The end of a year is a time for reflection. A time to look back on what’s happened: what you accomplished or failed to do. And a time to plan for the future. Recently Bob Clary from Webucator contacted me. During November and December the organisation has been asking authors to share their thoughts on novel writing and their writing careers. Two of their trainers who love writing, but never found a way to make it their full-time occupation, had written blog posts about their struggles and these posts spurred Webucator to ask other writers about their experiences. Their goal is to provide insights into writers’ journeys in order to motivate new writers. Since I’m in the mood to reflect at this time of year, their request to share my journey was timed perfectly. I’m happy to sit in my living room, looking out on the winter landscape, and assess my writing career so far.
Here’s Webucator’s questions and my responses:
What were your goals when you started writing?
When I started writing about fifteen years ago I didn’t have any specific goals but I yearned to write fiction – short stories and eventually a novel. But first, I wanted to find out if I could write and, if I had any ability at all, I wanted to work on developing it. I signed up for a Writers Bureau course and began to learn the basics. This course encouraged new writers to produce work that is marketable. Initially, since there’s a bigger demand for non-fiction than fiction in the magazine industry, this meant that I was writing non-fiction articles. Later I moved on to writing short stories. I still remember my joy that first year when I had a non-fiction article accepted by an Irish magazine, Ireland’s Own. When I received the acceptance letter I jumped up and down with excitement in our living room. My husband and the cat both frowned and shied away from me.
What are your goals now?
I’ve written a wide variety of articles and stories over the years. I still write the occasional non-fiction article and usually have a couple short stories in progress but my focus is currently on novels. I have a concept in mind for a series of historical romance novels set during World War II. I’ve finished the first draft of Book 1 and am revising it. I hope to see it released in 2015 then I will get to work on the next book in the series.
What pays the bills now?
A mundane office job has always paid the bills. Earnings from my non-fiction articles and short stories, published in magazines and newspapers, have provided some extras but were never my main source of income. I’ve gone the Indie publishing route with my longer works. During the past six years I’ve released an historical novel, a contemporary short story collection and two collections of my magazine articles as ebooks on Amazon. Profits from their sales, as well as yearly Public Lending Rights payments from the library system for borrows of the novel, provide sporadic income but not enough to allow me to quit my day job. Ideally I’d love to turn my writing into my main career but, for me like many other writers, that’s not been possible. I’m glad that I have earnings from my writing but I don’t have unrealistic expectations that it will make me rich one day – though I do dream once in a while.
Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?
Writing books that I’m proud of and readers enjoy is most important to me. I get excited about the stories going around in my head and want to get them on paper so others can enjoy them too. Launching a book I’ve written gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I guess I’m an optimist as I haven’t given up hope that my income from my writing will eventually increase – maybe once the books in my new series are released. If they sell well and I can quit the day job – fantastic! I’ll be delighted. But if I’m still not earning enough to pay the bills I won’t be devastated. And it won’t keep me from writing. Money isn’t the most important motivator for me.
What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
If they want to earn a living from writing I would say to them: Don’t give up your day job until you are earning enough from your writing to support yourself. Be passionate about your writing but be realistic about the business side of it. At the same time, if the financial aspect isn’t your priority then write want to write, make it the best it can be and enjoy seeing your work in print. The publishing industry has changed drastically in the last decade. At one time it was an incredible struggle to even get your book into print and most published writers couldn’t live on their royalties alone. With the advent of indie publishing, writers have a choice of the traditional or indie route or even a mixture of both. With the indie route, you can have the satisfaction of seeing your work in print and know that it’s out there for others to enjoy. That, in itself, is rewarding. And, if your work proves popular, you may also earn a good income.
Thanks for asking me to answer your questions, Bob. Hopefully my answers will help new writers. It’s also been beneficial for me to look at where I’ve come from and where I’m going – and why.
Since today is the last day of 2014 and I’m reflecting, I can say that I’m satisfied, even pleased, with my accomplishments over the past year as well as the path my writing career has taken since I wrote that first article fifteen years ago. For the last three years I’ve been working with a polio survivor to write his memoir. During the summer we completed the project and in early December we launched the print edition of Against All Odds. I also contributed to and co-edited Fermanagh Miscellany 2015, the ninth edition of an annual Fermanagh history publication.
With those books completed and released, I have cleared the slate and can devote my energy in the coming year to the first book in the historical romance series which I started writing in April. For the next few months my focus will be on the craft, rather than the business, side of writing. For me 2015 is the year when I step back in time to the Second World War and see where that road leads me.
I hope 2015 leads you in the directions you want to go. It’s a few hours early but I want to wish my family, friends, fellow writers and readers a Happy New Year!