There’s a comment in the acknowledgments of Consorts of Heaven, my second book, to the effect of me now being on the road to becoming a proper pro (yes, I know: poor choice of abbreviation). Last weekend’s convention got me thinking about this, as I’ve been attending cons as a fan for mumblety-mumph years, but I’ve been in the ‘pro’ camp for less than three.
Put two pros together in private and they’ll probably end up having a mutually supportive whinge. It would be unprofessional of me to give details of likely subject matter, but you can probably work it out for yourself. Let’s just say that we’re highly aware of what a precarious living writing is, even for a professional; remember, most professional authors, certainly most genre fiction authors, only get to go on holiday – or to cons – by supplementing their writing income with other, usually less glamorous, jobs. (I’m one of the lucky ones, as I have a contract with a top publisher: this means I only need a part-time day-job.)
We might have comparable conversations if we made widgets for a living, assuming the widget-making business was a low-paid and unstable one. There would be obvious small differences (again, you can fill in the blanks) but the principle’s the same. We want a regular income and we want to succeed in our field.
But there is one big difference between making widgets and making stories. I suspect more seasoned professional writers might not feel the difference as keenly as I still do, but it’s something any writer, even one who never gets paid a penny for her work, will tell you. Someone who has founded their own widget business needs a certain level of interest in widgets if they want their business to succeed. However, widgets (probably) don’t keep them awake at night by having conversations in their head. They are unlikely to ever experience the sensation of living in a world of widgets that no one else is aware of. They rarely turn down social engagements because the widgets are calling. Now, replace the word ‘widget’ above with the words ‘characters’, ‘infinite possibility’ and ‘stories’ respectively, and that’s my life.
Writers write because they love writing. Don’t let us tell you otherwise. For fiction writers like me, telling stories matters more than almost anything else – check out the dedication in Principles of Angels if you want a clue to my one exception.
How much we enjoy the ancillary stuff around writing – answering fan-mail, doing interviews, attending conventions, and, um, blogging – varies from writer to writer. I like such activities; they get me out of my garret, and I’m not someone who can write for sixteen hours straight, at least not if I expect to have anything worth reading at the end of it. But all these things – yes, dear reader, even this blog – are not ends in themselves, any more than the money we get paid is an end in itself. If it was about money, we’d be running widget factories, not inventing new worlds. We do the associated activities because we want people to read our stories. Ideally we want those people to pay money to read our stories, because then we get paid to write, and that means we can devote time to our stories, rather than spending our entire lives making widgets. Most writers write because they have to, and we’ll do whatever it takes to be allowed to indulge our obsession.
While as a very amateur writer I know what you mean about stories, I’m also a widget-maker (for “widget” read “database”). I dream about them. I wake up in the small hours with a marvellous idea for a bit of code. I forget to come home from work and eat because I’m having such fun. I stop dead in the street because I’m visualising a four-dimensional table structure and don’t have the processing power to spare to keep the legs moving. (Incidentally, I get paid enough to cover the mortgage, food, and other things like that.)
The only problem with this level of obesssion is when I’ve been listening to a bunch of characters telling me about their lives as I drive to work, and I can’t sit down and get their information onto paper/hard disc immediately, I have to give the databases priority until lunchtime. Sometimes by then I’ve forgotten part of what the characters were saying.
Yes, I am a very lucky person to have two complete lives that I enjoy ths much. I just wish I had enough time to do them both justice.
Aha! I too was a database designer, back in the mists of the last century. And, now you mention it, I did sometimes wake up thinking about primary keys and relationships between tables (yes, it was that long ago). Just not every night, as is currently the case with my characters.