The short answer:
The long answer:
I don’t blame people for wondering if I’m going to quit my day job.
I do blame the expatriates of the 1920s or perhaps Hollywood’s portrayal of writers for giving the general public the persistent idea that if you write a book, you’ll become not only rich, but filthy rich. And I do blame the news for making 6-7 figure book deals front page news…not because that sort of deal isn’t newsworthy, but because it’s not the norm.
Even if ginormous advances were the norm, unless you keep writing, the money will run out.
Because the money always runs out.
The creativity, however, does not.
At least, it doesn’t have to.
Last week a writer friend of mine posted this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, the famous author of Eat, Pray, Love. I think it’s one of the most important quotes about writing, especially in the midst of the current state of publishing, that I’ve read in a long, long time. She says this (via GalleyCat):
“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”
Get a job, she says.
Learn how to live inexpensive, frugal, she says.
Because unless you’re Elizabeth Gilbert or John Green or Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele or Stephen King or a handful of others, chances are pretty good you’re gonna need a side job–if not a full-time job–if you’re a writer.
More important, though, is what she says about how putting financial pressure on your craft, your gifting, is not fair.
I dare say, it’s irresponsible.
Because a gift–and I do believe the ability to write, to paint, to craft in any way is just that, a gift–is something you give away.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I do not believe in the current trend of free or near-free music and books, and frankly, shame on people for expecting free or near-free books and music. I fully support the actions of artists like Taylor Swift who can afford to pull their art from venues which perpetuate woefully discounted music at the expense of the artists who work damn hard to create it.
I do believe that it is the joyous plight of the artist to create in obscurity, to tear one’s heart out unnoticed, to work their fingers and pencils and brushes to the nubs so that the gift of the art remains something wholly from the soul, and not something done under the duress of expectation or obligation or, God forbid, need.
Art is often born out of the desperation of the heart, but when done desperately, ceases being art.
When I was in college endlessly flip-flopping between majors because I couldn’t decide between the field of medicine and creative writing, my dad, the son of a calloused-handed factory worker, said with all the love he could muster, “Amy. You might want to consider choosing a profession which will allow you to eat more than just beans.”
So I became a registered nurse.
And don’t you know, I absolutely love being a nurse? I’ve been a surgery nurse, an administrative nurse, a pediatric nurse, an educator nurse, and most currently a med/surg nurse. Some of my greatest laughter and deepest sadness and gripping fears have occurred inside the walls of the hospitals in which I work. As a nurse, every day I meet people, see things, experience tragedy, and gain insight in ways I never, ever would otherwise.
So you see,
…my work fuels my writing, and my writing fuels my work.
I’m not quitting my day job.
Even if Angelina Jolie comes along and wants to cast Matthew McConaughey as Solly in my first novel as I imagined him in it, I wouldn’t want to quit being a nurse. (Hey Ang, if you read this, call me? ‘Kay? Maybe?)
Is it hard to write novels and work?
I, like most authors I know, give up a lot to be a writer. I care for and love on my family and my home, I work, pay the bills, write in carpool lines and sidelines, edit on lunch breaks and Saturday nights. There’s not much left of me after that. I regret that I hardly ever do lunch dates with girlfriends and parties with neighbors and volunteer at the schools.
Some people by now must think I’m either quite rude or a hermit or both.
But when I lamented to a friend about not having time to do Christmas cards this year, do you know what she said?
She said, “Amy. You words are a card to us every day.”
Writing–being an artist of any kind–is a sacrifice.
And sacrifices are worth working for.
Don’t you think?