Tag Archives: writing

Paying for Our Passion – Monica Valentinelli

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.

Monica is one of the many wonderful people I have met through my membership in The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and I am delighted to welcome her to my blog today. I have felt incredibly privileged in that people have been willing to share so much of themselves, and be so honest with my readers and I, in this series and this post is no exception. So, when I decided to relaunch the series I knew that this would be a wonderful post to start back with.

I’d encourage you to visit Monica’s webpage to have a look at the amazing work she is doing, and for all you Firefly fans out there (and I know most of you are!), check out her book–shiny!

When David and I talked about the possibility of a guest post for his wonderful website, I didn’t expect to be writing about what debts I’ve paid to be a writer. Normally, when I answer interview questions, it’s about my process or the work itself to show a) there is a writer’s brain locked in my skull and b) maybe, just maybe, you’ll be interested in my work. I don’t talk about myself very often; believe me when I say this post is an exception rather than the rule. For me, however, I want you to know the word “debt” doesn’t just translate to finances. It’s also about making gut-wrenching decisions to pay for the ability to pursue my passion: writing.

Growing up, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t an artist, in every sense of the word, lost in a psychedelic, frenzied dream. I was always a writer plus. I learned to read as a toddler, I began piano lessons in kindergarten, and I had a gift for language. While music was my primary focus for years, libraries were my sanctuary from bullies on all sides, and making art—all art—was my religion. (It still is.) This bit, right here, is why I’m telling you this: I never cared about the business aspect of selling my art as a child, because I didn’t need to. That was my safety net, because the freedom to create without worrying about failure, food, or homelessness, allowed me to make art whenever I wanted to. So, I wrote school plays, children’s books, essays, short stories, and novellas. Drew and painted, too, of course, but much of my brain was also dedicated to my music. My art leaked out of my fingertips and on to the page or the keyboard, because I always pushing, pushing, pushing to break free, to feel free, to simply…be.

Firefly dictionaryPressure, being what it is, usually means something has to give sooner or later, and I was suffocating from it. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t “supposed” to be an adult and focus on my future to marry “well” and have lots of babies. I never was one to listen, however, but eventually I internalized that pressure and realized that being an artist wasn’t enough. At 16, I knew I had to learn how to make a living at it. I just didn’t know how. To that end, I could’ve applied to Juillard or tried living/working in Hollywood or New York—but I couldn’t afford any of that on my own. There was no chance, no way in hell, I could even scrape together enough money for the plane ticket. Financial and emotional support for my efforts was selective; this meant that I wound up in a constant state of anxiety, worried that there was something wrong with me because I was an artist and not a doctor or a scientist. I was a woman, and not a man. I was smart, too, but that only mattered provided I agreed to take the narrow path before me.

Caught between being an adult (making money) and remaining a child (making art), I gave up my idealism and focused on pragmatism. I all but abandoned music, not only because it carried too much baggage, but because I couldn’t see how I could make it work. In this “new, smart and capable” version of myself, I made some great choices and some really shitty ones. Thankfully, my college degree was paid for, but much of my experiences revolved around fighting for approval with little support. There were a few bright spots, though. Back then, I felt surrounded by worldviews that didn’t feel right to me, so I focused on multiculturism and secretly added several courses into my Bachelor’s program to that effect. This was the beginning of a journey I don’t think I’ll ever abandon and that, to me, was a great choice, because it opened me up to a world of literature I never knew existed. The shitty choices, then, originated from not knowing much about anything other than making art. I felt defined by my container, my body, and not by my creativity. And, when my normally-bright mental capabilities failed me, as I futilely attempted to push myself into the sciences, I felt I had somehow lost there, too.

Gods Memes and MonstersAnyway, after college I knew I didn’t want to go to grad school; I was burnt out by the time I graduated and I couldn’t afford it, either. Thus, I felt extremely naïve and unequipped to deal with the outside world. Instead of building the life that was expected of me, I took every job possible, believing that knowing marketing and sales and basic business practices would help me build a career as an entrepreneur, as a writer. I convinced myself if I just “knew enough”, I would figure out a way to make a living at it. Everybody else thought I was being random, but I felt I needed to focus on the basics, especially since I was secretly afraid that my self-worth was only about having babies—a thought that terrified me. How else was I supposed to earn enough money to pay rent if I didn’t find a real job? How could I keep writing if I didn’t have some other practical skills to fall back on?

I did focus on the real world. In fact, I gave up writing for a while, because I wound up lying to myself, claiming it was a luxury I could not afford. I had a normal, ups-and-downs, run-of-the-mill life, because I was desperate to fit in and “be normal” on my terms. Only, I hated those years, because that wasn’t me at all, but it was all I had. I opted to be near my support network, as emotionally and psychologically draining as it was, because it was either that or go it totally alone—and that scared the shit out of me. So, I wound up internalizing a twisted view of the world, which meant that artists fell into the category of “unapproved” and “frivolous” people unless they were successful classicists. Artistic works evolved into this sticky ectoplasm that only famous (male) artists had the right to capture and collect from the ether; only they are blessed for their greatness with fans, money, acclaim. And, if nobody else can achieve that “level”—a word I have now grown to hate with every cell in my body—that means their art must suck. Everybody else is either selling out, or they’re not worth spending time or money on. Right?

Dread Names Red ListEventually I hit bottom, and I blamed myself for not making the run-of-the-mill life work. I bounced from job to job in every industry imaginable, I was laid off multiple times, I was in near-fatal accidents, and I couch surfed. I felt powerless, unloved, and undervalued as a human being, and it almost killed me. I understood that having food on the table and a roof over my head was more than many people got—especially since my college had been paid for—but at what cost? My soul was ripped in half. I hate that word, too, “soul” because it sounds so cliché, but how else can I describe that pain? It felt as if every time I had the opportunity to be myself, I was punished for it. Every time I tried to be anything but myself, I was punished for that, too.

