Charles S. Gilmore
21 October 2015
Dr. Karen C. Holt
Brigham Young University-Idaho
1. Intro example.
Digging through e-mail, the writer’s heart flutters as he comes across the one he was searching for, word back from a publishing house regarding a novel manuscript he sent to them six months ago. If the e-mail contains an acceptance, he might make enough to get caught up on his bills, he might become famous, and he might have time to go to his son’s baseball game. Opening the e-mail, his stomach drops with disappointment. Another turn down to be added to the pile, and thus a needed continuance of his job working at Wendy’s to keep a roof over his head and food in his families stomachs while he sends the manuscript off to another potential publisher. How is a writer supposed to live under these difficulties? He has to work smart, because while the example above is fictional, for all too many it is a not so distant reality.
Creative writing is not a career for the easily discouraged, many may even view it as a poor career choice. However, if a writer is careful, works diligently, balances work and family, and uses skills effectively, creative writing can hold a lot of promise for a fulfilling and successful life.
A large problem with creative writing is getting published. Publishing houses are not going to want to take a risk on just anyone, they are a business, and they want to make money. Given this difficulty, even a good writer can go unnoticed, but just because it is difficult does not mean that getting published is impossible. Larry Correia is a fiction author, perhaps best known for his Monster Hunter International series. Correia is in the 1% when it comes to being able to live off of his writing, but he did not start that way. Correia has worked as an accountant and a firearms instructor among other things. When he wrote his first book no one would take him, he received rejection after rejection, but he had shared his story with people and knew that it was good and would sell. Eventually Correia self-published, and it wasn’t until after he sold over a thousand copies and made it onto the entertainment weekly bestseller list that a publishing house approached him with a contract (Correia).
Correia’s experience doesn’t mean that self-publishing is the way to go, in many cases it may just be a matter of locating a publisher your writing agrees with. The author Orson Scott Card wrote, “Prepare a query and send it to all of them at once. That’s right. Don’t waste years of your life waiting for the editor at House X to remember that your manuscript is still sitting in the four-ton pile beside his bed” (110). A writer needs to not only write well, but think like a businessman also. If a writer only sends their manuscript to a single publishing house at a time, they could literally waste years without success.
3.2 1st sales of writing.
It is also unlikely that an author’s first book will get published and sell. Often a writer’s first story isn’t their best work, for many it is the work that they develop their skills on, and it can take years before they write something that a publisher will take and a customer will read. Jim C. Hines, another famous author well known for his fantasy novels, did a small survey involving 246 authors to give people some idea of the reality behind this sort of thing. One of the questions asked was, “How many years had you been writing before you made your first professional novel sale?” (Hines). For the results (see figure 1).
Fig 1. Years of writing before 1st sale, obtained from information of 247 surveyed participants. Hines, Jim. First Novel Survey Results. Jimchines.com. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
An author might make a sale right away, but if the above chart is any indicator, it generally takes more than a couple years before things get anywhere. Hines then asked how many books these people had written before selling to a big-time publisher, what he discovered was that out of those 246 people surveyed, 58 sold their first book to a publisher, but the average was three to four books and the median was two (Hines). This continues to show that while it is possible to sell right away, the odds are not favorable, so an approach to a writing career already planning on these kind of setbacks can do a lot towards making life easier. A writer may wish to get famous and be able to live off of the royalties from their writing, but most still need a day job to make ends meet.
4. Work besides writing.
Where can a writer work though? A quick search can help with that. The U.S. Department of Labor has a site with what is called the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” which can be used to search for general information regarding numerous career options. Just go to the site and type in a keyword like writer, secretary, librarian, and journalist. These and other searches will bring up links where general information about those careers can be viewed, giving writers ideas for what lines of work they may qualify for.
Working a full-time job, in addition to a personal writing schedule, can be a difficult thing to manage properly when you throw a family into the mix along with personal health maintenance. A TED talk video episode discussed this balance to an extent, and pointed out that “Being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn’t more balanced; it’s more fit” (Marsh). So a writer has to find that balance in their lives. They can’t live at the office, they can’t not work while spending all their time with family, and if they want to become a writer they have to work at writing also, all while keeping healthy so that they do not destroy themselves in the meantime. What that perfect balance is may vary from person to person. Keeping work and life balanced may not be all that hard if you do not have work, but that doesn’t pay the bills. This is a challenge of writers and others that a paper such as this cannot properly address. Work/life balancing is a personal matter to work out, though advice can be given that it is often best to avoid major upheavals to achieve the balance, rather make small changes to improve life conditions in a manageable way (Marsh).
