On Encouragement

Lately I’ve been rediscovering my favorite T.V. universe of all time: Star Trek. I started by watching “Voyager” from beginning to end (thank you Netflix!) because it’s my favorite-favorite. Now I’m around the middle of “The Next Generation”. I’m watching them from favorite series to least-favorite. (Sorry “Deep Space Nine”.)

When you’re a trekkie like me you learn a LOT about Roddenberry’s universe, including behind the scenes stuff that can be quite illuminating. One of those things, which seems to be the same for every series (though TNG is the most infamous for it), is first season flopping. Though arguments abound over which series is best, it seems each one has started hard but ended beloved by at least a few fans (and in the Star Trek fandom, “a few” needs at least one k after it!) Indeed, when one re-watches TNG especially, one can’t help but cringe jeeeest a little at how… well… BAD… the first season or so is. No matter how much of a fan you are now.

For a struggling writer like me, that is enormously encouraging.

I’ve been writing seriously since I was 16. I decided on that particular age because I was first published then: my own review in the local newspaper on “The Chronicles of Narnia”, though I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Now 24 years later (you do the math), I am still writing… when I’m not at my day job.

People tend to react similarly when you tell them you’re a writer. Questions like, “are you published?” abound, as well as comments somewhere along the lines of, “I have a great idea for a book — you should write it!” I’ve learned to field reactions like this with a fair amount of grace; after all most people really have no idea how the publishing world works, and I’m all about education. That said one question in particular still grates on me: the dreaded, “do you do that for a living?”

The answer is no.

Still.

24 years later.

No.

At least I’m not alone. The vast majority of writers don’t make a full-time living on it, and those few who do are mostly not the Stephen King types. They’re lower middle class on down, and they work hard for the privilege of writing full time. Many spend more time promoting themselves online, through school visits (for kidlit authors) and the like than they do actually writing, which is what they’d really rather be doing. In a way in this day and age even writing full-time is more than one job. And despite all that hard work, most full-time writers struggle with bills and “dry” seasons when their royalties are lower than usual. Sometimes these “dry” seasons can be anticipated. Other times they can’t. As a mother with children to feed, clothe, and house, I have not been comfortable enough with even my best royalties to try quitting my day job.

There are days — even weeks — when this can feel terribly discouraging.

Most every writer dreams of being free to write what we love without fear of becoming homeless. To not only have an editor, but one to whom we can go with an idea and automatically get clearance — and a nice advance — to write it. The J.K. Rowlings of the world are few and far-between, but to be one of them: that is OUR lottery dream.

And it’s a pretty, pretty dream indeed.

The funny thing is, despite their sometimes awkward or insensitive questions, most people outside of  the publishing world are extremely encouraging and supportive of writers. We are usually seen as brilliant, creative, unique, and even akin to superhuman for being able to even write a book, let alone publish and sell it. To most people, whether we can pay the bills or not with it has little to no bearing on this awe they view us by.

To writers like me, the dichotomy of this can be somewhat bemusing, but ultimately encouraging. I’m a brilliant superhuman, guys!

And so I keep writing my books and watching my “Star Trek”, dreaming of the day when my own first season comes to an end. When I can finally say I’ve grown out of “The Naked Now” and am ready for my own “Inner Light“. Until then, I’ll take the questions with the compliments, and keep my eye on the future prize of answering that dreaded question with a yes.

Finally.

Yes.

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2 Responses to “On Encouragement”

  1. I love your comparison to Star Trek.

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