After surviving too many close calls and near misses, I was desperate for change. The alternative was not an option for me; I had seen too many lives taken unexpectedly, and I thought to myself, “If I died tomorrow, what would I regret the most?” The answer was immediate, and I still remember feeling stupid for thinking it at the time: “Not writing, not making art, not being true to myself.” So, I funneled all of my hope into the unknowable future, instead, and burned that old life to the ground. All the while, I prayed I was doing the right thing, hoping I wasn’t hurting anybody by choosing me. I wanted out, not because I desired an esoteric happiness, but because finally realized I was committing the greatest crime of all: I was betraying my true self by pretending to be something I wasn’t.

Upside Down CoverNow, about a decade and many life-altering moments later, I write full-time. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, and some years have been better than others, but I can honestly say I am happy for the first time in my life. I know very little about the Kardashians of the world or who’s who in Hollywood, and I don’t understand the “people” side of the industry, either, with respect to awards-or-organizational drama, but I am writing. I never regained the stars in my eyes, mind you, but I do have a small but tight-knit supportive network of close friends and family. And, I have a partner who supports me for me, both financially and emotionally; he knows this business is incredibly unpredictable. Sometimes, he supports me. Sometimes, I support him.

While I’m not okay with all he’s done to ensure I can continue to write full-time, I make up for it in other ways because that is the nature of our relationship. We are partners. At the same time, I wouldn’t be writing full-time without him, because I couldn’t afford it. After all, making a living as a writer isn’t about “a” sale or “a” gig or “an” advance, it’s about the ability to earn income based on words written and sold on a consistent basis. Thus, if my partner wasn’t around, I couldn’t do what I do year after year, at least not right now. I’d have to make different choices, about what I wrote and how I sold it, and I’d have to get a day job to pay my bills. My goal right now, however, is to make a living plus, which means writing isn’t my hobby. This, for me, is not a calling, and it’s not “just” a job, either. It is my life, and it’s the only one I’ve got.

Monica-Headshot-300x254So, that’s my story. Those closest to me know I am both haunted and fiery to varying degrees at all times, and they know the debts I’ve paid—emotional, financial, social, even physical. They also understand why I am focused on writing, on filling up those blank pages, on getting that next gig, too. And, despite my best efforts to the contrary, that—writing—is all I have control over. Everything else, I’m simply making up as I go along.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer who lurks in the dark. She writes both original and media tie-in fiction and works on games and comics, too. To date, she has over seven dozen creative credits with more on the way. She is best known for her work related to the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. She was the lead writer and developer for the award-winning line of Firefly RPG books, and also wrote the Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse which was released from Titan Publishing in April 2016.

Published stories and games include “Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs” for Extreme Zombies, “The Dig” for the Lovecraft Zine, Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade, and Unknown Armies Third Edition. Monica also recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for a co-edited anthology titled Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling from Apex Book Company. Her debut comic Man Zombie Standing was published in 2013 as part of the Unfashioned Creatures: A Frankenstein Anthology from Red Stylo Media. You can discover more of the author’s creative works through her fiction publications or her game publications.

Her non-fiction repertoire includes online articles, worldbuilding games, reference materials, and essays. She has written for sites including HowtoWrite Shop.com, Sony’s Crackle.com, SFWA.org, GeeksDreamGirl.com, and BookLifeNow.com. Her essays have appeared in books such as Family Games: The 100 Best, The Bones: Us and Our Dice, and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher.

Monica holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives with two very spoiled cats nicknamed Lord Lardbottom and Captain Whinypants, an albino water frog named Al, and her fiance. In addition to writing and editing, she enjoys traveling, designing jewelry, cooking, taking photos, gaming, watching anime and martial arts movies, exploring old places, and hiking. She is represented by Jennie Goloboy from Red Sofa Literary.

For more about the author, read or listen to an interview with Monica Valentinelli or subscribe to her blog.

My Boskone 53 Schedule (I’m shipping up to Boston)

I’ve never been to the United States in winter, but this year that will change when I head over mid-February. I’m also very excited to be attending Boskone 53, their programming looks amazing and a heap of my US friends will be there.

I am also fortunate enough to have been put on a number of panels and, as always, am blown away by the fact I will get to rub shoulders with some of my writing heroes.

If you’ll be attending, I’d love to see you at one of my panels–or in the bar. Don’t be a stranger. 🙂

_Game of Thrones_: Adaptation or Original Material

Friday 14:00 – 14:50, Griffin (Westin)

When the first season of Game of Thrones aired, the material was a clear adaptation of the novel. However, in the following seasons, characters and story lines have morphed. Now, some storylines from the TV series are outstripping the books. At what point (if any) does the HBO series set the pace? Do we now have two independent tales? Who rules? And, as we range into uncharted territory, what happens next?

Django Wexler (M), David McDonald, Sarah Smith,  Erin Underwood

Loose Ends and Contradictions in Doctor Who

Friday 18:00 – 18:50, Marina 4 (Westin)

*Spoilers, sweetie!* Doctor Who has become infamous for its loose ends and contradictions — most of which get explained away with a little timey-wimey flash and sparkle. Yet, we still love The Doctor. In fact, many of those seeming problems tend to open future storylines and plot points. Which do we most want to see resolved? Which seem too far gone to pull back? And will we see River again … or has that loose end been tied?

Susan Jane Bigelow (M), David McDonald, Lauren Roy

Fantastic Australia!

Saturday 10:00 – 10:50, Burroughs (Westin)

A guide to the wide, wonderful, and quite active world of Australian science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Bob Kuhn (M), D L Carter, David McDonald, Garth Nix, James Minz

Appreciating the Historical in Speculative Fiction

Saturday 14:00 – 14:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

Stories set in historical times present a special set of challenges and benefits: from the wonders of worldbuilding to the disguising of infodumps to the artful overcoming of a reader’s knowledge about the way things actually are (or were). Why do we love it? What time periods and cultures are the most fun to recreate? What sets historical fiction apart from its speculative cousin? And do the stories of Tim Powers, Eric Flint, Connie Willis, Naomi Novik, or Cherie Priest qualify as hist fic?

