Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Non-Starving Artist

Personal stuff today.

As you know, I’m an author, but you may not know that it is my “avocation” only. Well, very few people make a living writing fiction, so it will probably come as no surprise. My “day job” is doing marketing and webmastering for a machine parts distributor (which, as I always tell people, is much more fun than it sounds).

I grew up wanting to be nothing but a writer. I’ve always wanted to be nothing but a writer. But I also always have known how difficult it is to make a living writing, even as a journalist. My first several years after college, I had to put my first husband through school. As soon as my kids were in school, I needed to get back in the work force to make ends meet. For a time I was their sole provider. It is only recently that I arrived at last at an income where I no longer worry about paying bills. And happily, I have enough time and energy to supplement my day job with a lively career writing and publishing fiction. Things didn’t turn out so badly.

Nevertheless, there are days I wish I could devote all my efforts in life to the writing. I have to admit things didn’t turn out like I dreamed they might, when I was a grade schooler penning my first stories. No Pulitzer or Nebula Award, no piles of my books in the windows of bookstores, no movie deal. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

Today I finished one of the finest books I’ve read in a long time, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Mr. Rothfuss is a friend of a friend from a nearby city, and it is his first novel, ten years in the writing I hear. This book deservedly found a big publisher, and equally deservedly just won a Quill Award, and is apparently under consideration for a movie deal, which would make me very happy.

I couldn’t help but feel wistful that this fellow had managed to make all my dreams come true. I don’t begrudge him any of it--he is brilliant, and I can only dream of writing so well--so at least that aspect doesn’t bother me. (There are plenty of A-List authors I think are pretty amateurish; just ask my family how much I complain!) No, more power to Patrick Rothfuss. Nevertheless, I wonder if I had worked harder, devoted my whole self, if I couldn’t be in some similar spot.

I visited Patrick’s blog, wanting to find out more about this talented man, and it was there I ran into some information that made me think again. Candidly, he admits to rejoicing over the arrival of his first royalty check, because he needed the money. Okay, first of all, I know how long this book has been’s still pathetic to me how long conventional publishers make their authors wait to be paid. Secondly, I can’t help but consider the fact that I have never needed a royalty check.

Now let me interject that if there is any justice in this world, Patrick Rothfuss will soon be in a position to not need royalty checks. I mean, his advances, his past royalties, and his movie deal money ought to, before long, make him snugly in the upper middle class.

But I had to rethink my priorities...maybe I had them in the right order after all. Okay, my first priority is family, but second has always been writing. And writing, fortunately, is free. As long as I have time to write and hands to put to keyboard, I’m happy. My next priority, and the hardest to come by, is readers. I envy Patrick his readers, for while mine can be measured in 5 figures, his are already many times that. This priority has always taken a back seat to another: money. Yes, I have traded readers for financial security, and there’s the rub.

But financial security is nothing to sneeze at. My husband and children have depended upon me for that. My health (I’m diabetic) requires I have good health insurance. I like having a nice home, swell electronics, the ability to travel a little, the peace of mind that I have funds for retirement. And all these things mean I am free to make choices I otherwise couldn’t, like having my own publishing company. This in turn has enabled me to write whatever I want, whenever I want it, and be beholden to no one.

You will not see me on a POP display at Borders anytime soon. But I pay cash for my cars, my kids have straight teeth and college educations, and I can afford all the craft supplies I want from Michaels’.

And as for the readers...well, I will pine for them till the day I die, I’m sure.


Sarah said...

Aw Diana! Great post. (I have nothing constructive to add, just it touched me and I was moved to tell you.)

Diana Laurence said...

Aw, thanks Sarah!