Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Living the Dream

by Martha Reed

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going to a book launch party for my friend Nancy Martin who came out with her fiftieth book. That’s right, 50. When I looked around the bookshop at the party I saw six other published authors in attendance, all of whom I admire and one of which was nominated for a national award last year for her book. Now, that’s some pretty heavy talent standing around eating cake and it shocked me when I realized that this was my peer group. Granted, I don’t have a book contract (yet) but I’m certainly working at it hard enough and that made me wonder what more I could be doing to ‘live the life’.

So this morning, over coffee, I sat down and tried to imagine what it would be like to actually get a book contract and how that would impact my life. Would I give up my day job? Could I afford to? I’ve been building my corporate career for over thirty years – would I want to keep my hand in it and work part time? Could I juggle two jobs? If I could afford to leave my day job, would I stay in Pittsburgh? If I could afford to live anywhere I wanted to, where would it be? Do I have the nerve to move there and start over?


The other question I considered was my identity as a writer. I know that is what I am. I’ve known it since I was eight years old. I’ve had three short stories published but I’m still working on the break through novel and it has been going on for fifteen years. Last week I met some friends of my mother and when I introduced myself as Irene’s daughter, they asked: Are you the donut one? No, that’s my sister Joan. Oh, you must be the real estate daughter? No, that’s Boo. I’m the writer daughter. Which opened a whole can of worms: What have you written? And I found it odd and funny to explain that yes, I am a writer but no, I don’t have any books available that you can actually read.

How about you? What are your plans for your writing life? How do you define yourself as ‘a writer’? Please post your answers. Inquiring minds want to know.

17 comments:

Annette said...

Interesting post, Martha. I don't expect my life to change much except that once I get a book contract, I hope my family won't continue to roll their eyes when I say I can't drop everything and do such-and-such because I need to write. I hope the word "deadline" will have some meaning for them. Ha!

Joyce said...

Exactly what Annette said. I may not be getting paid for it yet, but writing is my job.

PatRemick said...

Amen. I've been struggling with whether I can call myself a mystery writer if I can't seem to finish a novel... still working on short stories, though, so maybe I'm a little mystery writer....

Ramona said...

Martha, I think you hit on a common feeling that a person is not a "real" writer until they have published a novel. So wrong.

Long ago, authors who wrote for children got hit with "When are you going to write a REAL book?" Meaning, an adult one. Someone named JK Rowling changed that misconception!

Gina said...

Martha, I tell folks right up front that I'm a highly unsuccessful writer. I'm still plugging away, but I suspect there's a wide gulf between getting a book contract and being able to support yourself solely through writing. The book has to sell, the movie rights have to sell, a publisher has to want the next one, etc. Most "real" writers I know have kept their day jobs. So, I've come to the conclusion that the real purpose for getting published is not financial gain or fame - having them set in final form is the only way we can stop revising those manuscripts!

C.L. Phillips said...

Great post. Much to consider.

Martha Reed said...

Thanks for the input, everyone. This brings up a follow up question. At what point, and how, did you decide you were 'a writer'? I'm looking for the point when you knew that's what you were (published or not), not when the idea first occurred to you.

Joyce said...

I made it official when hubby started filing a Schedule C. That kind of made it official.

Annette said...

Like Joyce, that first time my accountant listed it for the IRS made it real official.

Karen in Ohio said...

You think that's bad, try being a nonfiction writer, of obscure topics like sewing for business. Or just sewing. Responses ranged from eyes glazing over and frantically looking for someone else more interesting to talk to, to the most inane of all responses: either "I hate to sew", or "my mother used to sew". They were BUSINESS books.

My friend Claire Shaeffer, who has written 15 or 16 of the best, most comprehensive books on sewing, including couture techniques she traveled to Paris to find out from designer ateliers, lives in Palm Springs. She and her eminent cardiologist husband hobnob with many hoity toity society types, many of whom all want to know what Claire has written. She gets the same responses, she says. No one quite knows what to do with her. But by golly, she's a writer. And a damn good one.

In my experience, even if you get a contract the advance will barely be enough to pay your electric bill for the year, let alone change your life. Unless you've written a couple of other books, too. Then you might have some life-changing income, like Nancy with her 50 books. Getting that first contract can change your life in that way, since it's the first of many steps.

Hang in there, baby!

Martha Reed said...

Did anyone list "Writer" on your tax form under Occupation?

Janell said...

The first time I declared I was a 'writer' was when a bartender tried to throw away the napkins I was scribbling notes on as I had a martini when a flight was cancelled. I have to admit I kind of screamed "I am a WRITER-dig those napkins out of the garbage! I need them!" It was an epiphany. Or maybe it was because it was actually the 2nd cosmopolitan after a long day at airports??? Anyway-I am planning to leave my 'real' job behind in 14 months and focus on writing. Can't wait but it is a scary thought. Good post! My family/friends just roll there eyes now. But I know what I am.

Joyce said...

Martha, I list writer as my occupation.

Martha Reed said...

Janell, you're braver than I am but boy, am I thinking about it!

Ramona said...

Karen, I think of you every time banned book week comes along and I see "Making It With Mary" on the list. (It's a sewing guide, in case you're wondering. Obviously not read by the banners.)

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Ramona. Sounds like my favorite workshop: The Craft of Writing. I knew I was in the wrong place when everyone else pulled out their knitting and quilting. Evidently, "craft" has more than one meaning!

Patg said...

Get an Advance? They still have those? Wow! I considered myself a writer when I finished my first novel and began suffering the trials and tribulations of trying to get published.
I'm now of the opinion, those were delightful years full of bright thoughts. Getting published means marketing. Finding minutes to actually write are golden.
Good luck with that dream, float through it for as long as you are able.
Patg