Brendan DuBois (M), Walter H. Hunt, David McDonald, E. C. Ambrose, Walter Jon Williams

Nonfiction on Speculative Fiction

Saturday 17:00 – 17:50, Griffin (Westin)

We often forget about the nonfiction that is being published: literary criticism, reviews, analyses. Nonfiction helps to inform, sustain, and push the genre forward. The proliferation of nonfiction is often a sign of a very healthy literary field. So, how are we doing? What qualifies as nonfiction? Where do you go to find it or publish it?

David McDonald (M), Kate Baker, Daniel Hatch, Christopher Weuve

Requiem: They Played the Game of Thrones and Lost

Sunday 14:00 – 14:50, Harbor II (Westin)

Some were good and some were bad, but all of them are dead. They have ceased to be. Rung down the curtain. Joined the choir invisible. Stiffs. Ex-Westerosi. Let’s pause to pay homage to characters who met their untimely ends at the bloody hands of George R. R. Martin, and recall their glorious or dubious or just plain icky ends. And while we’re at it, let’s speculate about who’s the next to go. Because there’s no use hoping that anyone will make it out alive.

Laurie Mann (M) , David McDonald, Lauren Roy, Michael Sharrow

In Your Face: Stories that pack a punch

When Tehani (editor and publisher for Fablecroft) contacted me and asked me if I had a story idea for her upcoming anthology, In Your Face, I knew right away what story I needed to write—or finish, to be accurate—for it. The question was, was I brave enough?

A few years ago I read a blog post that had a huge impact on me. Written by Elizabeth Bear, it was called “what is the sound of one heart breaking?”. If you haven’t read it, you should, and you can find it here. The essential premise is that *any* man can be a danger to women, that there is no way of knowing who is “safe” and who is not. The reality for women is that they are surrounded by potential threats, that any man they come into contact with could be the one that kills them.

Elizabeth is a very talented writer, and the imagery in the post is visceral, leaving me feeling like I had been punched in the guts. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days—weeks—afterwards and I struggled to process it.

I am surrounded by women I care about—I am a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, a colleague or even just a fellow human being. The idea that this is the reality for women made me feel a whole range of emotions—anger, sadness…and guilt. It made me question my behaviour—and wonder about the times I might have made women feel unsafe.

Of course, being a writer, my brain immediately started bubbling with ideas, and the first thing that came to the surface was “wouldn’t it be great if there was some way that you could know if someone was thinking violent thoughts?”, and from there it went to “what would that do to society?”.

There were lots of challenges in writing this story, and reasons why I never finished it. I wondered not only whether I could write this story, whether I had the technical ability, but—more importantly—whether I had the right to write it. And, I worried about it being misinterpreted or being read as some sort of MRA paranoid persecution fantasy. In the end I put aside as too hard and never came back to it.

Tehani’s invite prompted me to rethink this, and revisit the story. The concerns I had about writing it hadn’t gone away—in fact, I was probably more aware of them than I had been before! With trembling fingers I sent it off to Tehani, and we discussed getting some people whose opinion we trust to have a look, too.

What had convinced me to write this story in the end were two very important ideas. The first one is that if, as writers, we aren’t willing to go outside our comfort zone we are never going to be the best writer we can be. It’s a huge honour to see my name alongside all the writers on ToC (a massive incentive to complete my story despite my discomfort), but it seems particularly apt to share the same pages as Paul Haines when writing a story meant to provoke discomfort.

Sadly, I never got to know Paul as well as I would have liked, but I was lucky enough to not only read his work, but get to talk writing with him on a number of occasions. One of the (many) things that made him such an amazing writer was his willingness to push the boundaries, to cross lines that many other authors. The depth of contrast between what a lovely person he was, and the disturbing nature of his stories is perhaps rivalled among Australian writers only by the amazing Kaaron Warren—who is, perhaps not coincidentally, also on the ToC!

The other idea was this: if we want to solve this problem men need to be actively engaged, too. That doesn’t mean trying to take over the conversation, or mansplaining. But, it means doing everything we can to change a toxic culture. Any number of women can write articulate posts like the one Elizabeth did, but men need to be shining a spotlight on sexism and misogyny and violence, too, or the sad reality is that many men will simply ignore it. It’s not right that that’s the case, but we need to work in the reality we have been given until we can change it.

Part of changing this culture is writing stories that force us to confront these uncomfortable truths, and make us think about the way things are—and work towards the way they should be. Two of the most powerful stories I have ever read about misogyny and sexual violence were by men—Daniel Abraham’s “Dogs” and Paul’s Australian classic, “Wives” (reprinted in this anthology). I am not half the writer that either of those two are, and I don’t claim my story is a patch on theirs, but all I can do is try and do what little I can. If enough men do, we will see a change. Or so I pray.

Do I think the future portrayed in my story is a likely one? Of course not. My story doesn’t have any answers to the issue raised in Elizabeth’s post, because I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that a world where half the population has very real reason to fear the other half might kill them is an untenable one, and something has to change—before it’s too late.

The crowdfunding campaign for “In Your Face” still has 6 days to go. If you would like to find out more, or wish to support the campaign, click here. Any support, whether financial or raising awareness, is greatly appreciated!

In Your Face

My 2015 in Review

Wow – another year is just about to say good bye! Where has it gone? It has been an action packed year for me, so maybe that’s why it seems to have flown past. It’s been pretty successful year, too, with lots of highlights, but before I get into that, let’s look at my goals from 2014 and get the unachieved goals out of the way! Then I can move on to the good stuff…

The big goals for 2015:

  • Get that elusive pro sale!
  • Finish the YA novel and get it off for submission.
  • Catch up with Doctor Who.
  • Get my solo novel done.
  • Start another conversational review series about a series of books that are very dear to my heart
  • Try and get involved in some sort of news/discussion podcast

Let’s see:

  • Nope. I came close with one sale at 5c a word, and an anthology that would have given me a pro sale being put on hold.
  • Nope, but as you will read in the achievements section I made some good progress with this one
  • Nope. Don’t even want to talk about that!
  • Nope, but again feel happy with what I did achieve in that area.
  • Started a conversational review series, but not that one!
  • Nope, but have found the idea and other person, so that’s a start

So, as you can see, I didn’t do so well with the goals. But, now that the self flagellation is out of the way, here’s what I did achieve in 2015!

