Writers: Who earns money & who doesn’t

Like most of the writers, I benefited from some experience and exposure to each other but it might not have been the way one might think.

The very first time I wrote a novel, I was doing so while hanging out at home with my boyfriend not spending money and letting him be.  OK, in truth, I ended up living elsewhere when I wrote part of it, but once I knew I could do it, of course I wanted to earn money with it.

Like the rest of the writers I was aware that there is a  lot of money in writing professionally.  I also knew that writers, especially novelists, had to deal with some of the same issues that bands and theatre people deal with.  “That’s nice dear, but how are you going to make money?”  because it is true that even though there is tons of money in the field, that money is not evenly distributed.

So, I continued my undergraduate work and when I took time off from that I worked full time.  The idea of doing that was that I would be better able to earn myself a middle class income.  Why I write it that way was because I was already confident that I could support myself as a poor woman through working without needing to attend university.  Now, I concede to those who have not earned university degrees that in reality it is possible that I could have earned a middle class living even without attending university.  It is also true that since my parents were educated and I was proud to be the 4th or 5th generation of college educated women on my mother’s side that it was expected and I felt I should uphold the tradition.  OK.  There is more, but I do not want to get totally off track by delving too deeply into the history of my relatives when this is about earning money as a writer.

I was advised to continue to train for a “day job” so I did.  I was actually interested in many other things that had job potential but due to seemed like an obvious preference and strength, I ended up scrapping 2 or 3 other plans in the making to work in the sciences and headed on the path to make it so I could be a university professor – even though “so was my father” – although in truth, by then he had retired.  He retired early, but that’s not the point.

I was a bit further than halfway through the higher education needed for full professorship when I became a mother.  I had not earned any money writing yet.  I somehow started a writing program and the first thing they asked me to do was something I had neither intended nor planned on: write things other than novels and grad school essays.  Well, I did, but for some reason a lot of it was love poetry for this German guy I was sharing my room with who I had a baby with.  I had not expected to transform into the girl who writes love poetry for her boyfriend but that’s one of things that happened.

There still wasn’t money for me writing, and I was a poor graduate student and then new mother living off her husband-type-entity’s meager graduate school income.

The problem with this track in this blog post is that it isn’t getting at how I get to making good money using my writing and having a good day job when I’m dealing with being a poor grad student in a foreign country who thinks its OK for mothers of young children to be dependent upon their spouses – when that is an option, and still have careers: even though they spent more than a week breast feeding.  Mmkay, harsh but true.  The 4 months of maternity leave that I read last week Hillary Rodham Clinton received when she gave birth to Chelsea did not seem that generous to me.  I respect women’s rights to handle this according to the dictates of their reality.  I am glad Hillary did not dedicate her entire adult life to changing nappies as she makes a D! good Secretary of State, politician and lawyer but I also disparage the men and women who act like taking care of little kids is an activity for low lifes or people who are losers.  It is very important work and can be extremely rewarding and you don’t need to be stupid or ignorant to find it worthwhile.  Ahem.

I ran into some trouble in graduate school.  Some of it was “the politics of women” type of trouble; institutionalized prejudice against women.  Some of it was just that Heidegger doesn’t appeal to me at all even though Hegel does and as an American I was a bit further adrift by dealing with continental European philosophers than I really realized until it was too late.  I had like one week’s experience with the European continent.  I was in England.  Also, I was told in England that to teach, really only the Master’s would be needed.  Meanwhile the baby was 2 or 3 and I had mostly looked suspiciously at the professional writer’s advice mail order course material and now and then wrote a story or something.  Normally, during those years I also suffered attacks of guilt about not having a good full time job at the time, which made it harder to enjoy being a poor but pretty happy considering graduate student mother.

Fast forward another few years, through a marriage suffering – it went to Hell and got most of the way back but then fumbled at purgatory or the 5 yard line or something.

