Here’s the thing. When I set out to make writing my source of income, I knew what I was getting into. I’d been married to someone who did contract work for a while cutting lumber and I have a dad who did that for a while, too, and who worked as a mason for some-odd years. I also had an uncle who had spent years working in construction, with all its seasonal variations and ups and downs.
Writing is like that.
Cash flow is a thing.
Income variability is a thing. A big thing. I mean, it’s real and it’s ugly sometimes. It means that the good years have to be averaged with the bad years and you have to live on the average income or less, not the income of the good years.
If you don’t, when the bad years come, you’ll go broke and you’ll have to go get a job doing something that will put money in the bank. When that happens, whether or not you can continue to produce good fiction at a pace that will get you writing full-time again becomes a thing. Maybe you won’t be able to juggle the new job and the writing. It was hard the first time, remember?
That’s what it’s like to be a writer. The income is all over the place. The few (and they are few!) who can turn writing into a regular, reliable source of income are miracle workers. You can’t let yourself be fooled by them into thinking that cash flow is going to be steady and that you’re trading the paycheck of a regular employee-type job for a regular paycheck from self-publishing fiction.
Unrealistic expectations will kill your dreams.
I know there are some productive people out there saying that you can make steady money with writing, but I’m just going to say this: they’re not the norm and they’re probably talking about a shorter time frame than most other writers are imagining. And they’re probably in a position that is going to change, but just hasn’t, yet. How long have they been at it? A one or two or even three year history isn’t enough time to know these things.
I’ve been writing full-time since 2012. I have seven years of history behind me as a self-published author earning a living with fiction, and I can tell you that the things I talk about above are true. I’ve had some bad years, all related to my own production issues, but someday I’m sure I’ll have bad years related to market changes too. All of those kinds of bad years come around eventually. I’ve also seen a lot of authors over the last couple of years, who seemed bulletproof, start to recognize that even they are going to have these bad years too. That’s how I know these things are true for writers other than me.
Sometimes it’s not the book. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. So many authors want to say that luck has nothing to do with success or failure, but it’s just not true. I’m not even sorry to say it. There is so much out of a person’s control in the world that it is absolutely foolish not to prepare for the effects of luck, good and bad. If you’re doing everything you can to make it, it’s okay to hope for luck to come along and help you out. It’s also okay to blame luck for the fact that you can’t seem to get anywhere, as long as you’re being honest with yourself about your skills and effort. (If you can’t be honest with yourself, then blaming luck is a crutch and it’s only going to hurt you, so try not to do that, okay?)
Then there’s the topic of what you write. You can write what you want and hope it works or you can write what other people tell you to write or you can study what readers seem to want and write that. If you choose anything other than writing what you want, you really have to decide if you’re actually fulfilling your dream or just making work for yourself on your way to fulfilling your dream.
I chose to write for myself. I don’t want to be a writer if I can’t write what I want. If you can’t make it full-time writing what you want, then you need a job. But you get to choose what the job is a lot of the time. I choose not to have it be writing. If I can’t make it full-time writing what I want at some point in the future, writing what I don’t want to write sure isn’t going to be the job I turn to to pay my bills.
At the end of that road is the death of a dream and I’m not taking it.
If you like writing so much that you want to write and you don’t care what you write, then you’re one of the lucky ones. :)
If it turns out not to be true, that’s when you’re going to be in trouble. Because you’re probably going to be stuck writing those things you don’t want to be writing, over and over and over again.
It’s a pretty simple choice, and a lot of authors really fuck it up: Do you want to write because you have stories to tell or do you want to write because you want to be self-employed and you happen to really like writing?
I’m the former, no doubt about it. I have stories to tell and which ones I tell matters to me. I have a little of the latter in me, in that I am happy to be self-employed, but honestly, if I’m not writing the stories I want to be writing, I do not like writing. Not even a little.