Being a novelist is a terrible way to make a living. Let me illustrate with a couple of discouraging examples:
I used to work at a Kinko’s (Remember them? Now, they’re FedEx Office.) next to the University of Northern Colorado. One of the professors there, and one of our regular customers, was Connie Willis, winner of eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards for her science fiction! Yet, at the time – having won a few of those awards already – she had to continue teaching (not chose to, but had to) because her writing couldn’t pay the bills.
John Irving wasn’t able to write full-time until the publication of his fourth novel, The World According to Garp.
And there’s me. I’ve been writing everyday for years, funding my own publishing, and I’ve barely made enough to pay for the gas to drive to my real job.
So, why the hell do I do it? Why do I get up at 4am every morning to commit a few words to paper before my son wakes and I trudge off to work? Why do I spend my own money producing a beautiful book that few people will hold in their hands, let alone read?
The best way I can explain it is through a golf analogy. Yes, you read that right: golf.
I was a horrible golfer. Yet, I played a lot when I was younger. Why? Because in every round of horrible golf there is invariably one perfect shot that makes it all worthwhile, one textbook moment that makes all those flubs and shanks forgotten. I still recall, to this day, the one time I got out of sand trap like a pro, landing my ball just a couple of feet from the hole. I don’t remember whether I made the subsequent putt or not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that one shot!
Just like when one person reads something I wrote and tells me how they enjoyed it.
I also believe in perseverance. Here are some inspiring examples:
We all know J.K. Rowling’s rise from a mother on welfare, nearly homeless, writing in coffee shops, and being rejected many times.
Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times before finally being published.
Octavia E. Butler, one the most successful science-fiction writers of all time, worked a slew of jobs to pay the bills, including dishwasher, telemarketer, and potato chip inspector. (Hey, I’ve done that!) She’d get up at 3am to write before going to work. (Hey, me too!) She refused to give up.
I refuse, too.
Who knows? By the time I write a novel that catches fire, I’ll have produced a body of work that people will discover and want to check out. Then those of you who’ve been following me during these leans years can say to them, “Where have you been? I’ve been reading his stuff for years!”
You never know.