The Fantasy vs. The Reality of Being a Writer (Part One)
This post has been a long time coming. It’s not my typical blog post, so I have no idea if anyone will even read it…but I feel like this topic needs some serious clarity not just for me, but for all writers and all those who hope to be writers. I can only speak for myself and my experiences, of course, but I believe that surely there must be some universal truths here for all. And if not…well, at least maybe someone somewhere will pick up a nugget or two of wisdom to help them in their own writing journey. So here goes.
I started blogging exactly six years ago today. I was working full-time public relations at the time…a steady, dependable, good-paying job with room for growth and excellent benefits. But it wasn’t lighting me up inside, so I went looking for something that would. I found it in the form of a little unassuming blog through the Nashville Examiner, where I literally got paid pennies for clicks. But the fact that I had tapped into something that brought my creativity to life again was more than enough payment for me.
About a year later, that little blog became TheSingleWoman.net. And I continued to work my full-time job during the day, because I made no money from TheSingleWoman.net (which remains true to this day, the making no money from my website part). I know other bloggers have found success with selling ad space on their blogs and using Google ad words and things like that…but that never felt right for me. At one point I briefly tried adding ads and it generated very little revenue and just felt like it was cluttering my site, so I removed them. And I haven’t actively sought out income in the form of ad space since. For a couple of reasons: 1) I don’t have time 2) I am hesitant to clog up my site, which has been so pure for so many years, with a lot of promotional junk. People who have had success in this arena: Kudos to you and keep doing your thing! It’s just not for me. I say all this to say: (Writing Fantasy #1) I know people who start blogging and immediately think that they’re going to be able to really quickly and easily establish an affiliate link system and incorporate ad-words and the money is just going to start rolling in…but hear me. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a LOT of hard work to get your blog to the point where other affiliations are even interested in working with you. And it takes a LOT of traffic to your blog to generate any real income from this process. I’m not saying this to be discouraging, but to be honest…and to encourage you to focus on beefing up your blog and creating something that ads value to people’s lives before you start trying to ad advertisements to their lives. Generating great content HAS to come before generating revenue. You can’t earn money for clicking links if you have no people visiting your blog to click those links. Blogging is NOT going to become your full-time gig the moment you write your first blog post. If you are dependent upon your blog or your writing from the moment you begin to also pay your way through life…you’re going to be putting too much pressure and too many expectations on the creative process. The reason I was able to write with such abandon and vigor from the start was because The Single Woman was something I created simply to put a smile back on my face…not to put food on the table.
I juggled my full-time job with my full-time writing for three years. And it wasn’t easy. It was all-consuming, actually. But I knew that I had tapped into something special and it was worth it to me to make the sacrifice of time and social engagements and even sometimes sleep. And it paid off. My current publisher, Thomas Nelson (now a division of Harper Collins) stumbled across me on Twitter and reached out in 2011 to see if I would be interested in turning my blog and my message into a book. It was my biggest dream come true!
But hold on…that doesn’t mean what a lot of you THINK it means.
I’ve gotten numerous tweets on numerous occasions…sometimes people being lighthearted and joking about it, and other times being rude and judgmental about it…referring to me “making the big bucks” and “cashing that sweet royalty check” or “living large on that fat advance you must have gotten!” And when that happens I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry or throw my computer out the window. Here’s the truth: Yes, I was able to leave my full-time job, after a YEAR of discussions with Thomas Nelson about a potential book, and live off my book advance. And I’ve been able to live off book advances and royalty checks as a full-time writer for three and a half years now. But (Writing Fantasy #2 coming your way) unless your last name is Grisham or Sparks or Lucado or Osteen…you’re not going to be “living large” off your book advance OR your royalty checks. In fact, you might actually live quite small, like me. I have a very tiny one-bedroom apartment. I don’t take decadent vacations. I don’t splurge on designer purses (unless they’re from TJ Maxx). I was finally able to buy my dream car about a year ago…a used VW Beetle. That’s my one major purchase in more than three years of living life as a full-time writer/blogger/author. I live on a very tight budget. And I’m not complaining about my life. I’m happy. In this day and age, with the millions of books and authors floating around out there in the world…I feel blessed to be able to do what I do and make enough money to live. Which I do. Make enough money to live. And that’s about it. Here’s the reality: Most authors make all the money they’re going to make off of a book through their advance. And most advances nowadays (particularly if you don’t have a platform) are meager, at best. I’ve been fortunate enough to have earned royalties from my books beyond my advances, and that makes me the exception…not the rule. But I was raised by a hardworking police officer and a stay-at-home mom in lower middle income conditions…so I know how to make it work. I know how to work my butt off to support myself. And I know how to appreciate everything I have. Perhaps someday my financial windfall will come…and believe me, I won’t send it away! I’d LOVE to become filthy rich from my writing! But it’s not the reason I write. And it shouldn’t be the reason you write, either…otherwise you’ll grow too bitter and angry at life to have enough creativity left in you to write anything that matters. I write for the passion of writing and helping people, and because I know it’s what God has called me to do. If this isn’t your calling…don’t do it. Especially don’t do it because you think it’s going to be the way your ship comes in.
If you write from a place of passion and purpose, I can tell you that amazing things CAN and WILL happen. My writing has changed my life in every possible way. It has opened doors I never imagined were possible. But it hasn’t made me rich. It might never. And I’m at peace with that, because it’s not why I started doing it in the first place. My biggest piece of advice I can give you on this topic is this: Write for the right reasons. And even if it doesn’t make you wealthy financially…it WILL bring you incredible riches in other areas: spiritually, personally, emotionally. It might change your life, or even your career, like it did mine.
And who knows? Someday it might even pay the bills. 🙂
Writing Fantasies 3, 4, & 5 coming soon!
Fellow writers…sound off! Comment below with any thoughts or questions you have. If you’re a blogger, feel free to share your blog link!