According to a 2015 study by Sydney’s Macquarie University, Australian authors earn an average of $12,900 a year from their creative writing. Obviously, if you’re in the top 2 per cent that make it onto the bestsellers list, this figure will be significantly higher. For emerging authors like myself, who are still building their portfolios and professional reputations, this amount is much, much less.
When you also consider the fact that half of the novelists who are currently published won’t see a second book in print, you might think, why bother pursuing a career with little income stability and even less chance of success?
Every author begins their writing journey differently; some are late bloomers who discover their talent for creativity later in life, while some are born with a pen and paper in their hands. But most writers begin as readers, and I am no exception. Reading has always been a way for me to understand, identify with, or escape from the world we live in. As a result, my taste in reading material is as eclectic as my own writing style.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I began writing, but one of my earliest memories is reading one of my first attempts at a story to my grandmother, so I must have been around four or five years old.
I write because I love storytelling. I get intellectually and emotionally stimulated by a good story. A “good story” is one that touches upon our deepest convictions and instincts; a good story shocks or enlightens us, humours or moves us. A good story has characters we love, and characters we love to hate. A good story stands the test of time, it is one that people still talk about generations later. The Harry Potter series is an example of a “good story”. It is the only book in my thirty years that has had readers lining up for hours, even days, before the midnight release of a new installment in the series. A “good story” isn’t just limited to books, either; storytelling done right translates into all creative outlets including art, dance, music, film, and television.
I write because I enjoy observing and analysing. If I weren’t so creatively inclined, I would probably be a psychologist instead of a writer. Life is a fluid, subjective entity, and us humans are strange, emotional creatures. Identity and human behaviour, relationships, society, historical events, science – there is just so much to examine and discuss!
I write because writing is a way for me to connect to other people. My two favourite quotes about the craft are write what you know and truth is often stranger than fiction. I’ve had some outrageous experiences, some amusing experiences, some emotional experiences… writing allows me to share these with others who may have been in similar situations.
I write because I have something to say. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, and my opinions are just as valid as anyone elses. Writing allows me to share my opinions with other like-minded people, or at least get someone with opposing views to think about things from a different perspective.
There is constant pressure to find a “proper” job instead of pursuing self-employment as an author. In fact, most people I encounter outside of the industry don’t even realise that a self-employed writer is classified as a small business. I have two children to feed and clothe and put through school, so I have worked in jobs simply to pay the bills – telemarketer, barista, retail assistant, cleaner – and for a period I even considered studying to become a nurse, as I am maternal by nature. But nothing has lasted, because nothing fits.
Writing is the only thing I have ever had a talent for, and it’s also one of the only topics that just clicks whenever I’ve learnt something new about it. At school, my best subjects were always English, history and social studies, and I have many personal qualities best suited for those in artistic professions such as sensitivity, curiosity, and tenacity.
There is also the common misconception that since I work from home, I do nothing all day or that I use my writing as an excuse not to have a “proper” job. Including the four years I have spent studying for my Advanced Diploma in Professional Writing at the Adelaide College of Arts, I have never worked so hard in a job in my life.
Whole days and nights are spent researching, planning, writing, editing and rewriting novels, short stories, blog posts, essays and articles, or whatever I am working on – and I am always working on more than one project at a time. I spend time seeking out work opportunities and researching potential publishers/outlets for my work; I attend courses, workshops and writing festivals, and enrol in numerous writing centres and writing groups, which are not paid for by an employer but out of my own pocket. I have received mentorships with established writers through my studies at TAFESA and I network with other writers, both aspiring and published. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
But the point is, all of this “work” doesn’t actually feel like work. It feels as natural as breathing or eating, and what’s more important, I actually enjoy doing it. Dismissing what I do simply because I don’t travel to an office in the city, or wear a uniform, or answer to a supervisor is insulting and ignorant.
So, why do writers write when the odds are stacked against us?
We write because we have to; because without writing we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin. And because kidnapping people to force them into acting out our fantasies is illegal.
© Tara Jenkinson 2o16