Tag: writing career

Professional Versus Personal Success


Up at 5:30 this morning. I opened my office window and deliciously cold air hit my skin. I am wearing a sweater for the first time in months. I don’t necessarily need it but I relish the sensation of wearing one. Fools me into thinking there’s no way it’s going to be in the high eighties yet again when, in fact, it’s supposed to hit 90.

Tuesday was a marvelous day. Then yesterday I tanked into depression. It appears to be a law of my personal universe that every good day I have must be immediately followed by a bad one. I wasn’t actually depressed in a malaise-y kind of way. I was specifically depressed about my lack of professional success throughout my life. I’m 44 years old and the best career job I ever had was as a design assistant/swatcher getting paid $10 an hour 18 years ago.

I shared these feelings out loud and for once it actually made it worse.

I say I’m depressed because I’ve never succeeded professionally.

And everyone says at least I’m good at gardening.

I realized too late that you can’t put something like that out there and expect not to be patted on the head. There is literally nothing anyone can say to the real cause of my depression so the only thing anyone can do is observe what I actually have going for me which is all the stuff I know how to do well that I can’t make a living doing.

It’s nice to be depressed for an actual REASON for once. So there’s that. Us people with chronic depression spend a lot of time being low for no apparent reason or for ALL THE REASONS OF ALL TIME ALL AT ONCE.

I have only ever had two professional ambitions in life and have succeeded at neither. I wanted to be a fashion designer and a writer. It’s not that I just wanted to spend all my time doing these things, because I’ve spent a lot of my life doing these two things intensively, but I wanted to making a living doing them.

I have long since given up on fashion design. I still love designing clothes but the desire to do it professionally is gone. The last of that ambition died with the failure of Dustpan Alley to pay any bills.

Over the years every time I bring up my ambition to write for a living or cry over writing gigs I didn’t land (all of them) and book proposals denied (just the one) and manuscripts rejected by agents and blogs that never took off enough to create revenue with ads – people always say things like “But you would write anyway, wouldn’t you, even if you couldn’t make a living at it?” and I find this annoying and also curious. Try it with some other professional ambitions.

Someone wants to own their own coffee shop some day.

“But you’d still make coffee even if you couldn’t get your own shop, wouldn’t you?”

Someone wants to be a teacher.

“But even if you can’t land a teaching job, you’d be fulfilled teaching your own kids, right?”

Someone wants to be a banker- oh, never mind.

People imply that I shouldn’t judge my success on my professional ambitions. Like it’s weird for me to consider myself unsuccessful because I haven’t ever been able to make a real living doing what I really want to do. They want to define success in non-monetary terms. It’s gentler. It’s kinder. But it also feels patronizing. The only way to gauge professional success is: ARE YOU ABLE TO PAY YOUR BILLS AND KEEP A ROOF OVER YOUR FAMILY’S HEAD DOING THE WORK YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO BE DOING?

The answer for me is NO.

Pointing out that a lot of writers can’t make a living writing is not helpful. It’s true that a lot of writers never quit their day job.

But it’s also true that there are millions of writers who DO making a living writing. Most of those are making a modest living. There are very few that go on to be successful on a large and lush scale.

But my ambition isn’t to become one of those rare top level rich and famous writers. That would obviously be fantastic. Would love it. Would cherish it. Would probably become a coke addict and haunt Vegas and stop writing and become a Hollywood bungalow burnout.

All I want is to make a modest living but one that could support my family if Philip lost his job or couldn’t work any more. I want to make it writing books. That is a professional ambition and not a personal one.

Even when I was writing short stories as a kid I was writing for imagined readers. Writing has never been a hobby for me. It has never been about self gratification. I don’t want to publish books just so I can say I’ve published a book. I want to publish books that people will read and enjoy.

Yes, I will always continue to write whether I make a living at it or not. It’s what I DO. It’s also what I AM. But I don’t write for ME. I write for readers. I am always writing for readers. Writing really dramatic EMOTIONALLY GRIPPING bad poems at 11 years old was for readers. I imagined that people would read them and be moved. I probably hoped I’d make some people weep over the really truly DEEP poems. I don’t understand writing just for my own sake. And that is what has made it a professional ambition from the start.

It may be less gentle and kind to measure my professional success by how much money I have or haven’t made pursuing my profession – but that’s how professional ambitions work.

Personal ambitions are different and I’m really great at achieving personal ambitions such as making my own wound salve, growing food, and making the best fucking tart you’ve ever tasted. I’m really good at doing many things. Except laundry. Fuck laundry!

But I have never wanted anything more than I’ve wanted to be a writer making a living writing books. I didn’t even want to be a fashion designer as much as I wanted to make a living writing books.

I’ll never stop reaching for it. I’ll never stop working at it.

But there are always going to be those occasional low days where I feel like shit because I’m middle aged and have worked so hard and am still not even close.

And that’s okay.

Fighting My Invisibility


79 days of sobriety.  11 days left.  27lbs lost.  86lbs left to lose.  3lbs more to lose to reach my goal of losing 30lbs in 90 days.  Those are the numbers.

