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 one of those people without whose efforts and generous contribution of their time the Aussie spec fic community would probably grind to a halt. Since I have been around, Nicole Murphy has not only made me feel personally very welcome, but has been involved in the organisation of many of the events I have attended and enjoyed the most. She also has an excellent straight face–I wouldn’t play poker with her! When you realise all that is on top of being a very prolific and talented writer, it gives you an idea of the level of her achievements. Here you can see how hard she has worked to get to that point.
The things you do for your writing career…
The year was 2007. I was working through my ‘Operation No-Regrets’ project—a list of all the things I wished I’d done in my life. I was doing one per month, culminating in my 40th birthday, where I would have no regrets.
Projects like that tend to focus your thinking and bring thing you hadn’t realised to the forefront of your mind. So, I was lying in bed one night and I had this clear mental image. It was me, on my death bed. I’d never had a novel published and as I lay dying, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe if I’d tried harder…’
There’s a lot of reason to never have a novel published (note we’re talking traditional publishing—the rise of self-publishing has turned the ability to have your words out to public on its head). You might have terminal bad timing and always submit a book weeks after the publisher bought something similar. You could write a product so niche a publisher can’t sell enough to make it worthwhile. You could actually not be a good enough writer (a fear that never leaves you). But NO WAY was the reason going to be that I didn’t try hard enough. I swore that writing, and publication, was going to be the focus of my life. If I got to the end and it didn’t happen, it damn well wasn’t going to be because I didn’t give it my all.
This left me in a dilemma. At the time I was working as a journalist, and I hadn’t written any fiction for some time. For me, the source of words for both jobs was the same, and journalism was running me dry. It just so happened that it was time for me to leave my current employer. I had a choice—continue either as a journalist (or even move into a communications roles in the government and make more money) or leave the industry all together and find a job that freed my mind and soul to focus on my writing (and take a pay cut in the process).
In February 2008 I left journalism and in March 2008 I started working at Aldi. An easy job that didn’t take up my words. A pay cut, true, but Hubby and I made it work.
The new job was just one part of the commitment. I also had to commit fully to my writing. For the next two years I had just one day off per year (Christmas Day). Every other day, I was at the supermarket or I was writing. When I worked the late shift, I wrote in the morning.
It worked. By November 2008 I had a novel I called ‘Love in Control’, the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy, ready for submitting. I bypassed getting an agent and submitted myself. In July 2009 I sold the trilogy to HarperVoyager and in July 2010, ‘Secret Ones’ (formerly ‘Love in Control’) was released. The other two books came out in 2011.
I had to leave Aldi in 2010 because of back injuries. Hubby decided he was doing well enough to support me so I wrote full time for two years, pumping out the words and doing all the promotion I could.
Forward to April 2012—Hubby had a stroke. My lovely writing full time life was over. I nevermade enough money to make writing lucrative, so I had to return to work.
I made an error. I forgot my vow that writing and publication were going to be the focus of my life. I think I was lulled into a false expectancy by how lovely my life had been. I write fast, you see. So full-time, I only needed the morning to achieve what I wanted. I had my afternoons free for whatever. Sometimes, I got bored and took on new projects. So I thought I’d have time to focus, and do a cool job.
When I went for jobs, I didn’t look for easy jobs like Aldi. Instead, I got a job as a conference organiser—acknowledged by many work experts as one of the most stressful jobs around.
I kept up my writing. I reset my goals and it now takes 10-11 weeks to draft a 110k novel, rather than seven weeks (faaaast writer). I get up early (and I hate getting out of bed) every morning to write as much as I can before I got to work. For a while, I kept up my promotional work too (generally by giving up at least one day of the weekend). Then, I started to rely on writing weekends or retreats (where I could write full time) to keep up with my deadlines.
Kept up I did—since 2013 I’ve had another six books published, bringing my total publications thus far to nine books (eight novels, one collection of novellas). But each became more rushed, the deadline harder to hit. And the promotional work less and less…
And so begins 2015, which is in the running for the worst year of my life for a variety of reasons. One is work, which has taken over my life. From mid-March to mid-May, I doubt I wrote more than ten thousand words. Thankfully I spoke to publishers I’m contracted with and as a result, I’m not as far behind on my deadlines as I would have been if I’d kept to my original 2015 deadline (I was supposed to write 240k in the year—now it’s just 130k). Nevertheless, in order to ensure the rest of the year works, I’m in the process of drafting an 80k novel in five weeks.
Alleluia annual leave and a writing weekend with friends.
While on my week of leave, I remembered that vow and realised how far I’d slipped from it. I had a book come out June 8. Best you don’t know that. Why? I’ve been too busy/exhausted to do any promotion.
So, once again, I face a choice. Stay in a job that I often love (although the stress is sometimes unbearable) with workmates I like, or go find an easier job that will free my mind and soul to focus on my writing.
I think you can all guess what the answer will be.
Nicole Murphy is a cross-genre writer who also publishes under the name Elizabeth Dunk. She’s had nine books published: The Dream of Asarlai trilogy (urban fantasy), the Jorda trilogy (science fiction romance), two contemporary romances and a collection of paranormal erotica novellas. She has a further six books contracted to be published over the next three years. Her current day job is as a conference organiser, but she’s hoping to change that so she can re-focus on her dream of a career as a writer. She lives in Queanbeyan with her husband Tim (a champion croquet player) and their two budgies—Freddy and Casper.