In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know. First cab off the rank (and what a great post to kick off with!) is Alan Baxter.
Writing and Making a Living
For me, it’s been a long journey and it’s far from over. More years ago than I care to remember, I decided to take this writing gig seriously. I’ve always written stories, but I wanted to be a professional writer. At the time, I was working nine to five and, as I’m a martial artist and martial arts instructor, training six to nine, five nights a week, and weekends. My days were pretty full. I had no time to write. But I wanted to be a writer. So I made time.
My first novel was written in my lunch hours, Monday to Friday. I took food to work and every lunch break I would make a sandwich, go back to my desk, and work on the novel for about an hour. I wrote a whole book that way, and most of a second one. I also started working on mastering the art of short fiction, mostly in note books whenever I found time, as I had no home computer back then. I carried my novels around on a 3.5” floppy disc!
Along the way, I decided I needed to turn my life around. I hated the nine to five office drudgery – I was all about Kung Fu and fitness and writing. Then an opportunity came up – I was offered a redundancy. This coincided with another bit of luck – my father gave me a couple of grand as he’d had this big share dividend through his work and wanted to share it. Very decent of him! So I accepted the redundancy (which didn’t subsequently happen for nearly a year), and, before that salaried work actually came to an end, I used the money from my dad to put myself through night school and got my qualifications as a Personal Trainer. I was already fairly highly qualified as a martial arts instructor. Night school meant sacrificing some training time in the short term and I had to study a lot on weekends, but by the time my day job ended, I’d got my full Cert IV certification and I had a few grand of that redundancy payout in the bank to see me through building up a new business. I was taking a hell of a risk, but knew if it all turned to shit, I could fall back on office work again.
So I kept training, and teaching, and I built up a Personal Training business, and I wrote whenever I could. As the PT business began to pay for itself (thankfully just before the redundancy ran out!) it meant I was able to structure my time better. And this is what a large part of the decision had originally been based on – making time to write. I saw PT clients in the mornings and lunchtimes, I taught Kung Fu and saw clients in the evenings, and I had large chunks of time between clients and classes (mid-morning, mid-afternoon) to be a writer. It was tight living – still is! – but I made it work for me. I work my butt off at everything I do (as does my wife) and it just about keeps us going.
When my parents died, I got some inheritance, and that allowed us to move from the city to the country. I would much rather still have a family, but it meant we were able to pursue our dreams and lifestyle here. If that hadn’t happened, we’d probably still be doing the same thing in the city. So now I run my own Kung Fu Academy, a small school in a small town. If I concentrated on it 100%, I could make it bigger and make more money. But I want to be a writer, so I concentrate half my time on the Academy and being a PT, and the other half on writing. We never have enough money (my wife is my assistant instructor and a damn fine artist – www.halinka.com.au ) but we’re doing what we love. There is always the temptation to jack it all in and get a “proper job” – we’d have a better, regular income, but we’d be miserable.
We have a one year old son now, so we take turns looking after him. When we’re not teaching or training clients, we write and paint. Nowadays, we each have half the writing and painting time we used to, because we take turns looking after our boy, but we still have the same priorities: we run a martial arts school, we practice our arts and we look after our son. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into that lifestyle, but we’re making our lives what we want them to be.
Without the help from my parents along the way, things might be very different. Or not, I have no way of knowing – I would still have made those same decisions around the redundancy. But I certainly recognise that they helped me get to where I am now, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve also worked my ass off along the way and will continue to do so. And until one or both of us makes it big, we’ll always be sacrificing luxuries for our arts – martial, visual and literary – but we’re okay with that.
Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.
He is the author of the dark urban fantasy thrillers, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series, HarperVoyager), and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2, Gryphonwood Press). He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with around 60 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). Alan also writes narrative arcs and dialogue for videogames and wrote the popular writer’s resource, Write The Fight Right, a short ebook about writing convincing fight scenes. He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards.
Alan is represented by literary agent, Alex Adsett, of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.
As well as fiction, Alan is a freelance writer penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. He’s a contributing editor and co-founder (with Andrew McKiernan and Felicity Dowker) at Thirteen O’Clock – Australian Dark Fiction News & Reviews, and co-hosts AuthorCast with David Wood, a thriller and genre fiction podcast. He’s a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and a full Active Member of the Horror Writers’ Association.
Alan is an International Master of Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu and runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy.