Paying for Our Passion – Cat Sparks

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.

One of the first people I met when I became involved in the Aussie spec fic community was Cat Sparks, and ever since then she has not only been a great friend but a mentor who has encouraged and supported me as a writer. I could list all her achievements, but it would end up longer than this post–it is safe to say she is one of Australia’s leading writers, editors and designers. Welcome, Cat! 

David has had to nag me a great many times to get this post for his blog series. Thing is, I thought I’d written it already and that it had been published and, quite possibly, that I had spared a minute to glance over it. Turns out none of those things were true. Right now, I’m juggling way too many plates and everything’s a multicoloured blur.

For the past three years I’ve been engaged in a PhD on YA climate change fiction whilst simultaneously functioning as Cosmos Magazine’s fiction editor and wrestling with an Ausco-funded science fiction novel that never seemed to get finished, no matter how hard I tried. The ending was rewritten many times at my agent’s request. Finally it passed muster and now I’m waiting to see if she can sell it.

I guess you could say my writing career is going well at the moment, the main effect of which seems to be that finding time for actual writing is becoming problematic. As Tansy Rayner Roberts once pointed out, the reward for successful writing tends to generally be more work – which means, of course, more writing and writing related activities such as speaking opportunities: panels, workshops, festivals and the like.

The Bride PriceDon’t get me wrong – I am privileged and I know it. But I worked damn hard across many years to score my luck. Being a professional writer means other people want things from you: help, endorsements, participation, advice. You’re always paying it back or paying it forward.

I recall many years ago Sean Williams explaining that I ought to try to enjoy the pre-pro state I inhabited at the time. What he meant was that having no deadlines aside from the self imposed kind meant I could write whatever I wanted, write freely for enjoyment or experiment. Once I’d reached where I thought I wanted to be, the next rung up the achievement scale, everything would change and get much harder.

He was right because Sean is always right when it comes to the nitty gritty of the publishing landscape. I didn’t get it then, I was so hung up on making the grade, such as I saw it. That grade was everything to me and my passion to catch up with it has cost me plenty. Here are a few once treasured activities that have fallen by the wayside:

Dance: I was part of a group who learned and performed raqs sharqi – Egyptian folk dancing. It was fun and I particularly enjoyed mixing with women from walks of life far different from my own. But I gave it up because of the time and distraction factor.

Art: A fundamental element of my character and had been since I was a child, but art slipped through my fingers, piece by piece, once again, because of the time it took away from words. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to everyone, of course. Many of my colleagues are heavily into art and craft, but things did not work out that way for me.


Friendships: I have lost some to this game for a variety of reasons. Sitting around on a sunny deck sipping wine and nibbling cheese with lovely people sucks up valuable storytelling real estate. I am blessed with many friends but some of them I just don’t see much of anymore.

The Home Beautiful: [insert hysterical laughter]. I blame the fact that our house is falling down around us on the fact that we both write. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’m slow. I’m ponderous. I get sucked down infinite rabbit holes of reading and research. I polish everything I write to the nth degree. Long gone are the days when I could dash a story off across 48 hours.

My biggest support continues to come from my partner Rob. He has been the main breadwinner across the past fifteen years, although up until the grant, I always had a day job. In our house, writing is important. It gets to come first, before other things. I cannot imagine successfully co-inhabiting with the kind of guy who wanted to drag me off to boat shows or whatever on the weekends. Rob and I both dig genre. Our house is filled with pop culture crap. Nothing matches anything else, a fact that, fortunately, suits us both.

with jawa-cybermen

Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer and manager of Agog! Press amongst other (much less interesting) things. She’s currently fiction editor of Australia’s Cosmos Magazine while simultaneously grappling with a PhD on YA climate change fiction.

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