Paying Your Dues

My (fabulous) writer friend Kelly Barnhill shared this link on Facebook about the cost of small time literary ambition. It’s interesting because it appears on a website about money, not a website about writing. I don’t know how seriously to take an article that lists dining out and massages as “expenses” for writing, but it makes me wonder… what have I invested?

1. Time. Lots of Time.

2. A pittance of actual money.

I do have a laptop, but if I’m honest–I’d have it anyway. I got an M.A. in English/Emphasis in Creative Writing but my position was funded. I’ve attended conferences since then, but I’ve also been paid to present, so I probably break even. I belong to SCBWI and the Children’s Literature Network, but they have also led to opportunities to at least make back my fees. So it’s hard to say what the actual expense of being a writer is. I think it’s negligible.

But #1. Oh, #1. The hours spent working late into the evening. The family vacations I’ve foregone to see a book through. The years — literally, decades — of scribbling in notebooks and hammering out worthless pages. I’ve written four novels that didn’t get published and probably never will, on top of the four I have sold. I’ve written thousands of pages on top of that: stories and false starts and whatnots.

I think classes and conferences are wise investments. But even those things are more about time than money: hours every week away from your family, lost weekends from your pets and hobbies. And that’s nothing compared to the incalculable hours of actually writing. That is the real “cover charge to the slush pile.” You pay that cover charge in sweat.


One thought on “Paying Your Dues

  1. Great response Kurtis to the idea that buying dinner and drinks at a conference is paying your dues as a writer. As you say, time is the real investment a writer makes. Time and focused attention. From a financial perspective, it’s a high risk investment. But any writer who’s in it only for the money is wasting her/his time.
    Here’s my take on it: The Sufi say “Pain is the tuition for compassion.” You have to experience your own pain to have compassion for others. For writers, frustration and rejection are the tuition for persistence. If we want to reach our writing goals, we have to persist in making time and taking action, we have to keep showing up and taking risks. you have to experience frustration to develop persistence and that’s where you pay your dues.

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