Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to discuss aspects of the writing life we don’t usually get to talk about.

Money is a big one, misunderstood by almost everyone. Either you’re seen as a millionaire or living in genteel poverty in your garret. The truth is usually somewhere in between, and the vast majority of writers have paid their dues  well before hitting the big time if, in fact, they ever do.


I was moved to discuss the money question after reading an interesting blog by Rita Award-winning writer, Barbara O’Neal at

O’Neal’s blog was, in turn, triggered when young writer, Merritt Tierce, penned an essay despairing of being able to make money as a writer. She’d had her first novel published to some acclaim and sold 12,000 hardcover copies, not enough to earn back her unspecified five-figure advance.

Tierce’s essay revealed a problem common among some writers – a sense that they are entitled to live what they see as an author’s life on the strength of one book, sometimes while writing that book. They feel that society owes them support to follow their writing dreams.

As a mentor to emerging writers who win the Valerie Parv Award set up by Romance Writers of Australia, I had one winner state that by the end of the mentorship she wanted to be living off her writing and keeping her family as well.

In her case it was innocence talking, and by the end of our year together, she’d become more realistic.


Not long ago I came across a crowd funding site set up by a writer whose publisher had abandoned her series mid-stream. Her goal was sound – finish the series to keep faith with her readers – but she went a step further, asking for money to allow her time to write.

Logically, to finish any book, you need time. Many people write around day jobs, or in whatever time they can scrounge from everyday life. Those same writers resented her sense of entitlement and were so viciously critical that she felt bound to take down the crowd funding site.

From a young age I knew writing was my vocation, but far from feeling entitled , I accepted that funding the dream was up to me. Early on I set up an office where I wrote press releases, a weekly newspaper column, contributions to a gardening encyclopaedia and some twenty non-fiction titles including my now-infamous book on how to do your own plumbing.

Plumbing was never my passion but I delivered the book I’d been contracted to write, because that’s what professionals do. Afterward,  I resolved to find a more fulfilling way to write and still make a living. That’s when I tried my hand at romance novels, eventually writing over fifty titles for Harlequin’s London editors, then for New York and Toronto.

Had I known then that they received some 10,000 submissions of which they accepted about ten, I might have been less eager.  Not that I rushed in, spending months researching their books and market. Only then, I wrote the book I couldn’t find on their lists, and Love’s Greatest Gamble was eventually accepted.

While waiting for Harlequin’s response I kept writing non-fiction including the one I’m most proud of: The Changing Face of Australia, a 200-year environmental study years ahead of its time.

I was doing what O’Neal said she wanted most to tell Tierce, “get back to work. Write another book. Write three. Write ten. Keep writing until you find the next thing.”

This is good advice for any writer. No-one knows which book might be the charm. Bestsellers are made by readers, movie moguls and plain random chance. All we can do is write the stories we feel compelled to share; the work being its own reward. If more comes, wonderful. If not, we’ve honoured our gift.

It’s great to be paid for writing and I know how lucky I am, as well as how hard I’ve worked. As agent and author Donald Maass commented on O’Neal’s blog, “Money? Yeah, well that’s nice to have. But it’s not everything. When people envy writers, it’s not their income that they envy. It’s their freedom.”

To me, that freedom is priceless.

How do you feel about money and writing? Share your questions and comments in the box below. This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.


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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring October 2016 – Where does money fit into your writing life?" (18)

  1. janne hardy said:

    I have lived off writing for many years but not books. Copy writing for radio…feature writing fir magazines….news paper reporting and as a news editor in commercial radio for years. Now I’m retired I can afford time to try a book but don’t ever expect to see this as an income stream . I have so much respect for those whose discipline and tenacity have brought them an income.

  2. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever earn money from my writing but I don’t write with that expectation. I have a day job that pays the bills and doesn’t stress me out so I make my own time to write. I also live very modestly and don’t really aspire to be rich and famous nor do I feel it’s my due. Personally, I would love to earn enough to live on and have a little leftover but I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket. In the meantime, I’m writing away here. Great article!

    • You’re probably in the majority, Michelle. As long as you keep writing books you love, there’s always the chance of financial success. Our readers make that decision.

  3. Terrific post Valerie. You must write for the love of it first, and only see money as an added bonus if it comes. It’s not always easy to do. There are so many articles and books these days about how to make a fortune writing, and there are some authors making a lot of money who make it look easy. It can make the rest of us feel like we are doing something wrong. I had hopes of making a living from my writing after 10 years in the business but it’s always been just beyond my grasp, which can be frustrating. I’m reevaluating all my goals right now and coming to terms with the fact the day job is not going anywhere. But that’s okay. I’m finding there is untold freedom in treating my writing more as a hobby than a small business. I know I can write whatever I want and that takes me back to the reasons I began writing in the first place–because I loved to tell my own stories. That’s the point of it all and I know the love will carry my through.

    • Thank you, Sami. You might also give some thought to publishing your own work through sources such as Amazon or Smashwords, increasing the chances of making an income from your writing.

  4. I love writing. I love everything about writing. But that doesn’t mean anyone else will ever love *my* writing.
    Hopefully some day someone will love it, and let me earn money from it, that would be wonderful. But, until that happens, *if* that happens, I will continue writing.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Angie. The old saying is, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” And if it doesn’t you’ve still done what you love.

  5. I found this very interesting 🙂 I’m only an aspiring writer and I’m sure I have a lot to learn. And obviously there are reasons people write that are not to do with money.

