Paying for Our Passion – Felicity Banks

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.

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Felicity Banks to my blog. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her, but as a fellow Satalyte author it’s wonderful to have her here!

Hello. My name is Felicity Banks, and I’m a write-a-holic.

I’ve always thought it was particularly insufferable when people felt the need to say, “I write because I must!” What wankers. It doesn’t help at all that I am one of those people.

On several occasions I’ve made a concerted effort to stop writing, or even just pause for a bit. When I was travelling overseas as an aid worker; when I was starting my dream job as a teacher; when I first became a mother. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but one year I decided to go one year without writing a book. I failed.

So why try to quit something that others think is so wonderful? Because time.

Writing doesn’t cost much if you have a computer, an idea, and an internet connection. (Conferences and research can get expensive, but you don’t need me to tell you that.) But I spend around twenty hours a week writing (including the inevitable minutiae of social media, researching markets, formatting, etc), so where do those hours come from? Here are three typical days – a normal weekday, a daycare weekday, and a weekend.

Tall ShipNormal weekday:

6am. Woken by kids 6am. Question life choices as I get everyone ready.

7:30am. Work (it’s babysitting, so I often take my kids with me). Try not to think about why I spend an hour driving to do one hour of work.

9:30am. Home again; feed kids. Play with kids. Separate kids. Try to explain the difference between Superman and Jesus (again). Feed kids (again).

  1. Beg fate to let kid #2 (age 1) still have a nap. Put TV on for kid #1 (age 3) after threatening to lock her in her room.

If fate is kind, I get somewhere between 20 minutes and 2 glorious hours. I catch up on email and household complexities (what is the family doing for my husband’s great-grandmother’s upcoming birthday? What bills need paying? Has my employer forgotten to pay me this week? What can I give my non-materialistic non-book-loving non-DVD-obsessed father-in-law for his birthday tomorrow? Which drink bottles need new stickers for day care? How long have the kids been wearing the same clothes and will people assume I’ve washed them or not?) If that gets finished I write, or pass out… knowing all the while that I’ll be interrupted by screaming and/or the call “Mumeeeeeeeee!!! I neeeeeeed you!!”

2pm. Go to work for another two hours, with another hour and a half in the car (including picking up and dropping off various family members – my husband works very near my work, which is why the commute is worth it).

6pm. Arrive home with cranky, hungry kids. Feed kid #2 some unrecognisable swill I prepared earlier (probably by cooking something on Saturday and then sticking it in a blender with additional frozen vegies so he gets some kind of nutrition). Defrost leftovers for the rest of us.

7-9pm: Play with kids while sneaking chocolate for myself and begging fate to make them hurry up and get tired enough to go to sleep. If chocolate isn’t enough to keep me sweet-tempered, I leave them to my husband and hide in our room (listening to the kids scream periodically, and folding and unfolding the laptop as they wander in and out) either writing, reading, or just lying down in the dark wishing I didn’t have another migraine.

7:30-9pm: At least one kid is asleep and my husband is dealing with the other one. I can write at last! This is my moment!

9-10pm: My eyesight blurs and I lose the ability to read. Watch TV instead. If it’s live TV (and not ABC), chat to husband in ads. Because a healthy marriage is important and stuff.

10-12pm: Go to bed. Lie awake worrying about the next day and/or get a fabulous writing idea that I simply must write down at once.

Steam LouiseDaycare day:

The same, except that I have a miraculous space between 9:30 and 2:00pm. It’s often either maimed or completely destroyed by medical appointments, crucial errands, kids sent home sick, or household jobs (How long since I cleaned the bathroom? Where are all the socks?). But sometimes I just ignore all my responsibilities and write the whole time. Other times I’m too sick and I go to bed (furious to have lost my writing day).

Daycare costs around $100 per child per day, so those 5.5 hours cost $200. That is subsidised by the government to around $100. Since I have two daycare days a week, my writing costs me $200/week.

TentWeekend day: I usually spend an hour or two with the kids each day, an hour or two happily alone in the house while my husband takes the kids shopping, and the rest of the day writing on and off as kid#2 gleefully discovers my “hiding spot” and kid #1 cries hysterically because I refuse to move to a house with a balcony. On weekends, my husband is “primary parent”. If he gets two hours to himself during the day, he’s doing well. Weekend writing time doesn’t cost physical money, but that doesn’t mean it’s free.

