When I was a little girl, if anyone should ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the same: A Writer. The only slight deviation from this was ‘A Journalist’, but basically, I wanted to get paid for writing words of some sort.
It took a long time to realize some of that ambition. I was in my forties by the time I actually got up the nerve to submit work, and the day I got an email saying a magazine would pay me for a feature I wrote was like a dream coming true. I had always said I’d be happy to just see my writing published somewhere – anywhere – in my lifetime.
But it’s a fact of human nature that once you get over the rush of achieving one dream, another takes its place. I didn’t just want one piece of writing published, I wanted more than that. I wanted to make writing my job, my full-time career.
And that is where the dissatisfaction can start to set in. Because if you look at the writers you admire, they often don’t just write. Writing is their passion, what they may put down in the box marked ‘Occupation’. But often, they teach, edit, wait tables, to make ends meet. Because writing is so important in their lives, they are willing to work in other roles to still be able to feel that thrill of seeing their writing published.
I had a conversation with someone a while back, about being a “successful” writer. It was interesting, because neither one of us had the same ideas about what “success” actually meant.
It’s obvious to say that a bestselling novelist is a success in their field. But unlike many other types of work, there can be such a wide-ranging scope for writers that it’s hard to pin down.
Take my own writing life so far, for example: I’ve had a few features published in that online magazine now; academic-style essays on a couple of websites; several creative non-fiction pieces/essays; and too many small flash fictions to count. I even came first in a flash fiction contest – the first time I entered it!
So, have I made it then? Well, that depends. If you could go back and ask that little girl sitting on her bed making magazines, she would likely say “Yes”. It is more than she ever expected. But the issue remains, like for most people who pursue any kind of art: paying the bills. The truth is, there are so many literary magazines and websites out there that run with volunteers that they don’t have the funds to pay writers. The promise of much talked about ‘exposure’ of your work is abundant. But at some point, it’s nice to get paid for all that effort.
I have been lucky in that I have begun to get paid for some of my writing, but not all of it, and not vast amounts by any stretch. I recently had my second piece of writing published on the fabulous online magazine Feminartsy. I did a lot of research for this essay, which I enjoyed as it was a subject close to me: combining motherhood and writing. (If you’re interested, it’s here: http://feminartsy.com/a-womb-of-ones-own-motherhood-and-the-female-writer/ ).
I worked with the brilliant editor at Feminartsy, who gave ideas of how to improve the piece, and I edited and polished it some more. Last week, it was published, for a fee. Yay! Success!!
But I realised some time ago, that in order to allow my creativity to flow and not bite my fingernails down worrying about paying the bills, other paid work has to come into the picture. Editing, yoga teaching, proof-reading, shop work…all these things make it possible for me to pursue my main goal, my ‘life’s work’ as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic, her book on creativity. Writing. Seeing my work out there in the world.
Success may have many different faces; it can still be success.
Keep reading and writing!