Money talks, and … well, you know how the rest goes

So I was going to do a post about money this morning, but it’s early, and I’m tired, and I figured I’d just spend my thirty minutes before the kid wakes up reading other people’s blogs.

Then I stumbled upon this post by Tahereh Mafi, a very talented young writer who has a book coming out this fall. (Check out her blog, too.)

But Tahereh (can we be on a first name basis in the blogosphere?) talks about money. And since my mind was already on writing and money, I said to myself, “Dude. Respond.”

Here’s the question her reader asked:

I have a problem. I’ve always always always wanted to write, but I don’t think it’s going to pay too well unless I write about vampires or magical kids. So I’m thinking I’ll be something science-y. But I love writing, so I’ll miss out on it if I become something science-y. WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!

 And here’s the link (same as above) to what Tahereh responds. 

Before anyone thinks I’m going the wrong way with this, I agree with every word Tahereh says in the response. Writing is not for the faint of heart. The media sometimes makes it seem like you can sit in your apartment for a few months, churn out a novel, and someone will hand you a million dollar check. It takes passion, and drive, and love for storytelling. If you want to write, and writing makes you happy, do it.

But here’s what I think Tahereh missed: this questioner can do both.

One of the greatest things about writing is that you don’t need a degree (I don’t have one), you don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need an office, you don’t need a coat and tie, and you sure as hell don’t need to do it between 9 and 5. All you need is the desire to write, and the passion to make your writing great.

I’m thirty-three years old. I have the corporate career, and I have a good salary. I have the single family house with the chain-link fence and two cars and two dogs and almost-three kids and every electronic gadget my husband convinces me we need.

I’m also a writer, and I also have a book deal.

So are a lot of people. You can do both.

Here’s the other thing: a book deal is not a guarantee. When the auction was over and I knew I had a deal with Kensington, the first person I talked to (after my family) was my boss. I told him exactly how much money I was getting, and I reassured him that I wasn’t quitting anytime soon. Just because I have money now doesn’t mean it’s going to keep flowing in droves.

Besides, say you land a big advance. Do you know how much of that money is going to taxes? If you make over $379,000 in 2011, 35% of that is going to taxes. That’s after you pay 15% to your agent. (Please note, I am not a tax professional, and this is solely for illustrative purposes.) But that’s 50% of your money, gone before you get to spend a dime. That’s not even taking into account what you have to pay the state! I can guarantee that’s not going to last for the rest of your life. It might last a good long time, don’t get me wrong. But that’s still not a guarantee.

Your book could bomb, and the rest of your contract could be cancelled. The market could change, and people could decide they only want to read books about cyborgs or something. (Or Elementals. Elementals are going to be huge in 2012. Huge, I tell you.) Just like playing poker, you need a lot of skill, but you also need a lot of luck. Some of this publishing game is all about chance.

Here’s my concern for this questioner: what if she forgoes college and that “science-y” career and focuses all her time on writing?

And then, what if she’s no good?

Just like promising athletes, I think an education and the potential for a career is a good thing. Think of it as a fall-back. Have something to do. Just because I don’t have a college degree doesn’t mean I didn’t scrape my way through years of learning the financial industry, and now I have a bunch of licenses that mean the same thing. Just because you love writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother starting a career.

There is always time to write. Always.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know that funny graphic of the triangle that represents college, and on each point, there are the following options: Good Grades, Social Life, Plenty of Sleep. Then below it, it says, “Life in College: You Only Get Two.”

Guess what? That doesn’t end when you leave college. Just replace “Good Grades” with “Lucrative Career.”

I say if she likes science, I say get that science degree and write in her dorm room. Or get whatever degree will make her happy and fulfilled and employed. Have something to do so you can make the rent while you’re churning out the next Great American Novel. I completely agree with what Tahereh says about not getting a massive degree with a bazillion dollars in student loans to make your parents’ neighbors happy. That’s silly. (Seth Godin has a great post about wasting money on buying a brand instead of buying a degree.) But don’t sit on your parents’ couch for five years and defend yourself that you’re a writer, damn it, either.

You can do both. All of you. Every writer out there can have a career and a child and a husband (or wife) and a house and still have time to write.

You don’t have to choose.

You can be happy and have it all.

I promise.


8 thoughts on “Money talks, and … well, you know how the rest goes

  1. YES!! I would just type “yes” a thousand more times, but instead I’ll say this–I don’t have a book deal (yet), but I do have an agent and a completed ms on sub. And I am also a professional with a successful career that both enriches and balances my writing gig. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fantastic post, Brigid.

  2. Excellent post and points. And amen to it all. You have to write b/c you love it, not b/c it will make you money. By the same token, if writing is your sole livelihood and you’re stressed about paying that utilities bill or the rent, how much are you going to be able to enjoy writing? How much more pressure are you going to put on yourself, and how much joy is that pressure going to suck right out of you? Yes, writing can make you happy, and if if does then do it. Make time for it. Keep going. But loving what you do isn’t the only thing required for happiness. You have to fill your life with things you love and not rely on ONE thing to fulfill you.

  3. I completely agree. There are so many published authors who also have day jobs. And sometimes having a day job is great fodder for your storytelling. I think the one constant in writing is that it doesn’t pay well. If you do it, it has to be because of passion. Getting paid is just a bonus.

    Also, I hate thinking about taxes, especially since I pay my entire savings to the government every April. Kills me. Did you know that VA charges a car tax? MD doesn’t so when I moved here and got the bill–$450–I almost fainted. (Especially since they estimated our car at a much higher price than I got it for.) Anyway, each year you pay a tax to own the car in VA. It’s lovely.

  4. Here come the Elementals! Rah, rah, rah!

    I agree; a lot of authors also hold a second job. Unless you’re one of the lottery winners who comes up with Twilight or Harry Potter, there’s a good chance you’ll need a second-job. It’s not a good idea to quit even with a huge advance b/c, as you said, the rest of the books may never be published!

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