I earn around $200/week from babysitting (after you remove petrol costs), which is my paid job (rather ironically, since I try so hard to get rid of my own children so I can do more writing). That adds up to a bit over $10,000 per year, or pretty much exactly what we spend on day care. Those fifteen babysitting hours a week are the equivalent of a full-time writer producing a successful book every year, so it’s more efficient than writing (even with all the driving) and it’s a job my body is mostly capable of doing.

My first novel, Stormhunter, will be released by Satalyte Press in 2016. As a small press, Satalyte doesn’t offer an advance. From memory, the usual royalty rate is 10% for print books and 70% for digital copies. There will probably be twenty copies printed (a number based on the demand for a new author at a publishing house that doesn’t have the same bookshop presence as, say, Harper Collins), and any other physical copies will be printed on a print-or-demand basis.

I’ve written fifteen novels altogether, averaging a book a year. One is self-published, and has earned less than $50. I’ve “retired” several as my skills grew enough to see they were fatally flawed. Some are really good, and they are sitting on the desks of publishers around Australia. Only five Australian publishers pay an advance. They’re also the ones with excellent distribution (meaning the book would actually be in most shops).

AttackI recently discovered interactive fiction, a digital (and therefore more flexible) form of Choose Your Own Adventure book. A company called (with whom I’m not associated or affiliated, although I like them) pays a $5000-$10,000 advance for established writers with an approved outline. I was surprised to find I really enjoyed writing books in an interactive form, and I’ve already had some minor success. So perhaps this is my niche at last.

I like my kids, I like my job, and I like my writing. But we’re only just scraping by. We don’t eat out; we don’t get takeaway; we don’t travel; we don’t buy new clothes; we don’t give good presents; we don’t buy good stuff for ourselves; we have one car; we check the bank balance several times a week to decide what we can afford this fortnight; we often put off buying things on our grocery list. If I was sane enough or healthy enough to do a better job supporting my family and/or looking after my kids, I would.

But maybe THIS time, with interactive fiction, I’ve found something that pays enough to excuse my writing habit. A bit. If I do REALLY well I could write 30 or 40 hours a week, putting the kids in more day care days and quitting babysitting. That would require a writing income of around $20,000/year, and it would need to be reasonably steady. It’s a beautiful, unlikely dream.

It’s strange how many people think they “should” write a book. Following your passion means telling your kids to go watch more TV while you do some writing. It means skipping parties because $50 is far too much to pay for a meal. It means giving crappy presents to people you care about, and carefully manipulating relatives to ameliorate your bills (“Can I have new shoes for Christmas?” “Shall we visit you for dinner?” “Can I borrow your new Garth Nix book?”). It puts serious pressure on any relationship, but especially a marriage. And when you have other issues – in my case, bad health – the weight of those writing hours pulls your whole life towards disaster.

If you have the right kind of support, the sheer joy of creation is worth it.

If not, then your choices become harder.

HatBefore I was married I made some hard choices. I remember one week I had to choose to buy either toilet paper or cat food, but couldn’t buy both. In 2001 I sold my car and lived on a grocery budget of $5/week for four months so I could write full-time (when winter started, I had to stop because I was too malnourished to go on). I went hungry often, and on more than one occasion walked until my feet bled. At one stage, I was developing scurvy. In the months before I married my husband I lived in a granny flat without a working oven or washing machine. That flat had major mould issues and the tap water wasn’t drinkable. The toilet leaked, and the roof was inhabited by a family of possums (the possums were cool, actually).

I was still writing, of course. Can’t stop. But the price is sometimes very high, and I’ve been painfully aware of that cost for my entire adult life.

My interactive steampunk novel, Attack of the Clockwork Army is set in Australia. You can choose to be male or female, gay or straight, an innocent or a liar. You can even choose to fight for the British, or not to fight at all.

The book is available as a Choose Your Own Adventure-style app for your device on Amazon, Apple, Android, and Chrome. You can also buy it directly from the publisher (an easy way to buy and read it on your computer).

The app stores list it as “free, with in-app purchases”. What this actually means is that the beginning is free, and then you pay $5 (once!) to read the rest.

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