Writing: It’s Not Really About the Money

Posted on Updated on

Pen When I’m asked how long I’ve been writing, I can say truthfully, most of my life. I was taught to read at the age of four, and by the time I was in third grade had devoured most of the books in the meager collection in my school’s library. I remember being most struck by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the worlds they created between the covers of the musty old books high up on the shelves.

By the time I was in fifth grade, I was making up stories of my own. In my freshman year of high school, when I was thirteen, I entered a Sunday school magazine short story writing contest. Surprise of surprises, I won first place, and it was a national competition. The fact that I was competing with other ten to fifteen year-olds is irrelevant – my name appeared in a national publication above something I’d created. I don’t remember what the prize was – probably just the byline and copies of the magazine – but, I was hooked. I wanted to create more stories, and share them with more people.

From the beginning that was my goal; to share the stories swirling around in my mind with others.

It wasn’t until I’d graduated from high school and joined the army that the idea of actually making money from writing occurred to me. I wrote poems, articles and short stories for publications for free. Then, I submitted an article to a magazine and along with the acceptance letter got a check – I think it was the princely sum of $10.00, which was a lot of money in the 1970s when most publications paid less than fifty cents a word.

Over the decades since, I’ve continued to write articles, short stories, book reviews, and since the mid-2000s full length works. Writing doesn’t pay the bills – it never has, and the odds are it never will. I’m fortunate in having served as a federal official long enough to qualify for a pension that, along with my investments and writing income, provides me with a comfortable living. The number of authors who make a good living from writing, compared to the total number of authors in existence, is a miniscule percentage.

It’s always been that way. There are some people who write books mainly for the money – most of them writing books on ‘how to make money writing.’ I’m convinced, though, that those of us who write fiction, don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love writing. Because we have these stories in our brains, straining to get out and be shared. If we just happen to get lucky and are able to grab the brass ring of ‘best-sellerdom,’ that’s a bonus. I’d be willing to bet that even if Stephen King hadn’t attained mega-stardom with his books, he’d still be writing. I know that’s why I continue to write.Writer

Can writing be a career? It depends upon how you define career. Even though writing doesn’t provide the bulk of my income, I have no problem introducing myself as a writer when I meet people. With 40+ independently published books to my credit, and hundreds of clip sheets of published articles and book reviews, I think I can call writing something other than a hobby.

If writing is your career goal, there are a number of preparatory steps I strongly suggest. Get yourself a good style book and learn the rules of good writing – grammar, punctuation, and word usage. Now that you’ve done that, the next step is simple – sit down and write what’s in your mind, and if necessary, break the rules you just spent all that time learning. But, break them with a purpose. You’ll, of course, need some other source of legal income while you hone your skills – many writers before you have had to do the same. But, never despair. If your lot in life is to be a writer, you’ll know it. You’ll know it because no matter what, the urge to write will be there like that itch between your shoulder blades that you just can’t seem to reach. Most importantly, write, write, and write some more. Write something every single day. I once worked for an old newspaper editor in North Carolina who suggested that I write at least 1,000 words a day as a way of improving my writing skills. I’ve followed that advice, with my own shot of steroids; I now write about 2,000 words a day. Character sketches, plot outlines, research notes all count against that daily quota. When I’m on the road I take along an old steno pad or two, in which I write. I write on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the back of taxis.

That might not be the best way to become a writer, but it works for me.

For another perspective on writing, check out An Ode to Novel Writers at