Taking a break of more than a day or two can be a dangerous business. It can be a good thing, in that it allows the mind to roam more freely, and you can start making connections that might not otherwise have occurred to you; it can also serve as a kind of damming process, behind which the story builds up, thus allowing you to burst back into a story bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
The danger, of course, is that spending even four or five days away from a story affords a perspective that can very easily prick that bubble. The old doubts about your ability have time to fester; you start to wonder if the story is actually all that believable; or, worse, if there’s really any point to writing it, no matter how believable it is, or enjoyable to write.
The week just gone by, in which I took a break of six days from working on the current story, appears to have fatally holed it beneath the waterline. I still think it’d be fun to write, and I like the characters, by which I mean I find them interesting enough to follow through to find out where the story will take them; but the whole ‘what’s-the-point?’ black dog started howling out in the darkness.
Worse, while slumped in a turkey-and-sherry-trifle coma in front of some rubbish TV, I started crunching numbers. Now, I earn a decent if not remarkable wage as a freelance writer. The hours are long, and the work itself is interesting, and the bills get paid and nappies get put on bums. All of which, especially in the current climate, is very good indeed.
For some reason, though, I started wondering about how much, in terms of dollars and cents, I’ve invested to date in my writing ‘career’. Any aspiring writers out there might want to look away now.
The nuts and bolts run thusly: I’ve had two books published, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE (2004) and THE BIG O (2007). I’m hopeful, although not hugely so, that I’ll have another book published this year, BAD FOR GOOD aka THE BABY KILLERS. (I’m not counting CRIME ALWAYS PAYS for the purpose of this little exercise, by the way, as that went straight to e-format - but feel free to have a squint, if you’re so inclined).
Now, I started writing EIGHTBALL BOOGIE some time around 2000 or 2001. So let’s say, for a round figure, and taking a huge leap and presuming that I’ll have another book published in 2011, that by the end of this year I’ll have had three books published to show for 10 years work. (I’ve written other novels, there are three or four gathering dust on the shelf, but for now let’s just stick with published books).
The rates for freelance journalism have changed over the last decade, not always upward, so it can be hard to put an hourly figure on earnings. These days I can write a feature in two hours and earn €200 (very rare), but my hourly rate, when I’m being honest with myself and factor in the daily commute, is usually closer to €20.
Now let’s extrapolate, and apply that hourly rate to writing fiction. At two hours per day, five days per week, 48 weeks per year, at a rate of €20 per hour, that amounts to €9,600 per year ‘spent’ on writing fiction. Multiply that by the ten years I’ve been writing seriously, we’re looking at the guts of €100,000, or €33,000 per book published. And that’s presuming that I’ll have a book published in 2011, which is a pretty big presumption; if I don’t, we’re looking at each book I’ve published costing me €50,000. Meanwhile, the largest advance I’ve ever received is €10,500, a figure that’s roughly ten times what an author scrabbling around at my level is likely to receive if he or she is lucky enough to see a book land on a shelf.
I should say, of course, that those hours I spend writing fiction tend to be in the 6am-8am or 9pm-11pm bracket, hours when I very probably wouldn’t be working at earning anyway. Still, it’s a sobering thought, that investing all that time and effort should end up costing you somewhere in the region of seventy grand.
If this was any other kind of business, I’d have been declared forcibly bankrupt and / or certifiably insane a long, long time ago.
Unfortunately, it’s not any other kind of business. It’s writing. And just like the degenerate gambler and / or junkie who keeps on borrowing to feed his habit, I’ll keep on pounding the keyboard. Not in the hope that, one day, I’ll hit big and earn enough to have made all those years financially worthwhile, because junkies don’t think like that. No, I’ll keep writing for the pure and simple buzz of seeing the words appear on the page. My words, my story, my dream made real.
I’m not a moron, all evidence to the contrary. Unlike the average junkie, I won’t be doing anything that might impact on my ability to put nappies on bums. Those writing hours I do scrape together will remain in the 6am-8am or 9pm-11pm slots, and will be just about enough, hopefully, to keep me from turning into the psychopathic bear I become when I don’t get my two-hourly fix every day. If I do get another book published this year, that will be marvellous; if not, well, you write in order to write. Everything else to do with the publishing industry, with apologies to everyone involved, is just a necessary evil.
So, my New Year Resolutions:
1 To write and not to count the cost.Meanwhile, a happy and prosperous New Year to all of you good folks, and here’s hoping that 2011 is a better year than the annus horribilis gone before. Upward and onward, people …
2 Give up smoking.
3 Spend more time with Lily.