I’ve continued to be blue over my non-existent writing “career”.  I have tried crushing the feelings and ignoring them and laughing at them.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself anymore, exactly.  Just blue.  But that doesn’t mean this is where I get off.  I never get off.  I might not be meant to get paid to write.  I might need to be murdered and then discovered posthumously.  Something that happens to an unfortunate number of authors.

I’m 86% sure I’m going to be murdered some day.

I’ve been working at my circular saw skills this week and I have to say that being able to design and then make raised beds for my yard feels as empowering as being able to throw a strong punch.  Before the rains came I spent a whole day cutting wood and screwing it together and I felt strong.  I felt capable and useful the way I do when I am able to put food in jars that last for a few years on the shelf.  The way I do when words I share uplift someone from the gutter into the light.  The way I do when I chase my son’s fears away.  So I was thinking about all the different things we draw power from.  I was thinking about how important it is to spend life doing things that make us feel stronger and fearless and capable.  If what we’re doing makes us feel small and prematurely old – we have to change our own course.

Trying to get paid writing gigs – selling my book or applying for freelance writing jobs makes me feel stupid and useless and worthless because I have only really been able to sell my book to friends and friends of friends and I have never been chosen for the freelance jobs I’ve applied to.  It gets discouraging.  That part of what I do is hard.  It’s hard being rejected over and over and over.  However, no amount of rejection will make me give up.  Just like no amount of kicks to the gut from the universe will keep me floored forever.  I’ve come close to the edge of the cliff many many times.  It’s the darkness I have to live with being me, it’s the constant risk people like me face, and it’s very real.  But I keep getting up off the floor because I’m a tenacious bastard.

I am feeling invisible.

But if I’m invisible I’m the most tenacious invisible person you’ll ever meet.  You can beat me up, you can shut me down, you can ignore me til you die but I will still jump my fat-ass in front of you and scream to be heard.  If you kill me I will live in your nightmares.  I will always get back up off the floor because I’m like a pitbull with Michael Vick in my jaws.

If I’m not going to succeed at making a career of writing, if I’m going to remain invisible during my lifetime, I still require myself to leave something worthy behind me for others to find amongst the dust of my bones.  Someone’s going to need it.  I still require myself to get up off the floor and keep at it.

My hair is dirty.  It’s 2pm and I’m still in my pyjamas.  I need to shower.  I need to get dressed before my kid comes home from school and sees his mom sitting at her messy desk with the dirty half empty cup of cold coffee and this ludicrously sorrowful face staring into the middle distance like a drooling idiot.

My hands smell of bitter orange.

All I Want – Meeting My Purpose

compact hero

Those of you who have stuck with me for a long time are familiar with my constant wavering of purpose.  Do I try to make money with my blog(s)?  Do I try to write a non-fiction book?  Do I try to sell things on Etsy and blog?  Do I try to become a novelist?  For so long I didn’t even bother talking about being a novelist because I had literally given up that dream  before I ever had a blog.  And then I got past the barrier that was keeping me from writing novels and while writing fiction I was in my element, the same way I am when I draft patterns.

Which isn’t surprising because fashion and writing are my two main passions in life.  Pattern drafting is creating just like fiction is, though obviously it has a more practical application.

When I was draping and drafting the apron for the “A is for Apron” book I felt the same way I do writing fiction.

That I am meeting my purpose.

It’s the writing that is essential to me though.

Writing this blog is vital to me for clearing my head and my heart and my spirit.  This is where I expend the energy that gets in the way of the more focused writing.  This, and facebook.  Writing Stitch and Boots is important to me to keep a journal of the food I’m making and the urban homesteading projects I’m getting up to.  But it’s also become a stress because I’ve tried to treat it like a professional blog.  I started another blog project and it’s a great idea and I could totally pursue it…

But it is a distraction from what I really want.

I want to write novels and be an urban homesteader.

I want to make enough money as a novelist that I don’t need a second job.

I want to write my blogs as way to let off steam and keep a journal of my activities and my thoughts.

And that is all I want.

Treating Stitch and Boots as a professional blog takes too much time.  Starting a whole new project that isn’t a novel takes too much time from my goals.  From what I really want.  So why do I keep doing it?  Why am I forever trying to think of how to make Stitch pay or coming up with new ways I could make a living?  To make Stitch successful as a business I would need to give up writing fiction.  Turning blogs into a source of income takes a lot of work – it’s a job.  It doesn’t matter how much you like doing it – IT TAKES A LOT OF TIME.  That’s the bottom line.  And even when I was spending all that time I never was able to make a go of it.

Which is, I believe, because it has always been a substitute for what I really wanted to do.  To be.

I have spent countless hours rewriting what I have come to refer to as “chapter twenty-fucking-three” because it’s what I want to spend my time doing.  Meanwhile the thought of recipe testing to get more content up on Stitch sounds tedious.  What I really want to do is just post the pictures I have of the mushrooms that we found growing on the property.  I don’t even have the energy to do big research on them but I’d like them on the blog so I can refer to them at a later time.  If I treated Stitch as my personal urban homesteading journal I would just do that.