WRITING

Considering I only had one short story published in 2014, 2015 was a pretty good year on the writing front. I’ve given a comprehensive breakdown on my writing statistics here for those of you who love graphs and stuff, but the upshot was that I had:

  • Five short stories published
  • Managed to crack couer de lion, a market I have coveted for years
  • Sharing a ToC with David Morrell AND Margaret Atwood AND Chelsea Quinn Yarbro AND Tanith Lee (in what was sadly her last appearance) – all in the same amazing book!
  • A reprint
  • A story turned into a podcast at the most excellent StarShipSofa

While I didn’t meet my goal of having my own original solo novel published, the big news was that my first novel length work came out.

9backcountry_

This has led to more tie-in work, and I am looking forward to being able to announce what I think will be my biggest news yet.

While the Secret Young Adult book isn’t finished yet, we made real progress, with the first ten chapters refined to the point we were happy to send them off to test readers. I got the first feedback email today and it is look good!

2016 is already shaping up to be an even bigger year, so stay tuned for more news as it comes.

CONVENTIONS

2015 was a bit of a jetsetting year for me. I was lucky enough to get visit New Zealand for their Natcon, and discovered that NZ fandom is incredibly welcoming and friendly. I also met some wonderful authors, and made some new friends.

Having fun with some new writer friends!

Having fun with some new writer friends!

I had a great time at my home con of Continuum, getting to be on some great panels and generally just having fun.

This panel on Religion in Spec Fic was much more fun than I am making it look here!

This panel on Religion in Spec Fic was much more fun than I am making it look here!

I managed to make it back to the US this year for an incredible 4 week trip that took me from LA to New York, and plenty of places in between. While over there I went to Sasquan, the Worldcon in Spokane, Washington. As well as hanging out with the Brotherhood Without Banners, the greatest fan group in the Universe, I had the honour of accepting a Hugo for Galactic Suburbia. The Hugo Awards night will be indelibly etched in my memory, it was a truly wonderful night that was capped off with the Hugo Loser Party to end all parties!

Sasquan

And, last but not least, I went up to Canberra for Conflux, and as usual had a great time. There were many highlights, like a Paying for Our Passion panel, and experiencing the Cabinet of Oddities performance, where I had the privilege of hearing one of my stories set to music composed especially for it and played on flute.

Conflux

The “Paying for Our Passion” panel

So, not a bad year for conventions!

AWARDS

I was lucky enough to be nominated for a couple of Ditmars this year, including another Atheling nod. I was a little sad that the Snapshot didn’t win, but given the quality of the category it was in I am not complaining–any of the winners would have been deserving!

BLOGGING

While we didn’t finish the New Who stuff, we did get some reviews done, and I also started a new series of reviews with Tehani as we Squeed Over Supergirl!

By far the most successful series on my blog was Paying for Our Passion, and again I must thank all the writers and editors who were willing to make themselves so vulnerable with some excellent posts on the sacrifices we make to pursue or passions.

PODCASTING

Galactic Chat had a quiet end to the year, but I did get the chance to interview some amazing people. If you haven’t already, you should check out the podcast. I also had my first ever podcast interview when I appeared on it myself.

GOALS FOR 2015

So, looking back, it was a pretty good year! Despite my abject failure to meet last year’s, I am going to set some goals for 2016:

  • FINALLY catch up on Doctor Who
  • start the new podcast I have planned
  • get the full version of the YA book out to test readers, if not an agent
  • make that elusive pro sale

And that will do for now. 🙂

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the course of the year, and to those who have supported and encouraged me in so many ways. I couldn’t have achieved any of the things I have listed without you. Wishing you all a Happy New Year, and hoping that 2016 is your best yet!

A Year of Writing Statistics (or quantifying my obsession).

I am by nature a disorganised, lazy person. As such, I have always found that I work better when I try and impose order on my chaos. I prefer having hard deadlines to nebulous ones, because it forces me to to meet them (or not). I love Google Calendar, and have multiple calendars set up. I use lists a great deal. And, when I lost 20+ kilograms it was because I counted calories rather obsessively and tracked my exercise and diet using an app on my iPhone. Keeping statistics has always helped me because that way I can actually see whether I am making progress or not, and it gives me a measuring stick that I can use to see whether I am ahead of where I need to be–or falling behind.

I have always tried to do the same with my writing. I keep a record of submissions and deadlines (I used to use Duotrope, but I now use an app called StoryTracker), but it was hard to find something to record daily writing stats that met my needs. One of the people in my writing group created an excellent spreadsheet to use during NaNoWriMo and I adapted that to use in other months, but it wasn’t quite as customisable as I needed (more the fault of my Excel skills than the spreadsheet itself). I also helped develop an iOS app to record writing stats and targets, but in the end it didn’t get the necessary uptake to make it worthwhile for the developer to continue to work on it (again, my fault for not putting enough time in to publicising it).

f54c12b15fad1747dbaa71805c4cebe3

In late 2014 I was given a great opportunity to do the novelisation of a Canadian movie. I only got the chance because a number other people were unable to do it, so by the time it got to me the timelines were pretty tight–well, very tight. After watching the movie and reading the script I had about 15 days to produce a 75,000 word draft which, as you can imagine, is a pretty high pressure deadline. I am going to go into the details of how I managed this in another post, but one of the key things was making sure I met a daily word count.

Around the same time, I had found another spreadsheet that seemed to do the things that I wanted to do and I used to help keep on top of my daily goals. After writing non stop for 15 days I had some pretty cool stats, and I decided that I would continue to record them, and try writing every day–no matter what.

