Guest Post: The Fiction of Writing

Susan Kaye Quinn is an ex-engineer, writer, and elected official: but mostly she’s a mom. She writes middle grade and young adult novels, and blogs about writing and reading books for advanced readers, ages 8-12, over at Ink Spells.

The general public seems to have this idea that if you write a novel, you will be instantly rich and famous. You will don a tweed jacket or a silk scarf and pose in some odd angled picture that will make you look artistic. You will have masses of people flocking to sign your books as you tour the world, greeting your fans. As an esteemed published author, you can now be grumpy and retire to your hidden forested retreat where you will spin your next eagerly awaited book.

Right.

This fiction of the writing life is spun by the media attention focused on famous authors, those few Michael Jordan's of the writing world that are household names. Most of the public, especially readers, assume this lifestyle is enjoyed by all writers. People assume you write to make money, or to be famous, to have that elusive cachet of being a "published author." Although many writers would like to be JA Konrath, paying the bills with their writing, most realize that is unlikely to happen, or if it does, it will be a decade or more into their "writing career." If they are very lucky.

If you tell your family and friends you're not in it for the money or glory, that you write because you love it, or because you literally cannot stop like some literary addict, you're likely a get knowing look that says, "Sure. Sure."

Although your close family are probably well-disabused of this notion already, you may have to repeat it endlessly to friends and well-meaning extended family. Although it's bad enough before you have published, I suspect it is even worse after you have an actual book available for purchase. Because you've made it, right? Everything is sunshine and nirvana, right?

Except when you can't sell your second novel, or the first one performs poorly. Or maybe you have a wonderful run of several books, but then your career stalls out and needs new direction. A career in writing is more akin to a career in acting or music—you're only as good as your last book, and even that doesn't guarantee you'll sell another one.

Now that I've got you thoroughly depressed, here's the upside: There has never been a better time to be a writer.

No, I'm not delusional, at least not about that. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, all the myriad online resources grant you access to a community of writers. Even though your Uncle Sandy and your PTA friend in the pickup line may have no idea what the interior life of a writer is like, you have a host of virtual writerly friends who do. Friends who understand that writing is like bleeding your heart onto the page and who want to talk about plotting and voice and the minutia of craft. Friends who sympathize with the agony of rejection, the frustration of a harsh critique, and who know in their hearts that you write because you love it—because they do too.

My brother is a talented writer, who never published. He gave up in his early 20's, back in the pre-internet days, when writers toiled in isolation. He is in awe of my blog, my crit group, my author facebook page, and my knowledge of agents and the publishing industry.

"This is nothing like when I was writing," he says.

Exactly so. So chin up, lads and lassies! It's a brave new world for writers.

15 comments:

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks Susan! That'so encouraging! Off to query more agents...
:-)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Deniz I'm glad you found it so! Good luck with the query madness! :)

p.s. Thank you Adam for letting me guest post today! I hope all is well for your family - on both sides of the world!

Adam Heine said...

Glad to have you, Susan. Thanks for the post and thanks for the well-wishes :-)

Taryn Tyler said...

I wish I could remember who said that you could make a fortune in writing but not a living. To me that sums it up well.

L. T. Host said...

Great post! I don't have much else to add, haha. It was just great.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Taryn I like that! And I'm never one of those people that hits the jackpot...I usually spend my bucket of nickles and leave empty handed. But writing at all seems to me to be a risk every day.

@LT Thanks! :)

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Awesome post. And you're so right, I love how much support we all have online. I really don't know how writers did it 20 or even 10 years ago. Thanks for the reminder. ;)

KarenG said...

I love this! And I truly love what the writing life is like now compared to 20 years ago. Great post, Ann! Maybe your brother should get back into it?

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Shannon The support is truly the only thing that keeps me going some days ...

@KarenG I keep trying to get my brother back in the game, but no luck yet! Come on in, the water's fine!

salarsenッ said...

This post is so heartfelt and true. I've kicked myself for not plunging into the writing life sooner, maybe in my twenties. But the internet was just being born, while I (in my late twenties), was running after three small children.

Thank you for showing me the *brighter* side. ";-)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@salarsen I can't imagine writing when I had three boys under 5 toddling around. Getting through the day was victory enough. You've reminded me of a fantastic post by the esteemed Rachelle Gardner about writing and motherhood - a life well lived is the best fodder for writing.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Susan! I love how accessible writers, agents, and even publishers are on the web. And I love connecting with other people who write.

Teaching a poetry workshop to second graders, earlier this year, I kept having to answer questions about the submission/publishing process and how much money I made writing children's poetry. When they realized how little I made, one asked why I did it. I told them I wrote poetry because I loved it, whether I made money or not. They nodded and seemed to understand what I meant better than some adults would.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Myrna Yes! The kids totally get it. If it's not fun (in their world), why bother? This is something we tend to forget when we get all serious and grown up. Thanks for sharing! :)

Ricardo Bare said...

Cool post. Great encouragement.

Though, I'd have to say that I think the stereotype (or archetype, if you prefer) of the "struggling artist" image of the writer is equally prevalent. You know, the wild-haired guy pecking away at a typewriter, locked away in a hotel, typing the same sentence over and over, "All work and no play..."

Wait, maybe that's the "crazy writer" archetype.

But you're right, it's cool to be a writer in this hyper-connected age.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Ricardo I think every profession battles their stereotypes, and I'm sure they persist because (at some level) they are true (for some people). Are there "crazy" writers holed up in a hotel somewhere, with mad hair and cramped fingers? Um, I'm pretty sure I did that once (or twice). :)

But more often I'm playing on the interwebs, with people from all over the world. Coolness.

Thanks for stopping by! :)