The Call to Adventure: That Magic Moment
Once, long ago, in a land far, far away, I was a fledgling writer—slaving away on my stories and losing myself in the world of imagination. I liked it there. I could control what people said and did. My characters held delicious conversations with each other. I could explore on paper what I could only dream of in real life—fantasies that included tall, dark and handsome men who looked suspiciously like Pierce Brosnan. I wrote so much that the “e” fell off the striker key of my typewriter. But along the way, I learned the craft of writing a novel, and I sold to HarperMonogram in the early 1990s.
My world turned golden. Seeing my first book on the shelves was the most fulfilling day of my life. I won awards. I toyed with the concept of fame, of having an intimate conversation with Anne Rice instead of waiting in line for two hours to get her autograph. I dreamed of owning a Manhattan apartment, a townhouse in Charleston, maybe even a tropical tiki hut—each abode graced by a tall, dark and handsome pool boy who looked remarkably like Pierce Brosnan.
The Sagging Middle: Show Me the Money!
Insert much typing here, a decade, thirteen published books, three publishing houses, a divorce, single-parenthood, a full-time job, a career achievement award, a serious head injury, a lawsuit against HarperCollins, two and a half agents, and much more typing.
The Dark Moment: Fantasy vs. Reality Check
|Dilemma||Keep killing myself pumping out two books a year with no social life (no life at all) or give writing a rest|
|Writing salary||25 cents an hour (if lucky)|
|Other job salary||50 dollars an hour (guaranteed)|
|Outcome||You do the math|
I allowed myself a break, but I didn’t stop writing. I wrote other things. I studied screenwriting. I studied high-concept theory, learned about plot paradigms, premise, and theme. During my lowest moments, I wondered if I could still call myself a writer because I didn’t see my name in print anywhere. I didn’t pay quarterly taxes. Hardly anyone sent me fan letters. I even saw an article entitled “Whatever Happened To”—with my name in the list. That was a sad, sad day. But I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer.
The Resolution: Money is No Object
After a hiatus, a second marriage, and moving to four different cities in four years, I am seriously writing romantic fiction again. But in all the ‘tween years, I never ceased to think of myself as a writer. It doesn’t matter that I’ve sold only two books in the past four years. It wouldn’t really matter if I wasn’t selling at all. I write because I’m a writer, not because I’m looking to become rich. At twenty-five cents an hour, you really have to love the work.
Selling doesn’t define me as a writer. Writing defines me as a writer. I know in my heart that writing is something I will always do—that it’s something I have to do, that it’s something I am here to work at and perfect more than anything else in my life. If someone pays me a few thousand dollars for my trouble, fine. If not, fine. I am not about to quit writing! What would my characters do? Where would they go? What would I do with my constantly-scheming mind?
Epilogue: The Truth
You have to love writing to stick with it. The envelopes with the checks inside are just icing on the cake. But the bottom line is—and take it from a veteran—selling a book does not a writer make.