I set myself the following rules:

  • A day ended when I went to bed. I do most of my writing between 10pm-2am so I would count that early morning time as part of the day I started on.
  • I didn’t count words written as part of my day job as part of this spreadsheet. As I spent most of that period as the editor of a fortnightly magazine–and writing about 50-60% of the content–I estimate that’s about 100,000-150,000 words I haven’t counted.
  • However, I  counted blogging and writing related tasks because they are words I felt I have to write as part of being an author.
  • When editing a manuscript I would take the ending word count minus the starting word count as the word count for the day, not just changed words.

So, onto the graphs and stats!

Overall Word Count 29/11/14 to 29/11/15 – 224,053 words

Overall

I have divided this into five sections, most of which are self evident. The “Writing-Misc” is stuff to do with the business of writing, which I will break down further a little later on.

Drilling down, there is some useful information:

Daily Breakdown

So, in the course of a year I managed to write over 80% of days, which I am pretty happy with. Add day job stuff and I am writing pretty much every day! Only taking days I did write I averaged almost 750 words a day, but even the actual average of over 600 words a day isn’t too bad–though not amazing. My goal for the coming year is to get it up to 1000.

For a sense of perspective you can check out this fascinating list. I feel better knowing I am beating Hemingway, but I plan to work through Lee Child and end up as Stephen King.

Daily

I am not sure how useful the above graphic is, but I may as well throw it in.

Now to breakdown the category statistics.

Novels –  143,316 words

Novels

Backcountry made up the bulk of the words here, and created a really strong foundation for the rest of my year. It did nearly kill me, though–you can see why below.

Backcountry

If you are wondering what happened on the 13th, I had a rapidly approaching deadline for a commissioned short story! I will talk about the writing process in another blog post but, as tough as it was, that fortnight or so gave me the confidence to believe that I really could write fats and reasonably well when I needed to. Incidentally, on the 14th I set  my record for most words in a day – 8156.

I had promised myself I would never put myself in a position (through factors I could control, though I’ll take any opportunity I get if I can make the deadline even if it is a killer) where I had to write that many words in such a short time (or at least do my best to avoid it), but my trip to the States late last year (where I didn’t get much writing down through September at all) meant I had to do something similar towards the end of they year. 

The “Secret Tie In” project is in the final stages of edits and I hope I can announce it soon–but for now it will have to wait. And it is not easy to keep it secret, it is probably my biggest piece of writing news yet!

Secret Tie In

The “Secret Young Adult” is a collaborative novel I am working  on, and is going along slowly but surely–the first ten chapters are out with some test readers and I am nervously awaiting their feedback. More to come on that one soon, I hope!

Short Stories – 37,778 words

I had a good year for short stories, ending up with five stories (if you count the one performed at Conflux, which I certainly do) being published. However, most of them were either written in 2014 or revised versions of older stories.

Short Stories

The flash piece was called “Guardians of Her Galaxy” and performed as part of the amazing Cabinet of Oddities, and the Poe piece found a home as “Sympathetic Impulses”. The Dystopia story will be part of an upcoming Pozible campaign.

The Tie In story is neither fish nor fowl, the anthology it was slated for has been put on hold, but I remain hopeful.

The rest, well some of them are stories I didn’t finish in time to submit, while others have been been kicking around for far too long. My goal is to either finish them or chuck them out completely if they aren’t worth the time and effort.

Blogging – 12,997 wordsBlogging

I’ve tried to be a lot more consistent with my blogging this year, but the majority of posts have been guest posts, either as part of the excellent (due to the contributors, not as a result of any work on my part!) “Paying for Our Passion” series or as part of my goal to help promote other people’s work.

Despite the fact that we are still way behind (mainly due to me), I did manage to get some posts done for the “New Who Conversations“, as well launching a review series of Supergirl with the wonderful Tehani Wessely.

The saddest one is the “Blogging – Guest” segment–I haven’t been a guest on very many blogs at all!

Writing – Misc – 15,496

Ah, “misc”. It really does cover a multitude of sins.

Writing Misc

I’ve gradually been working my way towards a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. At my current rate of progress I should be finished around 2020, but it is something I would like to finish, if only to prove to myself I can.

Generally I don’t count critiques if I am using comments and track changes, this was one that I had to do a broad assessment, and I think I was trying to preserve my writing streak.

I have applied for a number of writing related jobs this year, and for some I had to do some writing exercises, so that goes down as well.

One of the things you discover when you start getting more work in the Tie In field is you just don’t just get an idea and start writing. In most cases you first need to pitch an idea (generally a paragraph or two outlining the concept) and then, if it interests the publisher enough, you go on to do a chapter by chapter outline. 

As a “pantser”, this came as a rude shock to me but it has actually been really beneficial in showing me that outlining and preparation can actually help. I can write a lot quicker when I am working to an outline–that pain at that start pays off as you start to get closer to the deadline!

Conclusion

So, how did I do with the writing every day? Well, for a long time, I did pretty well. I made a rule that I couldn’t go to bed until I had written something, anything. I didn’t really set a minimum word count, I just made sure I got something down. It didn’t matter where I was, or how I was feeling, I always managed–even on my trip to New Zealand (Norman Cates–who shared a room with me) could tell you a story about that!).

I finally broke my streak on the 22nd of August, after 266 days of consecutive writing. If you look at that date, it is a few days into Worldcon in Spokane. I have to say, it was a relief to finally end it. If I am honest, it had become a bit of a millstone around my neck. I found myself becoming anxious if it looked like I was going to struggle to find time to write on a particular day. I would stay up later than I should have, procrastinating before writing. I often didn’t care about the quality of the writing, as long as I got something down.

But, saying that, there were a number of positives to come out of it. It got me in the habit of writing regularly, and it gave me a whole heap of stats to play with–and learn from. It showed me what I was actually capable of if I applied myself properly. And it gave me a reference point that I can compare against the same time next year, and see how I am going.