Also, what happened with work was really weird because I suddenly just grabbed jobs that started me out at ‘working poor’ wages despite the education and once I worked I felt so busy that I didn’t even spend energy looking for the type of teaching position or doctoral work I needed.  FYI:  Also too late, I learned that I could have just done a D.Phil in England and left out the master’s section of the work altogether.  If only I had known that in time.  So, I just ended up with jobs anyways: here and there I got paid a little better or was allowed to try management thanks to having done so much HE….but none of it was being paid to write and I really noticed that.

Now and then a little something would happen with the writing but not much.  Well, then I did get published again, but there was no pay so it made me feel like a kid who got a decent grade on a test or who made varsity or JV that year: you know – an achievement that really doesn’t pay.

It wasn’t until 2000 that I managed to get paid for something I written for the purpose of it being a consumer good and I had to retail stories to women at church to even get that.

Then in 2003 I had more of a breakthrough on that.  In 2004 I lost massive amounts of support from a parenting, husbandy type of deal: that’s not exactly what it was but it was a lot like that.  However, that isn’t the point of this blog post at all, but I would be lying through my teeth if I tried to pretend that my supportive personal relationships, including with lovver/husband type entities had nothing to do with it. I got an online contract in 2003.

Fast forward some more.  In 2005 I finally earned the Certificate from the writing school I mentioned looking at suspiciously back in the 1990s when the baby was a baby.  I did it through an online contract, which is not how they teach as the way to do it.  The way they teach really works.  I had done some of the homework but it was almost like a double life in that: in HE I had a reputation for being a very diligent excellent student but with the Writer’s Bureau most of the time I wouldn’t even do my homework and acted like the instructions were sent as a means of subterfuge more than any real help.   I attribute a lot of that to a combination of “left hander paranoia” and “adult child of divorce weird issues”.

By 2010 I had finally written a 2nd novel and was still in what I perceived as a rather bizarre situation.  Now, I had finally humped the first $10,000 professional earnings mark and had crossed the “I’m a literary poet; of course I don’t make money at it!!” sentinel and made it past the “as long as it pays I don’t care whether its good or not” 3 headed hell hound into getting contracts and knowing that my own personal shortcomings were holding me back even as my strengths were managing to carry me forward.

Then I moved to Germany and I got so sick of hearing more experienced professional writers not encourage me on Facebook by laughing and saying, “Well, its so competitive you know there’s no money in it.”  which is almost exactly what the people in the universities told me when I told them I was looking to make money teaching philosophy.

I got so fed up with that that I did Internet research about how many professional writers there are and what is going on with them earning money or not or a little or a lot or what.

Here’s the deal with American writers in the USA.  There are 100,000 positions for professional writers in the American market.  50% of these are salaried in house writers; the vast majority of these we know and love as THE JOURNALISTS.  They make up about 30% of the professional writers in the nation.  The other 20% are grant writers, advertising PR people and other forms of corporate communications people and publishing house editorial staff.  The other 50% contains everything from the rich serial novelist who’s books are made into movies, to the numerous midlist authors who do have day jobs and/or spouses who provide for them, and a wide spectrum of people who are workers or students or parents or whatever and manage to get paid now and then from something they wrote.

That’s more like the reality we are dealing with. Personally, I tend to feel a little screwed up now because I don’t have either a husband or a good day job, and instead of having both of those and writing only novels and good novels, I have ghostwritten books and tried to survive on other forms of “subsidies” along with having managed to get paid to write stuff I never would have imagined having written.  Meanwhile, the baby has made it to age 16.

Neil Gaiman is amongst the more advanced professionals – I think of him as a senior colleauge like many of the other women and men who are FB friends or met me in person or something like that, who has pointed out that writers do learn but what our experiences as writers and authors teaches us are sometimes undesired lessons or complicated and bizarre methods of instruction often not readily apparent to the level of consciousness we might normally consider to be “mind”.

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