Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is it possible to make a decent living writing full time?

By Pamela Moeng

Is it possible to make a decent living writing full time? That's the big question in my mind these days. I wake up at night thinking about it and it's usually the last thought before I doze off and the first when the talking alarm clock rouses me in the morning.

At some point I want to kiss the day job good bye, along with all the trappings: the hours commuting to and from the office, the long meetings that decry productivity, the beauracracy that creates a whole lot of busy work that leads one to wonder if any visible result will surface once the dust of the daily treadmill settles.Is being the next Barbara Cartland or Wilbur Smith possible? I'd settle for being the next Alexander McCall Smith if wishes were horses and beggars could fly! I wonder if the day job is just an excuse not to write more or if I really would have the discipline to write most of the day every day to put a crust and a cuppa on the table.

How many of our readers are full-time writers? How did you start? Was it a deep breath and a sudden plunge as if it were the first dive of spring into the backyard pool? Was it a slow, meandering road from I'm-not-really-an-office-drone to a gradual jog and then a final burst of Olympic speed to what-I-am-is-a-writer? I'd really be keen to hear how others who shared the dream of being a full-time writer took baby steps or giant leaps toward that goal.

I've always clung to the day job. A security blanket to hide under when the post brings a rejection slip or writer's block hits and that feeling of I-just-know-I'll-never-be-able-to-fill-another-page paralyses my typing fingers. You know the old line about those who can do and those who can't teach? Well, in my head I think those who can write and those who can't edit. Or become publishing house readers with the power to reject other people's dreams.

So please do share the serendipitous-strokes-of-fortune or the long-years-of-slog or the just-took-a-blind-leap-of-faith-madness with someone teetering on the edge. What is your advice to those who might want to follow you into the abyss? Was it worth it? Were your expectations spot on the mark or way off base? Would you do it all over again or do you keep asking as some of us do of past paramours, "what in the name of heaven was I thinking"? Do tell and take my out of my misery.

Hmmmm. Not that I watch them - why live vicariously when you can live for real - but why not a reality show following a full-time writer around? Donald Trump, Randy Jackson and a host of others have become household names because of the fascination of so many with watching other people try to live their dreams. Nadine Gordimer, Don Mattera or Chris van Wyk spring to mind here in SA. Is anyone from DSTV reading this?! Maybe the writers here at Damaria Senne Media should volunteer for the world's first writer reality show - LOL!


Damaria Senne said...

huh! You ask a very difficult question, my friend. I do think that is possible - otherwise I wouldn't be working as a fulltime writer.
How did I start?
As you know, I had a lot of false starts. you know over the years I have freelanced/got fulltime job/freelanced etc. The biggest lesson I learnt is that, if given a choice, one should ease into fullltime writing. Do it part-time, but manage it as a business and grow your annual income from this until you have savings for 3-6 months and your monthly earnings come close to replacing your fulltime income. Also, learn as much about writing as you can, so that you still have a cushion while you're on a steep learning curve.
How do you do it?
Most writers I learn from don't do it all the same way, though they are successful in their own way. There are those who freelance and do copywriting and other type of work to support themselves while they write their novels. There are those who are very profilic ( especially the romance writers) and release a novel quarter or so) and write under multiple names. This is the path I see for you, because your dream is to be Queen of Romance Writers:-). But, I also see you supplementing that income with educational books. You already have a track record there, and it helps to be versatile.

tiah said...

Possible and common or two different words. Also think it depends on how many people you wish to support with that paycheck.

Personally, if we were to live off what I earn we'd be dead from starvation. I write at home because when we were in the UK continuing my day job after kids would have lost us money (after childcare, transport and so on). Then we moved to SA, where I can't speak Afrikaans (a must in this area) and, oh yes, the SA government still won't let me work a salaried position regardless.

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