What price must a professional writer pay?
That’s the question I’m asking myself as I embark upon a new year of authorial endeavours. In terms of writing 2014 has started well (more on that soon), but it’s also seen me do something I’ve not even contemplated for years.
It’s seen me write a non-profit story.
I was initially going to call it a “historical fanfiction,” but the phrase is inaccurate. Yes, it’s fiction relating to a particular historical character, but it isn’t based on anyone else’s work. The crux of the matter is that I wrote it with no intention of ever seeing it published, either by myself or by an independent organisation.
That’s a problem, because the motto I’ve been living by for the past four years has been “don’t write something unless someone’s paying you for it.” Whilst such flagrant capitalism may seem unpalatable to many, I feel the reasons for such a stance are defensible. I’ve wanted to be a professionally-paid writer since childhood. I’m not going to become one of those anytime soon if I give away all my work for free. My words are a brand which I have to develop, market and sell. The more I can make people pay for my writing, the bigger my chances of one day attaining a healthy paycheque.
However, there is a problem with this approach, for any author. It’s a well-known adage that those shallow souls who only follow the Way of the Writer for monetary gain are doomed to failure, for years must first be spent in penury, learning the craft. Successful authors are the ones who love to write, first and foremost. And whilst I certainly can’t be classed as “successful,” I do certainly write because, moreso than any filthy lucre, it brings me happiness.
The paradox is therefore clear. I want to write for the sheer pleasure of writing, but at the same time I hamstring myself by only writing what I think I can sell.
The cycle needed to be broken, if only briefly. To that end sometime soon I’ll be posting the “purely for fun” short story I finished last week. Some people regularly take time out of coin-earning writing in order to pen stuff that only they’ll enjoy, and my respect for such people is measureless. Sometimes its good to exit the rat race that is modern publishing and enjoy the craft for what it is; storytelling in one of its purest, oldest forms.