Writing with the power of panic

I think I’ll need somewhere between five and ten good quality ebooks for sale before I stand a chance of really making a living from it.

Bearing in mind that my idea of “making a living” is pretty frugal. Last time I checked, my family of three was living quite comfortably on what the OECD considers the poverty-line for a single adult in Australia.

But as my son gets bigger I’m starting to feel the need for a bigger place to live. He won’t fit in that cardboard box forever.

So while it was exciting to publish my first ebook recently, it’s really only the start. I’ve arbitrarily set myself a June deadline for the first draft of the sequel to To Create a World. If I write 1,000 words a day that will give me about 75,000 words, but I’m expecting the sequel to be bigger than the original, so I’m counting on passing my word-count more days than not.

That’s a lot to write. I won’t get there without making a major effort, and this realisation has done something to my mind.

With my first book, I took my time. I wanted it to be right at each stage. The first draft felt right, right up until the moment my wife finished reading it and paused a long, long time before giving her opinion.  In the end To Create a World took seven drafts to complete. Some were minor fixes, others were major additions or rewrites.

So this time I’m not waiting to see if it feels right when I write. Instead, I’m using my panic over the looming deadline to keep me focused, and my knowledge that rewrites are inevitable to keep me relaxed.

It’s finally making sense why people say not to edit until you’ve finished. If I stop now, I’ll never get it done.

The literal deadline doesn’t matter too much. It’s just there to give me something to strive towards. If the story stretches the draft out to 100,000 or more I’ll keep going until it’s done. But I can’t afford to slow down or dawdle. Even when the sequel is finished, I won’t be.

While you’re waiting for me to finish, read my debut novel To Create a World. I’ve pitched it at middle-grade readers, but so far the majority of people who’ve read it (and enjoyed it) have been adults. I’m sure that’s something I’ll have to rethink in future.

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Serving two masters

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Having a smaller, less stable income these days has left me newly appreciative of certain biblical passages:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Money too is more than food and clothing, and as such I think it gives us a sense of security and sufficiency that inhibits our sensitivity to providence.  Why should we ‘trust in God’ when we have permanent employment and a guaranteed income?

This balance between material security and spiritual dependence is complex, as demonstrated by the contending interpretations of the beatitude of the ‘poor in spirit’, and the story of the rich young man who went away sad.

It’s not wealth per se that is the problem, but our devotion to it over and above higher things; allowing it to dominate our lives and our minds.  At times it can be hard to tell whether we are the masters of wealth or the slaves, driven by financial imperatives with nothing higher to intervene or change our minds.

I think this is the significance of my decision not to follow the financial imperative back into mediocre employment for the sake of a reliable income and the sense of security and sufficiency it affords.  The decision to cease compromising my integrity for the sake of money means acknowledging something higher than my income in a society where a high income is more often than not the summum bonum.

What does it take to be a writer?

My goal at this stage is to make enough money from my writing that I don’t have to return to the kind of absurd job I just left.

That might sound like an impossible goal, or at least a very difficult one, but at this stage merely ‘surviving’ as a writer is highly preferable to the kind of situation I was in previously.  If I could earn half of my previous income from writing, I would consider myself very fortunate.  If I could earn a quarter, my family could survive comfortably.

Whether that is plausible, or sustainable in the long term remains to be seen.

Here’s what I’ve achieved so far:

In a little over a month I’ve spent more than 80 hours working on articles.  That’s just over 3.5 solid hours of work each weekday.

I’ve written 10 viable articles, 5 of which have been published so far.  Including drafts, I’ve written more than 20,000 words.

This doesn’t include research time, general reading time, and all the other things I spend my time on, such as my Phd, and changing dirty nappies.

It’s a huge amount of work, and I find I have to keep reminding myself how much I’ve done so I don’t wander around wondering why I feel so fatigued.

I’ve been rejected several times, and while it’s disappointing, the greater frustration lies in not being able to keep working.  A successfully published article brings me a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.  It confirms that I’m on the right track, and motivates me to write more.

It’s important not to get too dejected when the work slows down.  There are always other things to do, like reading and study to expand your knowledge and enrich your understanding. Even though being unable to progress leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it’s important to do something productive, even if it’s just taking a walk or relaxing with friends.

At the same time, dissatisfaction is part of what motivates writers, or at least it motivates me as a writer.  I write in part because I am dissatisfied or perplexed or frustrated by aspects of life that aren’t what they ought to be.  Writing is a way of trying to bring down to earth a more ideal vision of how the world could be.  It’s rarely that explicit, but there’s always some glimmer of excitement and joy at the possibility latent in the language.