    But I don’t think it’s entitlement to want to be paid for your work. I’m not saying that every writer, successful or not should be paid a massive wage (and I’m not 100% clear on what the ‘writing life’ is).But I find it interesting that our society doesn’t value writers enough to pay them a salary- Teaching can provide job satisfaction, so can working in medicine, or as a lawyer. All of those professionals are remunerated in a ‘reliable’ way. In a way that means they can get a mortgage.

    Why are the arts alone considered different? Why does the idea of writing 9-5 in an office, and being paid $40,000 a year cause such controversy? Do we really want to be considered sales people on commission, or like agricultural workers, paid per kilo of fruit (that’s of good enough grade)?

    I know writing takes years to perfect, and that books take time to craft. But I wish I lived in a society that valued (and paid for) literature and novels the way they do most other things. I’m not sure why wishing that there was less potential reward, but also less risk brought on so much outcry from other authors. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts 🙂 As I said to begin, I’m happy to learn!

    • You raise some good points, Rachael, and I think the societal resistance to paying creatives, whether painters, sculptors or writers, stems in part from the jealousy of our supposed freedom, posited by Donald Maass. I’m deemed “lucky” for earning a living at what some regard as play, but the same is true of sports professionals who earn millions doing a job that others see as fun. The truth is very different from the appearance. Sports people put in arduous days of practice and suffer injuries many would find unacceptable. Likewise musicians, every one of whom pays a physical price to perfect their musicianship. Arts grants are available to writers but do attract scorn because they’re doing what they love and now want to get *paid* for it? The downside of being paid to write invariably involves demands from the money provider (aka employer) for you to write what they want, to produce work reflecting well on them and so on. There’s also the issue that writing seldom works to a 9-5 timetable. I’ve gotten up at 4am and had my day’s work done by 9am. Or fiddled all day, angry with myself for wasting time, then written furiously into the night when my brain finally decides what the book needs. I’d welcome comments from others on this, too.

      • Oh, so true! I struggle sometimes with story ideas that arrive when I should be sleeping, and writer’s block during the reasonable times of day. My only computer has been in the shop, and I’ve lost all momentum on my revision. It’s frustrating, but eventually the rest of the story will come to me. I have to believe that! 🙂

      • This is why writing can seldom be a 9 to 5 activity. Computer issues are always frustrating, but at such times, I remember the good old pen and paper, and continue to develop my story until I’m digital again. It was good enough for Shakespeare!

  6. I fitted writing in around a day job for years (fortunately, all writing related: copywriting, scriptwriting, bit of journalism …). I still write for educational publishers (and these books are fascinating and fun to write) – and have always fitted the books I’m desperate to write around these. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a couple of grants along the way, but you certainly can’t depend on these. I guess writing’s like an itch – you just have to scratch it!

    • Well put, Pamela. I find we can learn from all forms of writing, whether it be structure, choosing words to get a certain response, as in copywriting, make the words work harder, as in scriptwriting – ultimately they all contribute to our understanding of craft.

  7. Yes, I’d like to know that my government supported my efforts by not doing what they are doing with IP and dumping and so on. Personally, comments from people like Joe Hockey (writers do it for love, not money) is an insult to a person who works hard to produce something good enough to share, good enough to get readers and followers. I know everyone can write, just like everyone can sing, and anyone can pick up a paintbrush and produce something – I know that to be a ‘known’ writer/artist requires more than just producing a piece that’s good enough, but I’d like to think the people who do a lot of reading, who espouse the arts as an important measure of culture, could do their best to ensure something along the lines of support for the work and craft and skills applies to the art to produce something other people love. Please, I work hard; I keep learning the skills to improve my craft; I may not be special (yet), but I work. It’s a job. It’s hard work and dedication.
    And that’s why so many (>85%) of indie/Amazon/Smashwords authors only ever put up one title. Because it’s too hard; because people can’t see beyond the easy life of an ‘author’ and forget about the years and years and hours every day worked, about the years without holidays or special treats (like an icecream at the beach). It’s easy to become disillusioned, dejected, depressed from the comments and lack of movement and painstaking waiting to see if . . .
    I’ll take the advice of one writer who said (something along the lines of) ‘don’t write one book, write five books, then another five – and if it hasn’t worked by then, write another five.’

    • Very true that writing is something most people feel they can do. Few know how different it is going from someone who writes for pleasure or was “good at English” at school to a professional who writes most days, even on bad days, delivers to a deadline and produces publishable quality work consistently year after year. Yes it is easy to become disillusioned, and indie publishing is far from an easy alternative. In Australia it’s also an ongoing battle to remind those in government of the need for a cultural environment that reflects us to ourselves, yet who think it’s fine to allow imports to overwhelm home grown products. We certainly write for love, unfortunately far too often.

  8. The nidus article was written by a relatively young person, with all the narcissism that comes with this stage of life. What I enjoy about writing, and about life, is meeting the community of older, experienced, worn around the edges writers who have humility as well as wisdom.

    And writing for the love of it.

    That being said. 1. Writing and writers are an important part of culture, and necessary to the social and emotional wellbeing of our community. Our government needs to support writers, especially by not undermining their ability to make a living. 2. Writing is a technical skill with an end product, like a solid fence, or a bus shelter, or a Harbour Bridge and remuneration is important.

    • Good post, Emma, thank you. We all agree that writers and writing are important to our culture and our community, reflecting ourselves to ourselves, but no job is guaranteed – not even writing. Patronage may have worked during the days of the de Medicis and the like, but even writers and artists were expected to produce to order and preferably to the greater glory of their patron. These days that’s called a job. The only way to have true creative freedom, in my experience, is to earn it. Find a way to support yourself that allows you time to write; create what you are driven to create; then indie publish your work, or find another way to get it out there. Sad to say, the world doesn’t owe anyone a living.

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