As if I didn’t know. As if I had spent my youthyears toiling away thinking I was going to be the next Stephen King. As if money is the only reason we do anything.
I suffer no delusions, trust me. I’ve always known what I’m getting myself in for. Authors make a pitiful amount of money and it’s only getting worse, yet here I am, still fighting for my place on the shelf.
This is what a lot of non-writer people don’t understand about my (stellar) choice of career. They’re either under the impression that publishing is a lucrative career option (it’s not), or they think I’m a fucking idiot. Because why oh why would anyone work so hard if they’re not going to be paid for it?
I’m no stranger to reward-free work. I’m surprised I stayed in school as long as I did, for the amount of hours I would spend on my homework, even calling my friends to help me, only to walk in the next day to pitiful stares from my teachers as they graded my ‘appalling’ essays and maths problems. For years I was taken in by this wives’ tale, you may have heard it, that if you are loyal and hard-working, the company you work for will reward you in turn with their loyalty and their respect (and maybe even a cash bonus). It took me too long to realise it ain’t the 70s anymore.
But this is not why I write. As accustomed as I am to the penniless toil, I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy sacrificing what little energy and sanity I have left at the end of the day to stare at a blank page. I do it despite how much it exhausts me.
Why do I do it then, for the fame? Because a self-published author with little to no funds for marketing has every chance of standing out in an over-saturated market, right?
I think I’ll let my sarcasm speak for itself.
Why do I write?
Because life is more than the money you make, it’s the impact you make on the world and those around you.*
We are born, we work, we die – don’t you want a bigger picture? Don’t you want a bit of meaning to your life, if only to help you sleep at night? That’s my work. That’s my writing. That’s why I do it.
Books have always been there for me, even when no one else was. Stories comforted me, they shaped me, they showed me how to be strong. I’ve always known books were special – I’ve always been greatly aware of what they gave me. I’ve always wanted to pay that forward.
From reading to writing, it was always about escapism – about survival. Some of us can’t linger too long in reality; the harsh sun burns out skin and the cruelness of humanity burdens our hearts. I used to read to survive reality, and now I write to unpack the pain I’ve carried and I use it to teach those smaller than me how to navigate this hostile world.
I write because I have to. Because these stories in my head will not give me peace until I give them life. Because it’s the only thing I have ever been good at. Because it’s my purpose. Because I want to help those who’ve been through the same shit I have.
I’m never going to make much money, I’ve accepted this. I’m a millennial, if I’m ever able to afford a holiday I’ll be patting myself on the back. And job security? Mortgage? Archaic terms, they don’t apply to me.
To top it all off, I’m disabled; I live with chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and daily pain, etc. Every full-time job I’ve ever had has wrecked me, left me entirely unable to do anything but down a pot-noddle for dinner and pass out on the sofa. All that for barely more than minimum wage and not even a glimmer of hope of progression? No thanks, I choose life.
Writing has never felt like a choice – it has always felt like my only option. It’s just depressing that we live in a world that doesn’t value it enough to let me earn a decent living. And that’s okay, I can put my hopes and dreams of riches in the memory box of my childhood; this is the shape of my life, and it’s beautiful and unique, multi-faceted unlike all the squares out there thinking they’re the cat’s pyjamas. So what if I never make a lot of money? I’m far richer for accepting my lot in life and embracing my creativity, than for throwing my life away over 10-hour shifts on £8.50 p/h.
My reward is far more valuable than money. I’m rewarded in the praises from my critique partners. I’m rewarded with the encouragement from my writing friends. One day I hope to be rewarded with the news that I’ve helped some young reader during their time of need.
I write because it’s the only way I can survive in this world. I write because I have the potential to influence young readers with my stories, and help them. I write because I don’t want my gravestone to read: “Here lies Tess, she killed herself for the sake of a mortgage.”
I want my legacy to be written in the hearts of the next generation of writers.
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* edit 07.08.18 – “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
I found this quote today and hadn’t realised I’d paraphrased Michelle Obama herself. If that queen preaches the same thing I’ve been saying, I know I’m doing the right thing.