These life challenges of getting published, and balancing work and life, are very real. Some might advise against pursuing a career as a creative writer based on these challenges and others, such as difficulty finding work in academic or professional writing due to some people’s views of creative writing as more of an art degree than an English degree, or the expense to obtain an education in a such a degree in the first place (Sambuchino). The author Stephen King adds to this list when he points out the difficulty that an author cannot pick and choose what is going to likely be a good seller, like someone buying stock can, a writer is at the mercy of a fickle consumer, and those that make money, do so because they sell large numbers of their books (159). In summation, you need to balance your time amongst priorities, writing a great story will not do you much good until after you can get it published, an author may have to work against common world views of their chosen career and the expenses of preparing for that career, and perhaps most important of all, these things take time, plan accordingly. These are valid concerns, but that does not mean getting a creative writing degree and becoming a writer are not worth it, but they do require effort just like any other degree earned or job worked. Being an author is a job and needs to be treated like one, not as a hobby that is dabbled with on occasion with the expected results of being able to live off of those dabblings.
6. Still worth the effort.
One big payoff for writing is how an author can change people’s lives, opening them up to thoughts and ideas they had not thought of on their own. Writing is a medium by which thoughts and images can be shared, a sort of telepathy as it were that can pass a message on through time and space; the words describe a place, a conversation, and the reader hears and sees it in their mind as though present (King 103-07). Creative writing, like many forms of expression, can also be a useful form of therapy. One study found that writing as a form of therapy had greater effect when spaced over a larger portions of time, and that it was most effective with men (Lowe 62). This use of writing may be more a result of our culture where men are thought to be manlier by being less expressive and thus not appearing weak. Writing provides a form of expression that provides a distance from events, while allowing someone to relive and work out those events in their lives, an accomplishment made possible by that telepathy like working of writing and reading that Stephen King wrote about. This idea of how writing works as therapy is further supported in another article, a portion of which reads, “Pennebaker (2004) suggests that writing is therapeutic because it allows an individual to work through confusing and upsetting feelings in a meaning-making process” (qtd. in Alvarez 264). So not only can writing be a job, it can also be a cheap form of therapy.
Many difficulties of a career in creative writing are difficult, if not impossible, to address in a one size fits all method. This difficulty is due to the number of random variables, particularly the human variable involved in such a line of work, a problem that seems to leave a fair level of speculation on the matter no matter how studied the matter becomes. Thus this and other papers, like many authors books on the process of writing, can truly only go so far as to offer advice as to how a person might overcome the inherent challenges of a writing career.
To wrap things up, here is a fictional example of how the writer at the start of this paper might have been able to handle things in the troubled situation depicted: The writer Opens his e-mail to discover the rejection letter, his heart sinks, but rather than despairing, the writer decides that since his current approach isn’t working, he had better try something else, something smart and more professional. Preparing a query letter, he sends his manuscript to a wide range of publishing houses at once, there are a few favorites in the mix he might wait to hear back from before accepting any possible offers, but otherwise it will likely be on a first come first serve basis, after all, he is trying to make a living here. The author might even invest in an agent to aid in his chances of getting picked up. In the meantime, the writer has to make ends meet, he could continue with his job at Wendy’s, but that choice holds little to no promise in the long run. Seeing this problem, the writer gets online and begins searching for work in his field of expertise. There are several large companies out there, maybe one of them will give him a shot in their advertising or legal department, or maybe a news agency could use a fresh writer on their staff. The writer has his family to consider as well, he may have to be a little picky regarding what job he takes to insure he can still be involved in his family member’s lives. With his family in mind, the writer puts a plan in place to schedule his time, he may not have four hours a day to write if he can land a full-time job, but looking at things in the long view, he can make it work. The writer lists his priorities, as family, work on his next book, work, and self-maintenance. Life may not be easy at times, and there will likely be problems to adjust to that he hasn’t considered, but by keeping on top of things, the writer knows he can live a fulfilling life and still do what he loves. Someday the writer might even do well enough to be able to quit his day job and focus on his family and writing more exclusively, but if not, he knows there are other ways to live, other jobs out there which he can fall back on if plans do not work out.
Alvarez, Nadia, and Jack Mearns. “The Benefits of Writing and Performing in the Spoken Word Poetry Community.” The Arts in Psychotherapy 41. (2014): 263-68. ScienceDirect. Web. 3 Oct. 2015.
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. n.p.: Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. 2001. Print.
Correia, Larry. “About Me.” Monsterhunternation.com. CorreiaTech. 27 Sep. 2015. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.
Hines, Jim. “First Novel Survey Results.” Jimchines.com. 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.
King, Stephen. On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.
Lowe, Geoff. “Health-Related Effects of Creative and Expressive Writing.” Health Education 106.1 (2006): 60-70. ProQuest. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Marsh, Nigel. “How to make work-life balance work.” TED, May, 2010. Video.
Sambuchino, Chuck. “The Pros and Cons of Getting a Creative Writing MFA. “ Writer’s Digest. 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
United States. Dept. of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.