As you can see, it was novels that kept me really busy. Because they paid advances and had a guaranteed income, I had to prioritise not only the novels themselves, but the pitches an outlines and revision that come with them over short stories that were not a sure thing or blog posts that might not get many readers. A good problem to have, though!

This is obviously a fairly limited examination of the stats, as I am not sure how much interest there would be in going deeper. But, I am happy to expand on anything covered here–or anything that is shown in the stats that I haven’t noted. You can post your questions in the stats, and I’ll either answer there (if simple enough) or look at doing another post.

Paying for Our Passion – Donna Maree Hanson

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.

Donna Maree Hanson is one of those people who continuously put in to the community, and without whom many of the things we take for granted would not exist. As well as working tirelessly for the Aussie spec fic community, she is also a talented and successful writer who has overcome a number of obstacles to get to where she is–and so is the perfect person to cap off the year for the Paying for Our Passion series .

This is part of Donna’s blog tour celebrating her book Shatterwing being available FREE – check it out

What I gave up for writing.

This is a topic true to my heart. I don’t think I can count the dollars I gave up to write in the past. Right now I work full time and write in between. These days, I am an empty nester and my partner is also a writer. Between us we forego a tidy house most of the time in order to write. However, that’s not suffering really. Right now the demands on me are more physical. I have arthritis in the neck and thoracic spine. I’ve also had RSI in the right arm. It doesn’t help that I write in my day job for about half the year. I can’t write as much as I want to anymore. The 10,000 word days are fond memories. These days achieving 5000 words is a rarity and a cause for celebration.Headshot

For many years I worked part time, having a writing day once a week. I was more or less productive at this time. Often, though, my writing day was taken up with an aging mother, medical appointments, and teenager stress. My more productive time was on writer retreats—two weeks of blissful immersion in writing. These though are expensive, being smack in the middle of the school holidays and I can’t rely on them anymore to get a good project nutted out.

In my early days, I was obsessed with writing. I wanted to write all the time. I wanted to hone my skills, develop my craft and get lots of words under my belt so I could be published. It meant the world to me. I think that obsession damaged relationships with my then partner and also my children. I tried to balance that now, but then there are other things to come into play.

Dragonwine

It wasn’t until I was published that I started working full time. I calculated that I had foregone more income than I’ll ever earn from writing and that insight coincided with my first publication. And since being published, I know I won’t be living off that money any time soon. I may have a number of publications now, but I’m flying below the radar in the number of readers and resulting dollars department. I’m lucky that I have some financial back up if I ever did decide to give up my day job.

Hat

Now faced with increasingly bad physical problems, I have to make even harder choices about my writing versus working full time. I have so many stories to write. I have a white board full of titles I know I’ll never ever write. I have to weigh up now whether I need to focus more on my writing than on earning money. I earn good money. I like earning good money. Worse, I like spending money. Working less means no more cons, or shopping trips or freedom to do what I want or travel where I want. It means taking a risk on myself and that writing is what I want to do. It’s scary–let me tell you.

AnimatedI can’t tell you what I’m going to decide. So now I write when I can, balance the physical pain with the demands of grandchildren, children and the desire to be with them and with friends and sometimes just vegging. Writing for me now is a privilege. Something I can’t take for granted. I have to make every word count, every minute I apply myself count. But I wouldn’t stop doing it. I love writing too much. I don’t know  how I lived before I started writing. I had stories in my head all my life. I need to be creating stories and characters and more. It’s what I need to do to feel like I’m living.

Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under a pseudonym paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan digital imprint).  Book  1: Shatterwing and Book 2: Skywatcher are out now in digital and print on demand. In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction” for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. Under her pseudonym, Dani Kristoff, she writes paranormal romance and is published by Harper Impulse and Escape Publishing.

Dragon Wine Book 1:Shatterwing ebook is free during December and early January 2016.

 

 

Paying for Our Passion – T.R. Napper

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’s guest is T.R. Napper, who has been blogging about this stuff for a while. His post on the economics of being a writer, (GEORGE R. R. MARTIN’S SISTER: THE ECONOMICS OF BEING A WRITER), went viral and is a must read (as is the rest of his blog). So, I was thrilled to have him come and contribute a piece for this series! 

The article David links to in his initial piece that heralds the start of this series, sponsored, needs mentioning at the outset. The author – Ann Bauer – makes the crucial point that her writing life is, in part, sponsored by a husband who works full time. She points out that there are a lot of authors out there who get to devote themselves to writing full time not via their earnings, but through the wealth they were born (or married) into. Sobering stuff.

In a sense I am sponsored. My wife works, I write; she pays the bills and puts food on the table, I write science fiction. How awesome is feminism?!

But it’s not quite that simple. We both worked in the Australian foreign aid program (AusAID), so were taking turns in overseas postings. I worked in Lao PDR from 2008 – 2011; my partner has a position in Viet Nam from 2013 – 2016. Writing aside, I was always going to to a break from paid full-time work – for the first time since I was 18 – in order to take care of our son, who was 16 months old when we moved to Viet Nam. Raising a child is still work, of course – and work that I love – but unpaid nonetheless.

Hear Me Roar

However, when AusAID was drawn and quartered by the Abbott government, I took a redundancy and the qualified degree of financial flexibility that comes with it. When we return to Australia I’ll have to go back to work (our second child is due), but we’ve organised our life in a way that it need not be full-time work. So perhaps you could say I was semi-sponsored.

My path to writing was different than most. While always a voracious reader, I never felt destined to be an author; didn’t attempt my first novel at twelve, any of those born-to-write tropes. My calling was aid work, and I did that for over a decade. My second calling, discovered a little over three years ago at the age of 37, is writing.

At the start I had to write during my son’s daily nap – getting words down during those two hours in the middle of the day when he was asleep was crucial. Now he goes to pre-school I have a bit more time each day, and am producing a reliable number of words each month. Something I’ll be able to continue when we move back to Australia.

