Being a writer is a great way to make money!
…if you don’t need that money at any particular time. For example: I sold my second book on proposal in January. It’s April going on May and still haven’t gotten my first advance payment yet (though it should be arriving this week). There are the contract negotiations, the back and forth to get the thing signed, waiting for the money to show up in your agency’s account so they can take their cut and send the rest along to you. Which is all fine, if your money from writing is extra income, a fun bonus, a delightful surprise in your bank account. But if you need it to keep the lights on every month? Yikes.
There are lots of legitimate ways to make a living as a writer, and most of them involve diversifying your income streams. That might mean teaching or speaking gigs, maybe taking on some freelance editing work, or just writing a wider variety of things instead of sticking solely with novels (they take so goddamn long to finish, after all…). Or it might mean keeping a day job and writing in the margins of your life.
Elizabeth Gilbert refers to this as “being your own patron,” and that’s how I’ve chosen to approach my writing career thus far. There are so many anxiety-producing aspects of the publishing industry (SO many, I feel like as each day of my debut year passes, I find a new one), I don’t want the added pressure of needing to write in order to keep myself fed and sheltered and alive. Those people who romanticize the starving artist stereotype and say you need to give up everything for your art? They’re full of shit. You can be dedicated to your craft and also live in a nice house and take vacations and buy fancy face serums from Sephora. You just might not be able to pay for all of that directly from your writing.
Maybe I’m a sell-out, with my cushy corporate work-from-home job. But I really don’t give a damn. Because of my steady salary, I never have to worry that I won’t be able to pay my rent or utilities or credit card bill or Netflix subscription because my book didn’t sell enough copies, or the check from the publisher took too long to arrive. That’s all covered, and my writing income is for the extras. That security is crucial for me to maintain the mental space I need to be creative. I’m my own patron, using my day job to subsidize my daydreams, and for the time being at least, I wouldn’t have it any other way.