I get a lot of emails from you guys who want to be writers, and want to be published NOW.
Now of course, there are a bunch of young writers who are publishing today.
One of my favorites is fashionista darling Tavi, who is thirteen years old and just adorable. Not only does she worship at the altar of Commes des Garcons but she is also a pretty savvy kid.
Look how cute she is in this bow!
And here she is with the MiSshapes, who were the inspiration for Taj and Johnny’s band the MiStakes in Angels on Sunset Boulevard. (Yes, I know, too cruel to mention Angels since the sequel is not yet forthcoming. But one day, people, one day.)
I sometimes worry what is next for Tavi, if you’re front-row at Marc Jacobs at thirteen, where else is there to go? But she seems like she has a good head on her shoulders and will probably run the world one day.
Tavi, our future world leader.
Of course, not everyone can be so precocious and lucky. But here’s the great thing. If you want to be a writer, you can be as old as the hills and no one will care.
There is no reason to hurry.
Here are some of my favorite writers who didn’t publish until they were ancient.
Judy Blume didn’t publish her first book until she was 31! (Which is not that old really but I remember when I was 12, 14, 15, god knows I thought 31 was geezerville.)
Julia Glass didn’t publish her first book until she was 46! (You guys think this is one foot in the grave, right?) 🙂 And not only did she publish her novel at that age, she even won the Pulitzer Prize!
Well, how about Frank McCourt, who didn’t publish his first book until he was sixty-six! (He was practically almost dead! I joke, I joke.) And he won not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award as well!
I know what you are thinking…I don’t want to wait that long. I want to be published NOW. Also, I want to make a living as a writer. I am going to be a STAR!
If you want to make a living as a writer, you will have to learn to say YES to everything, and write about many things which you may not have any interest in. Like how to apply sunscreen. (I think I wrote this article every summer for many women’s magazines for many, many years. I never go to the beach now without slathering on the SPF at least AN HOUR BEFORE. You need to give it time to sink into your skin.)
Sure, you could sell your first novel for gazillions and move to Aruba on your advance, but that possibility is about as likely as winning PowerLotto. It’s a jackpot kind of scenario, and it’s not one that happens to about oh, 99.9% of us.
PowerLotto = Publishing NOT!
Here’s the thing about writing. It doesn’t pay that well, at least in the beginning, and it may not pay that well for a long time, if ever. A lot of writers publish one or two books, realize there’s not much money in the game, and move on. I’ve always noticed how there’s always a bunch of these “socialite” writers who come out with a novel or two, are celebrated for it, and are never heard from again. A lot of writers do other things on the side, like teach or work for magazines and newspapers. A lot of writers have financially supportive spouses or parents who help them pay the rent while they write.
You have to be prepared for all of these things to happen to you if you want to be a writer.
You have to love it enough, because writing is a pain, and struggling is a pain, and at the end of the day, you have to figure out if it is worth it, if publishing that book, which no one will have heard of, is worth it, because even when you do acquire a modicum of success, no one you will ever meet socially will have heard of you or your book, because unless you are Dave Eggers or David Sedaris, or have written The Da Vinci Code, Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Twilight—books that have broken through the pop-culture ether so that people who DO NOT READ BOOKS or READ ONE BOOK A YEAR (which is the majority of adults in this country) will have heard of it, and will look at you approvingly.
David Sedaris. The only author that most people at dinner parties have heard of. What up with da monkey?
Someone once said the only difference between a unpublished writer and an published writer is that you go from UNKNOWN to OBSCURE. Most of us toil in the grey zone of semi-obscurity, even with our “New York Times best-selling” banners. (Especially since there are now about 100+ New York Times bestsellers a week.)
But IS it worth it?
Yes! A hundred times Yes!
I can’t imagine doing anything else, and to get paid for it is even better. But I have to say. Even when I was just making $10,000 a year as a writer -when my yearly writing income barely covered my handbag bills, (I supported myself as a computer programmer for nine years), I loved it, and I treasured every cent I made from that $10,000. Whereas the money I made from writing computer programs? I burned through it, as if I were allergic to it.
I read a lot of of articles bemoaning the fact that so many people want to be writers, and that they are all just frog-marching into debt, because if you go to writing school, you are just out $200k and you’re not going to get a cushy law job after you get that masters. But here’s the thing. You don’t HAVE to go to writing school. I didn’t. You CAN if you want to, but you don’t HAVE to.
And SO WHAT if so many kids want to be writers? I think it’s AWESOME! There’s always room for new voices. Sure, it gets tougher all the time, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be the lucky person who breaks through. You know? It could be you! So keep trying!
It took me nine years and fifteen books before I hit the best-seller list.
Revelations, the one that did it for me.
Charlaine Harris wrote twelve books before she hit it big with Sookie Stackhouse!
Charlaine’s advance for the first book in the Sookie Series? FIVE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS.
I used to sit in a cubicle dreaming of when my life would change, and when it did, I was ready. I read this EW interview with Tina Fey where they asked her, Did she think all this (blockbuster movie, Emmy award winning TV show, stardom, etc) was going to happen to her? And she said YES. She’d always believed it would happen, and it’s not a surprise to her that it did.
Tina Fey, current world leader.
Be practical. Make sure you can support yourself and your dreams first. Then dream all you want. But remember: there’s no hurry.