And so that is what I’m going to do.  I’m going to BE a novelist and an urban homesteader.  Right now I have a second job (which is desperately important) but some day I will make a living writing.

I need to wear a sign around my neck to remind me not to create diversions from what I want.  The only person who keeps getting in my way is myself.  The only reason I keep following these other ideas and complicating things for myself is because I’m afraid.  I’m afraid that I’m going to find out that I can’t write novels well enough to make a living writing them.  I’m afraid of failing.  So I keep trying to figure out how I can develop an income to support writing for a hobby.

But I am not a hobbyist writer.  I never have been.

When you really want something you have to walk towards it with intention every single day.  You have to push obstacles out of your path.  Sometimes there are big obstacles.  You have to ask yourself at all times if what you are doing is supporting your goals or hindering them.  If what you are doing is hindering them – stop doing it.

I’ve finished one novel and almost finished publishing it here on this blog.  I have another novel half finished and the outline for the next Cricket and Grey book.  I have books to write.

Yesterday I entered Cricket and Grey in the Amazon Breakout Novel Award contest.

Whatever it is you most want – set your coarse and don’t veer from it.*

*Unless what you want changes along the way – which happens sometimes and it totally fine.

Writing Career Confusion

A year ago I was very clear about the direction I wanted my writing career to go and how I wanted to go about it:

write novels + land agent + get book deal = get published the traditional route

But I keep reading articles and listening to interviews of various authors and agents and I’m really confused.  I don’t know any more whether I should continue accruing agent rejections (start submitting my manuscript again) or re-edit my book to polish it up completely and then publish it myself using all the new and shiny self publishing tools offered by businesses like Amazon or should I just publish my book on my blog in small bites until the whole thing is published with the idea of gaining a fan-base and then attracting an agent or publisher who will then publish it in book form?

How realistic are any of these choices?  It’s tough to land an agent through submissions.  It could take years.  Self publishing has come a long way in both quality, price, and respectability but then you have to pay attention to all the details like cover design, editing (ideally professionally), and type setting.  Then I just read an article in Writer’s Digest by Nina Amir suggesting that publishing your book on your blog is a great way to get published – you develop a big readership and prove your book has commercial appeal and you either gain the notice of agents/publishers or you can approach them and show them how great your book is.

People do get book deals based on their blogs but it’s not as simple as publishing your book online and then publishers just publish it up for you.  From everything I’ve read – publishers expect extra material in a blog to book situation.  Also – I have yet to hear about any fiction being picked up from a blog.  Amir is confident that this whole angle works for fiction but where are examples of this happening?

I already plan on working harder to increase my readership for Stitch and Boots and I have my non-fiction Post Apocalyptic Kitchen project with my friend Emma if we decide to go forward with that – it’s my fiction I’m confused about.  So then part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just publish Cricket and Grey piece by piece on this blog simply for the enjoyment of my personal friends and readers who have expressed interest in it and have been very supportive of it.  Then I can perhaps start working on the second Cricket and Grey book.

What should I do?  I cannot decide.  Is it still important for me to publish novels the traditional way as I always intended?  Will I ever be able to write a pitch fetching enough to catch the eye and the confidence of a literary agent?  Will I still be sending out queries for this one finished book in ten years and paper my office with rejections (difficult when they’re all electronic now).

Here’s what I want from my writing career:

I want to write fiction that is compelling and entertaining

I want to give people new characters to root for or hate and I want to give them a way to escape from day to day reality because that’s one of the greatest gifts literature has given me.

I want to write non-fiction that is as entertaining as it is USEFUL

My favorite kind of non-fiction is the kind that informs with solid knowledge and research, that gives you information you can rely on and put to use in your life but that simultaneously is humorous and down to earth.  There is no reason why non-fiction has to be humorless and “serious”.  Being “serious” in tone doesn’t make you more or less of an expert.  You either are, or you aren’t and I’ll be able to tell just by reading your work because I’m not dumb.  There is the idea that if you don’t maintain a “serious” tone that people won’t trust you.  That may be true for some people out there but I think it’s an old and musty belief.

I want to make a living as a writer

I really do.  I’m not sure if I care if I somehow managed to simply get enough readers on Stitch and on this blog to actually make those ads make me a living or if I publish books and get royalties or if I’m making money from e-books or publish on demand.  I would just like to make a living from writing before I die.  I’d like it to be sooner than later.

I want to earn respect as a writer

I’m not the kind of writer who will write Pulitzer winning material.  I know my level and it isn’t high brow.  I hope to always be improving but I don’t have Pulitzer dreams, if I were to reach that level I would obviously feel deeply rewarded for all the work I’ve put into my writing but it simply isn’t in my sites.  I want the respect of other writers and from my readers.  I don’t want people to think of me as a trashy writer you’re almost embarrassed to like.

So what do I do?  I realize that no one can actually answer that one for me.  But that’s what I want.  I want someone to tell me the best route to reaching my writing career goals.