The Writing Train

April 21, 2008 at 10:15 am | Posted in career, Jessica, writing | 3 Comments

At the end of the week last week I went to an all-day workshop for things-related-to-my-day-job and I got the chance to listen to three really great speakers who clearly loved what they do, were well-versed on their subjects, and loved to interact with and share information with the 150 or so professionals in attendance. They were great and I learned a lot just by listening to them . . . but throughout the sessions I couldn’t stop from trying to see how I could apply their wisdom, not to my day-job, but to my writing life. Because although I was a fellow professional at that meeting, participating in the field for which I’d been trained, I really just want to stay home and write.

In that context, I want to point you to a blog post that Tess Gerritsen shared last week on The Sad Financial Truth About Writing. In it, she reported some statistics acquired from Novelists, Inc. (NINC) of a random sample of 100 of its multi-published members — they were asked if they could support themselves on their writing income alone. Please check Tess’s blog post for the total distribution percentages, but 52% of multi-published authors polled reported they could not.

So, there I sat on Friday as a representative of my work-a-day life (completely unaware of the numbers Tess had just reported) and I was trying to make connections between product placement and web 2.0 and 30-point-imperatives with my writing, and as I contemplated today’s blog post I decided to leave you with a short story and a thought.

One of the speakers I heard on Friday told a story about Albert Einstein, which I would like to paraphrase here:

While on a trip to America, Albert Einstein had booked travel on a train. He got settled into his compartment and the train shoved off. As the train rumbled down the tracks, the ticket-taker came to his quarters to collect:

“Ticket, please, sir.”

Albert Einstein looks for his ticket, a bit taken aback that he’s misplaced it. “I don’t have it.”

The ticket-taker recognizes him and says, “Oh, Dr. Einstein! I didn’t realize it was you. You don’t have to worry about your ticket.”

“But I must find it.”

“But, sir, I am not going to take it from you.”

They went back and forth like this a few times . . .

At this point, Albert Einstein is on his hands and knees in his compartment, searching for his missing ticket. He looks up at the ticket-taker and says, “Young man, my dilemma is no longer about the ticket. I need to find it to know where I’m going.”

The same speaker who shared this short story with us also challenged us to stop strategically planning and to start strategically thinking when it comes to our organizations and how we intend to function and stay relevant in our ever-changing environment. As intuitive as it may sound, planning and thinking do not always go hand-in-hand.

So, I don’t mean to imply that the 52% of authors who reported that they cannot sustain themselves on their writers’ salaries alone have not strategically thought about their writing careers. On the contrary — I can’t imagine being multi-published without having strategically thought about career building moves. However, now that I have had time to process my conference experience from two weekends ago and synthesize some of those concepts with the ideas I took from ‘my other life’ workshop, I confess that while I may have hopped on the writing train, I really have not given much strategic thought as to where I’m going.

I find this revelation exciting! The great news is that it’s never too late to create or change strategy. So . . . my to-do list now includes some strategic thinking in addition to becoming a better quality storyteller. I am going to do all I can to get my ticket ready and keep writing! Anyone wanna’ come with me?




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  1. Great post, Jessica. It’s depressing, isn’t it, to realize how long writers have to labor and toil before it becomes a profitable enterprise? When I was preparing my taxes this year, I asked my accountant if I should pay estimated quarterlies on my advance for Line of Scrimmage. She said, um, no, you’ll probably charge enough expenses against it this year to negate it. OUCH! LOL! Still, I’d rather use it to pay expenses than lose any of it to taxes. The good thing is that most of us aren’t in this writing business for the money. If we were, we’d quit long before we ever saw a dime.

  2. I’m a big believer in planning and plotting, too, and during the 7 years I actively worked toward publication, I was continually “doing my homework,” and trying to make sure I was lined up for what I wanted and where I wanted to go. But don’t discount luck and impulse and being in the right place at the right time, either. To my way of thinking, as long as you’ve done the work, it’s okay to play, too!

  3. Thank you both for stopping by with the great reminders to maintain the balance of joy with the work!

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