You work where?

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So a friend of mine just shared the incredibly exciting fact that she’s made $400 this year from her short fiction. Yes, that’s right, short stories.

If you’re an author, you’re jumping up and down because you know how difficult that is. She published short fiction in paying markets. Multiple stories. Multiple paying markets.

If you’re not a writer, you’re thinking $400 bucks? She’d better not quit her day job. And don’t worry (and thanks for caring :)), she hasn’t.

She experienced this reaction firsthand a few days ago when she met up with a friend she hadn’t seen in awhile.

“How’s the writing going?” the friend asked.

Very excitedly, my friend replied, “Great! And guess what? I made $400 last year selling short stories.”

Her gleeful announcement was met with something weak like, “Oh . . . That’s . . . really good,” and an awkward silence ’til the subject changed.

It’s hard to explain to someone that $400 can be a huge symbol. That it can represent all the time and labour that someone else’s 40K does.

And I had a similar moment this week. Someone whom I’ve never met came into the office where I work and recognized me because of my Just a Thought column that I write for the Terrace Standard.

“You work here?” she asked in a tone that suggested she’d just discovered I did lice checks for a living or something. “But you write.”

“Well, I do, yes, but I also work part-time to supplement my income,” I admitted, trying not to feel like the failure it felt like she was implying I was because I can’t subsist on my art.

“Well . . .” She seemed genuinely lost for words, even a little put out. “Well, I’d just have thought you’d make enough from your column to get by.”

??? !!! ??? !!!

(Sometimes excessive punctuation is all my brain generates as a response. Unfortunately, other people can’t see the string of type running in my head, so there’s often an uncomfortable pause as I sort myself out and try to find words.)

I was flattered. She thought my column was worthy of pay that would support me all month! I was also confused. Had she actually heard of a columnist who could get by solely on the income generated by their column? I felt like asking her to repeat her comment into a voice recorder, so I could play it for my editor. . . . 😀

As I’ve said before, I write for a myriad of reasons and none of the primary ones centre around money. Yes, I’d like to make a living purely from my words alone someday (because then I’d have even more time to write!), but if that day never comes, I’ll still be working my day job and I’ll still be writing.

It makes me sad that financial compensation for a job well done is the language our culture understands best. “Success” is too often equated with a dollar amount.

On far more than one occasion I’ve been asked, “Why don’t you just sell a novel? Then you’ll be rich.” (Just. You can tell that comment is not from fellow writers!)

Selling a novel is seen by most—even, yikes, by some aspiring novelist—as akin to winning a lottery. It’s those writers I feel badly for. What will sustain them when they realize that even when their stories start selling, it’s likely they won’t be receiving Stephen King-esque advances and royalties?

All of society is poorer when it buys into the idea that only activities that make money are worth pursuing. It’s just not a point-of-view I agree with AT ALL. And if, in saying so, I’ve jinxed myself? Well, I’m okay with that. I’ll still be writing. And, yes, working there.

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