Thursday, March 27, 2014

Letter to a Student

I got this note from a student:

Hi Elana,

Thanks for responding! My biggest question right now is: when did you know you really wanted to make a living writing and how did you know you were good enough to do it for a living? Because I think I want to be a writer, but saying I want to be a writer kind of freaks me out because it only happens for a very small number of people and I don't know if I'll be good enough to really write for a living. Also, do you have any tips and all for the writing process itself? Because I find that I'll start a lot of stories but I have a lot of trouble finishing them because I don't think I'm doing anything worthwhile. Those are the major questions I have for now, thank you again for responding!

This is what I answered:


I have always wanted to write for a living. I currently have 5 books, published and forthcoming, and I still can't say that I write "for a living"--that is, I do not earn enough money to support my family. MAYBE I could support myself on what I earn from my books if I were single, rented a room in a shared house, and lived VERY carefully.

I make extra money by teaching and sometimes tutoring, and my husband provides the bulk of our family's income, though my dream is to retire him with my writing. I know lots of writers, and only a couple of them count their books as their sole--or even primary--source of income. It IS possible, though, especially if by "writing for a living" you include freelance writing, grant writing, technical writing, advertising, copywriting, etc. I DO encourage people to try to publish and make money with their writing, but it is certainly not a steady source of income for most writers. I suggest that you write with the goal of making it your living (if your heart drives you to do so) but that you also have another way to support yourself (or many more ways to support yourself). It IS hard to balance a day job with writing, but most writers do, some until their first book is sold, some for a few years, and some for always.

As far as finishing things... you will not know if you have something worthwhile for a LONG TIME in the process. More important than the quality of what you finish is the fact of finishing. YOU MUST FINISH A BOOK if you want to know what you have. You are a good writer and an interesting human being. I'll bet you write pretty good stuff already, and it will get better through practice.

Do not ask yourself if you are doing anything worthwhile. When that little voice tells you your writing is shit, answer, "Yes, that might be true, but I'll just keep writing anyway and see where this goes." DO NOT allow yourself to cripple yourself. If worse comes to worst, jump up and down and scream, "LA LA LA LA LA!!!" It's impossible to hear the negative voices if you are yelling and hopping.

Write, and write, and be gentle with yourself. There is time.


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