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Keeping It Going

Published in The Kiss of Death, July/August 2005

I was on my hands and knees in the middle of Reseda Blvd. in Van Nuys, California when the thought hit me.

Man, what we are willing to do to keep our writing going.

Some people think it’s just a matter of finding time to spend an hour or two, sitting at our computers, tapping out our stories. What few realize is what it costs to own and operate our own writing business, especially if that business has yet to make a dime.

On this bright and sunny day in the San Fernando Valley, I’m helping my husband do a land survey. He’s paying me for the work, an hourly wage, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to be on my hands and knees in the middle of traffic. As I pried up the manhole cover with a spike to get to the marker a foot and a half below street level, I am very aware that the only thing separating me from on coming traffic are two rather small orange cones.

It’s all part of the job.

Not the actual job of writing the books. Not the actual process of creating living, breathing characters and setting them down into their own environment in a situation we came up with in the dark recesses of our minds.

It’s the job of making the money we need to pay our writing expenses, to keep our careers floating above water while we wait for that first book contract.

We open the checking account, get ourselves the business Visa, maybe set up our web page. This is a business to us. Not a hobby.

But then it happens. With no contract signed from Harlequin, no book deal coming in from Bantam/Dell, we still have to pay the pipers. The RWA fee. Subscriptions for writing magazines. Classes. Research material. RWA’s National Conference. Some of us are working in a business where we aren’t making a living, and yet the bills still keep coming. Paper. Pens. Postage. Ink cartridges for the printer. The computer we type on and disks we save to. They all have to be paid for. Somehow.

Ruth Glick, who writes as Rebecca York says: “I felt that if I was going to spend so much time writing, I HAD TO make money. I started off writing for a local paper for $10 an article and worked my way up to bigger papers and better pay. I also wrote publicity for my local library system.”

But jobs aren’t always available in the writing industry, even if that is where we have our heart and soul. Some writers work in other professions: in lawyer offices, as librarians, as teachers or nurses. Some work part-time in order to make writing ends meet. Others work full-time and do their writing before or after office hours in order to make life’s ends meet.

“I continue to work my full time job as a school psychologist,” says Susan Peterson. Even now, after six books. It’s the job with sick days, paid vacation days, medical insurance and a great retirement system.”

The trick is, keep at it no matter what. The writing. Tapping out the pages. Finishing the manuscripts. Even if the money isn’t here, yet. Who knows when it might come in. Next week? Next month? A year from now?

Says Natalie J. Damschroder: “I finance my writing via my day job. I am published by non-recognized publishers, but haven’t made nearly enough for a profit yet, never mind enough to support my end of the family needs. Right now my husband’s and my job pay enough for us to live comfortably. When we made less, I did less with my writing. No additional chapters like FF&P, for example. No conferences and few contests, lower-priced supplies, things like that. Now, I use holiday bonus money and income tax refunds to pay for the biggies, like RWA National Conference and the Golden Heart.”

You’ve got to be a writer to understand. As I found out the hard way.

“You can work whenever you want, skip a day or week or month and have no worries in your job.”

Yeap. Someone actually told me that. I tried to explain to them that I have to write the books, even if there is no publisher lined up. This isn’t a profession where there are no bills. Nothing I said made a dent in her decision that I was getting a free ride with my “easy” job. Easy Job? Funny. I, personally, have never thought it was easy to write a book. Fun. Challenging. Rewarding. Those are some of the adjectives I would use to describe it. But never “easy.”

And the land surveying? It’s a day job. The kind where I show up in my jeans and work boots, pick up the tape measure and do what the boss says.

And while I’m kneeling there on the pavement of Reseda Blvd. I think of the only thing I can. “Hey, this has got to be great research for a book sometime ....”




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