Amok

The more I write and become part of the genre community, the more I learn about the challenges we face, big and small.

On the micro-level, in my opinion, the obstacles myself and other writers face are largely trivial.

It’s hard to get terribly moved at someone bemoaning a rejection, or at having to write on the weekend in addition to work, or some other first-world problem,  when you’ve dealt with starving ethnic minority children who’ve never seen the inside of a schoolroom. It’s hard to feel much sympathy at all when writing is such a satisfying, rewarding, and interesting profession (or hobby, or semi-profession).

The things required in a writing life: reading a lot of books; watching old movies (for research, of course); writing discipline; and letting the imagination run rampant and out onto the page, are all pretty straight-forward, positive items.

808_large

On the other hand, on the macro level, I’m increasingly worried at how egregiously undervalued books are in contemporary society.

Writers do pay for their passion with sweat and tears (and blood after one of those particularly nasty paper cuts), but readers are less willing to repay them for that work. Most readers take books for granted, and seem to think they should be cheap or even free. Consumers don’t blink an eye at a five dollar coffee, a ten dollar pint of artisan beer, or thirty dollar breakfast at their favourite café – but ask them to buy a book and they’ll cry poor or complain about the price.

The ability to earn a living from writing is diminishing every year. Every year the median earning for professional writers go down, advances shrink, and royalties peter off. This impoverishes the genre. It means the potential output of a writer is reduced as they spend their productive hours in a day job taken purely to pay the bills.

It also means that some are shut out of the profession.  In the case where someone is, say, working class, or a single mother, or otherwise not able to be ‘sponsored’ – writing dreams shatter  when run up against the hard reality of that next electricity bill.

GrimDark Magazine

So I’ll pay for my passion insofar as a writer earns next to nothing. When I return to Australia I’ll have to get back to work, support my wife, and make sure I take on my share of raising two very young children.

Writing will be tougher, as I’ll have less intellectual energy at the end of each day. I’ll write less than I could, because society undervalues books, because the market is so fragmented, because cutting through is harder than ever, and because, hell, I’m no Kim Stanley Robinson.

But to my mind, none of these things represent sacrifice. It’s just life. Being able to write is a privilege, and I feel lucky to be able to do it.

WOTF - TIM NAPPER

T.R. Napper is an aid worker, stay-at-home parent, and writer. He has spent the last decade living and working throughout South East Asia, and currently lives in Viet Nam.

T. R. Napper’s short fiction has appeared in Interzone (several issues), Grimdark Magazine, Ticonderoga’s Hear Me Roar anthology, and others. He has an upcoming story in Asimov’s, and is a Writers of the Future winner.  

Online he can be found here: www.nappertime.com and here on twitter: @DarklingEarth

Paying for Our Passion – Ian McHugh

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.

Ian McHugh is one of those guys who you can talk to and not get any hint from him of exactly how talented, and successful, a writer he is. He has consistently hit the big overseas markets which is no easy task for an Australian writer–however, that has not stopped him from continuing to give back to the local writing community, both as an editor and as someone always willing to pass on his knowledge.

For all those reasons, and more, I am delighted to welcome the best beard in Aussie spec fic to my blog today.

Landing Jam Side Up

In 2014, I had the chance to take a redundancy from the public service. For someone like me, just past forty and with a couple of decades service, a Commonwealth government redundancy is like winning the lotto: it means a fat lump sum in the bank and my super immediately converted into a pension that almost covers the rent on a three bedroom house in an inner-city suburb.

I could have looked for a new permanent job (or probably walked straight back into the public service as a contractor) and turned the lump sum into a house deposit. But, I’m a writer, and the redundancy opened up another opportunity that I couldn’t pass up: I chose to fund my writing habit instead.

So, to cover that last little bit of rent (and food and clothes and Lego and overpriced soy flat whites) I now work as a sessional university lecturer and tutor, which means I have casual contracts for a term or semester at a time. I also teach short evening courses in fiction writing and occasional one-day writing workshops in Canberra or elsewhere. I have my kids about half the time and the rest of the time they live with their mum. I live in Canberra, but my partner lives in Sydney, so I do a lot of commuting between the two.

Angel Dust

The upside of all this is that I have lots time to write. Ten hours of class contact is considered a full-time teaching load at university. While I was working in the public service, in a permanent, most-of-fulltime office job, I was doing well to produce four new short stories in a year. In 2015, I’ve written eight new short stories and 60-some thousand words of a novel, so somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 new words in all.

That doesn’t mean I’m writing steadily or consistently. My work commitments and weekly routine change every three months (or less). I’m periodically completely derailed by marking assignments and exams, usually for a couple of weeks at a time. The constant chop and change is good, though, because it means the day-to-day never gets samey. The teaching is great, because I’m up and moving and talking to people, which is a perfect balance for the solitary seatedness of writing. I’m rubbish at getting started with writing, but once I do, writing in intensive bursts for a few days or a couple of weeks seems to suit me.

It helps, too, that my partner is also a writer and writing is something that we love to do together. It helps that we’re working at about the same level of “emerging” professionals, with some good short fiction sales under our belts and similar levels of recognition for those, and both plugging away at novels. It also helps that what we write overlaps in genre but diverges wildly from each other in style and content. It means we can usefully critique each other’s writing, and have space to admire what the other does. And it means that we understand the ups and downs that we both go through with our writing, and all the writerly paranoias, insecurities and eccentricities that go with it.

Never Never Land

That my kids’ mum isn’t a writer isn’t why that relationship failed, or why we weren’t able to give each other the emotional support we both needed, and she deserves to be acknowledged for giving me the time and space to write – like letting me go to Clarion West when our daughter was one, or go to Writers of the Future when she was eight months pregnant with our son. These are not small things. At the same time, I would find the stories I’d given her to read covered in dust under her side of the bed, given up on after a couple of pages and forgotten. Having a partner who shares your geekdom, especially when it’s an obsession that’s so personal and creative, is a special thing.

