), I take other work…more than I’d like, actually. Quite intentionally, I do not pursue or get into high-level work. I can’t (well, won’t) commit to a serious, non-writing career-path again, so I focus instead on work that offers the flexibility to live my life the way I want, but also isn’t completely pointless and soul-destroying*.

*By the way, if anyone out there is looking for an ex-sales&marketing-monkey with an overactive imagination and expertise in beer, history and pop-culture trivia, drop me a line…!

When I wrote the post a few days ago about self-confidence – about “the clothes that don’t fit anymore” – this is part of what was on my mind. I gave my youth to work and career (sorta). I don’t regret it, aside from some missed opportunities, but I can’t see going back to that life. How the hell could I ever get the same satisfaction from a sales report, or a marketing plan (or a fucking TPS report, for that matter) that I get from seeing my thoughts and words come to life on the page?

By the way, if you’re wondering, living as a full-time novelist does begin to open up as a possibility (barring amazing luck, perfect timing or pure genius) by the time you publish your fifth or sixth book. Yay, something to look forward to!

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. It is also, most assuredly, no faster to reach that point of self-sufficiency than is traditional publishing. Self-pubbing also has its own unique challenges and problems, and is not the “fast cash” many people seem to think (and want).

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