Sunday, February 1, 2015

Living as a "Kept" Woman*

by Kristi Belcamino

*Before you gag on the title to this post, read on.

Being a published author is a dream come true. No doubt about it.

I am grateful every day that there are people NOT RELATED TO ME who are reading and enjoying my books.

It is mind blowing.

But the truth needs to be told. Six months into being a debut author—and with my third book coming out in a few months—the reality is I am not anywhere close to making a living.

The good news is I already knew this going in.

From everything I've read, an author shouldn't even consider counting on royalties or advances to survive until they've published at least five books.

And from what I hear that isn't even a guarantee, it just makes it more likely.

I know that I'm extremely privileged to be able to spend four hours every day writing my novels without having to rush to a day job. I get it. I don't take a second of it for granted. I very rarely squander my "sacred" writing time because I know it is a gift.

And I know I'm very fortunate to have a husband who believes in me and encourages me to write instead of seeking some job where I will most likely not even make enough to pay for the kids to be in daycare while I work.

This subject has come up a lot in my world this week, including this Salon article and this article.

For me, this subject is also tied in with people who quit their day jobs to be writers.  Maybe because I have such mixed feelings when I hear someone has quit their day job before their first novel is published. On the one hand, I think, Uh oh. And on the other hand, I feel guilty because how can I judge someone who doesn't have the luxury of time I have to write?

But, wow, what a gamble. I hope that for some of them it pays off, but it seems to me that is a heck of a lot of pressure to put on oneself — sink or swim, in fact.

Consider this:

Several friends of mine who are unbelievably inspirational talk about their writing career as a way to survive retirement.

For instance, Peg Valenti Cochran is one of the hardest working writers I know. She has two agents and several books out. Here is what she said on Facebook:

" books will go toward my retirement income. I have 9 books out and no way I could support myself unless I wanted to live in a garret, have no health insurance and dumpster dive for food."

Another hardworking writer friend, Kathleen Prater Taylor, says this:

"13 books and I'm not even close to supporting myself. Sigh. My first knitting book earned more than all 6 of the mysteries put together, and still, it's not a living."

I hear you.

And here is where you can stop reading if you don't want to hear me justify having so much time to write:

While I don't work outside the home, I'm also in charge of every blasted thing within our home and family of four. I'm shopping for food and other necessities, I'm making every meal, I'm the accountant and bookkeeper, I'm chauffeuring the children to doctor's appointments and sports and piano and choir. I'm doing a crappy job keeping the house somewhat clean. And I'm not complaining. This is the part I play in our family while my husband's role is bringing in the paycheck that pays our bills and provides our health insurance.

As a feminist who imagined being a newspaper reporter until she died, it is almost difficult and a bit embarrassing to write about my "housewife" duties, but it is important to point them out. Why? In all honesty, it is because I feel guilty that I don't work that 40-hour job. Let me clarify, I believe that my job as a mother is extremely important and I don't want to make this a post about stay-at-home moms versus working mothers. But the truth is I feel guilty that I am able to choose how to spend my days.

(And being a "kept" writer is not just for women. Brad Parks tells about how his wife believed in his writing enough for him to quit his reporting job and pursue his writing career.) And it's no coincidence that Brad coined the phrase "Church of One Thousand Words" which states if you write a thousand words a day five days a week, you can write a book in three to four months.

I feel like I need to justify not working and so yes, I am being honest about what I do and how I spend my time so people don't think I'm a dilettante, sitting around pondering a blank page for eight hours a day and then writing a perfect sentence when the inspiration strikes.

There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration to strike in my life. Writing is work.

My guilt about being able to do this every day means I don't fuck around. I worship at the Church of One Thousand Words. (Stephen King also talks about this schedule - he says you can write a book a season - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.)

I have friends on the same publishing schedule as me who fit in writing books around full-time jobs as pediatricians, attorneys, reporters, etc. So I don't waste a second of my gift of time.

Every morning from 8:30 to 12, Monday through Friday, I park my butt in a chair, either at a cafe or at my kitchen table, and I write until I hit my One Thousand Words. The rest of the day involves Mamma Italiana and household duties. On the weekends I work as a newspaper reporter.

But because I don't work outside the home full-time, I have nearly four hours a day to devote to writing. I don't waste this precious time. Here's why: By sitting there every day for five days a week I have accomplished this: In September, I will have had four books published in 13 months.

I have a four-book deal and I'm doing everything in my power to turn that into a six-book deal, maybe an 8-book deal, as far as I can go. Like Peg, I'm working for retirement, baby.

It is a luxury that my husband is carrying our family through this time while I work on building a writing career. He's my biggest champion. He believes in me enough to believe that one day, I will be carrying our family with my writing alone. But in order to get there, I can't waste a minute of my time.


Scott D. Parker said...

Interestingly, in the spirit of "I can't waste a minute of my time," I'm in the opposite boat. I'm a writer with a full-time day job and I'm the only bread winner in the house. I can't waste a minute because I just don't have the time. Tis why I rise at 5am and write as much as possible before the day 'really' starts. It's the fitting in of the other duties--editing, blogging, website, etc.--that I find an issue. It makes my drafting slower.

Caroline Gerardo said...

Everyone has their own battle to get the time in writing. I'm with Scott Parker at 4:55 AM in my chair before my paying job No write or wrong just keep working :)

Kristi said...

I feel for you. When I was looking for full-time work about a year ago, I had plans to do just that - write before work. Kudos to you both for doing so!

Dana King said...

I have mixed emotions about those who quit their day jobs to write full-time before they have any assurance there will be money coming in.

For those who have thought about it and made a conscious decision to risk it: Good luck. I sincerely wish you the best.

For those who just figure they'll do fine and will make enough to live on: Dumbass.