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.
I am delighted to welcome back the multi talented Emilie Collyer, who was a guest on Ebon Shores earlier in the year. Not only a gifted writer (and a fellow Clan Destine Press author), Emilie is a successful and talented playwright. Welcome, Emilie!
The question of creativity and money is difficult and fascinating. I came to writing in a serious way in my early 20s, after a few years pursuing a career as an actor.
I wrote a piece for a cabaret show at drama school and had one of those epiphany moments: Oh this is what I need to be doing! Telling my own stories, not channelling someone else’s! Truth be told, I also didn’t quite have the personality for an acting career: shy with strangers, sensitive and also critical of how I saw the system working, who got ahead and who got left behind.
Writing, I figured, would be much more suited to me and, maybe, less painful.
Yes on the first front, no on the second – as I found equally as much rejection and uncertainty. But a deep sense that here was a task I could commit my whole life to and that would, I could already tell, sustain me in many ways for a life time.
I actually never really considered that I could earn a full time living as a writer. Coming from acting and theatre, where – as the saying goes – about 95% of actors are out of acting work at any given time, I just assumed that choosing a career in the creative arts meant a life of casual or part time other work to sustain the ups and downs and generally low income.
This balance has proven itself in terms of my life / work / income split so far. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. I do know a number of people now who make a full time living from their art. For some I can see it is a combination of hard work and good timing – landing that one great job or having something become commercially successful. For others I know that they have willed their situation into existence, by refusing to do anything else and making it work by sheer determination.
I currently work two days a week as a copywriter for an online marketing agency. So I technically make a living from writing. This has pros and cons. I love that I get to use my creative and language skills. But it can also be draining and saps some energy away from my own work.
In the past I’ve worked in administration, hospitality and a range of other capacities – always part time. Other income boosts me up now and then – a payment for a piece of writing, a commission for a new play, a grant. I’ve also taught creative writing and improvisation on and off for many years.
I’ve never worked a full time day job. The thought of it makes me feel a bit suffocated. Even though I know the steady income would make life much easier my sense is that I would get depressed without the 3-4 days each week I carve out to make my own – whether it’s writing, developing or producing a play, or collaborating with others on creative projects.
The commitment to writing has paid off in that I have had nearly 20 plays produced, many stories and poems published, including two e-books of short stories and have been fortunate to win a number of awards and other accolades for my work. But income from this has not yet been enough to replace the income from my part time work.
I would like to reach a point where I can sustain myself fully from my creative writing. This may or may not happen. I’ll keep working towards it but I’m also not too hung up about it. Many factors contribute to whether this happens or not and they aren’t all within my control.
Equally as important to me, in the grand scheme of things, is creative freedom. There is also a strong part of my creative drive that is about experimenting and pushing myself into unknown territories. I love it when my writing gets out in the world and hits a mark, gets a positive response from readers or audiences. But just as valuable are the many pieces that don’t quite make it, where I’m trying something and failing at it. I protect this part of the creative process very fiercely. And the fact that I earn (just) enough money to live off from a separate income and work stream actually allows me that level of risk taking.
My partner is also an artist, a performer and writer. So he doesn’t support me financially. We share the load, live modestly and enjoy the small spikes in income when they occasionally come along.
I don’t travel much or buy new things very often. Sometimes I worry about the future: very little superannuation, no savings and no benefits like annual leave or sick leave entitlements – what will this mean as I age?
I also don’t have a family to support. Not having children is a decision I came to via many routes and for many different reasons. My life as an artist was not the sole reason but it did contribute – knowing the kind of financial pressure that would place on me was a factor in the patchwork of that long, slow decision making process.
My life is far from perfect but on the whole I value the shape of it. I don’t take any income or any job for granted. I relish every creative opportunity I get. At times I even enjoy the challenge of living on wavering and unpredictable income. I see it as a healthy antidote to the overt messages of capitalism that tell us to only value the worth of our lives based on the worth of our belongings and our bank accounts.
Paying for my passion has definitely not been easy. But overall it is a price I have been willing to pay and one that brings rewards and benefits in sometimes unexpected ways.
Emilie Collyer is an award winning writer of plays, fiction and poetry. Recent publications include stories in Allegory (USA) and Cosmic Vegetable (USA). Her speculative fiction has won three prizes at the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (2012 & 2013) and she has two collections of short fiction published with Clan Destine Press. Her play The Good Girl (2013) won Best Emerging Writer at Melbourne Fringe & a Green Room nomination. Dream Home (shortlisted 2013 Patrick White Award) premiered at Darebin Arts Speakeasy in 2015. Read more about Emilie and her writing here: www.betweenthecracks.net