The downside of my current situation is insecurity. Overall, my income including the pension just about covers my budget (or would, if I stuck to my budget). I have money in the bank, but never have paid work guaranteed for more than 14 weeks at a time, and no paid work over summer. The margins are fine enough that selling a short story here and there makes an appreciable difference. (If you know anything about the likelihood and rewards of selling short stories, that’ll give you an idea of the fineness of the margins.)

But even insecurity has an upside. I once heard Jack Dann respond to a question about what motivated him to write, and he said, “Fear”. And he’s right, fear is a great motivator – for me, it’s fear of not making the most of this opportunity, which is probably only sustainable in the short term.

And, too, talking about ‘insecurity’, in my situation, isn’t the same as saying there’s any ‘hardship’. I certainly can’t talk about ‘sacrificing’ for my art. I mean, seriously: I’m working 10 hours (or less) a week to cover the rent on an inner city house and feed and clothe myself and two kids, with money left over for Lego and writerly tour-de-cafes. If my life up until last year was tumbling like a piece of dropped toast, and it kinda was – immediately before I got the redundancy, I was $10,000 in debt, with no assets, and looking at several tens of thousands of dollars more in legal fees to get a final arrangement for care of the kids -, well, it landed jam-side up.

If ‘insecurity’ ever does become ‘hardship’, I have family and friends I can fall back on – and before things ever get to that, if I have to, I can almost certainly just get a real job again. One day in the not too distant future I expect I’ll have to do exactly that, so it comes back to reminding myself that I won the lotto. My life right now is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I need to make the most of it. Right now, the only thing that would really make my situation better (other than getting my uni contracts more than a week before the start of semester) would be if I was making some real money from my writing. The only control I have over that is to keep writing and submitting. Luck is such a huge part of writing. When it falls your way, you’ve got to use it.

Ian

Ian McHugh’s first success as a speculative fiction writer was winning the short story contest at the 2004 Australian national SF convention. Since then he has sold stories to professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest and been shortlisted five times at Australia’s Aurealis Awards (winning Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010). He graduated from the Clarion West writers’ workshop in 2006. His debut collection of short stories, Angel Dust, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection in 2015.

Paying for Our Passion – Sean Williams

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.

Sean Williams is one of those people who you can actually say needs no introduction–he is one of Australia’s most successful spec fic writers, carving out a massive career overseas and having played in some of the coolest franchises in the universe. He was also one of the writers who appeared on the “Paying for Our Passion” panel at Conflux. His honesty in sharing his own struggles, and his obvious empathy for others who are struggling, was a reminder of why I not only aspire to emulate his writing success–but also his character. 

I’ve had a fantastic career. That is an undeniable fact. To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous and self-serving. I’m exactly where I dreamed of being when I dropped out of university to become a writer twenty-five years ago. Everything I want now can be summed up by one four-letter word: more.

The universe, however, is telling me: less.

Twinmakers

Being prolific has been my undoing. Nobody cranks out six million or so words without consequences, and for me those consequences begin and end with chronic pain, pain that never lets up, day or night. I don’t wake up screaming every morning, but there are times I feel ill to the point of vomiting and emotionally desperate for release. I’ve gone on and off various drugs and had one operation, to no effect. If there’s an end to this, I can’t see it.

It’s got so bad that I’ve considered giving up writing. But that begs the question: what else would I do? Every time I try to take time off, I end up squeezing in a short story because stories, like virtual particles, appear spontaneously in a vacuum and must be written. I’ve always said that I would write music again one day, but that still leaves me at a keyboard, situation unchanged. I’ve considered taking up a hobby, but not being a sporty person, I’ve yet to find one that relieves my hands or interests me much. Reading is great, but even more sedentary than standing at a desk. I’ve taken up Pilates and Tai Chi to get my body moving, but I can’t do them without making other parts of my body creak and twang like a rusty old piano.

Spirit Animals

In short, age sucks. And it’s just going to keep on sucking until we find a cure for it.

I’m not alone in this. Everyone experiences significant pain at some point in their life. Everyone finds ways to deal with it. Once upon a time I’d get together with my writer friends to bitch about money and the market, but now we exchange health tips and coping strategies. Usually we gripe in private because it seems churlish to say that the career of our dreams, which many other people dream of having, is even slightly tarnished. But I think there is value in being open about these things. Not to get sympathy, but to stand as a cautionary example.

Force Unleashed

Don’t ignore the twinges. Be active, even in small ways. Treat your occupational health and safety as seriously as you would expect any other employer. Invest in a robot body the second they become available. (Join the queue.)

However, there are positives as well as negatives.

Stories come from our lived experiences, so if we’re living in pain, then that pain will inevitably inform our creativity. After a bit of a crisis early this year, I’ve recently found myself overflowing with ideas inspired by my condition, ideas that speak back to it in ways that I find both cathartic and creatively fulfilling. My gut tells me that these might be the strongest stories I will ever write . . . but I still have to write them.

The act of writing may be a source of unspeakable pain some days, but on other it is a source of great succour. Focussing on the latter I hope will be the best medicine of all.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com/.

Picture credit: James Braund, http://www.jamesbraund.com

Sean Williams is an award-winning, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of over forty novels and one hundred stories, including some set in the Star Wars and Doctor Who universes. His latest is Twinmaker: Fall, the final book in his Twinmaker trilogy. He lives just up the road from the best chocolate factory in Australia with his family and a pet plastic fish.

Fall

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 choiceofgames.com (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.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/dl/android?p=org.hostedgames.clockworkarmy&t=choofgam-20&ref=clockworkarmyGame

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/attack-of-the-clockwork-army/id1042824941?mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.hostedgames.clockworkarmy&referrer=utm_medium%3Dweb%26utm_source%3DclockworkarmyGame

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/attack-of-the-clockwork-a/oojmcpcnhdedgiegdocaedonlgfhlpgj

https://www.choiceofgames.com/user-contributed/attack-of-the-clockwork-army/#utm_medium=web&utm_source=ourgames