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Perspectives of the Part-Time Writer

Working on something new.

For more posts in the ‘Part-Time Writer’ series, click here.

Well, it’s 2019. I’ve been thoroughly negligent when it comes to author notes (spending too much time pretending I know how to use a camera), but the nearest thing to a new year’s resolution I have is to start posting once again. And at least for the opening months of the year, I have a series in mind.

Last week I came across a story from the New York Times commenting about the writers’ income. Soon after, my good friend Matt Gurney shared a tweet from a comic artist breaking down the income from graphic novels. Both narratives reached parallel conclusions: there’s not a lot of money in the creative arts anymore.

To be more specific, the Times cited an Authors Guild survey that pegged the 2017 median income for full-time writers at $20,300 USD and part-time writers at $6,080 USD –– a drop of 42% from 2009. Earnings directly related to books were even lower. Meantime, the tweet from comic artist Nate Powell calculated that working on a 200-page graphic novel for 14-16 months would yield roughly $450 USD per month.

At Iceberg we’re quite fortunate to be outperforming these numbers by a considerable margin, but that’s thanks to more than fifteen years of work. I expect anyone considering a full-time career as a writer would view the figures with apprehension. I certainly would –– which is probably why I’m a ‘part-time’ writer.

Well, except that I’m kinda not. Sorta.

It’s been a while since I’ve run a writing workshop, but I doubt this has changed: people get uneasy when talking about needing a ‘day job’ when they’re also trying to be a ‘real writer’. I always find that strange –– the quality of your writing and the joy you and your readers derive from it is not intrinsically connected to sales.

Think of it like this: you can summit Everest (or better yet, a less touristy mountain) and not make a dime for your feat. The lack of income doesn’t change the fact that you did an incredibly difficult thing worthy of pride and celebration, or that you are probably very skilled at that thing.

If nothing else, I think this survey proves that there are plenty of ‘real writers’ who also need to write for other people, or do other work entirely. As someone who’s always done something in addition to writing, I’ve never seen a problem with this –– and over the coming weeks, I plan to talk about why.

Specifically, I’ll discuss how my novel-writing experience has made me better at my other work, to the point that it’s helped me find a dream job that is probably the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done –– and given some past opportunities, that’s saying a lot. I’m also going to discuss how working day jobs has made me a much better writer and publisher, and how having both a day job and Iceberg has made my overall quality of life better.

I can tease that last point with just one word: Sackville.

None of this is to discount the experience of being a full-timer. I know a few excellent full-time writers and publishers who are blazing their own trails and having fun in the process. Returning to the analogy: they’re not just summiting the mountain, they’re making a living on it. I simply can’t speak to that path –– it’s never been mine, and it’s not the only alternative.

So the author notes to come will be for folks like me who want (or need) one foot in each world, who might find value in some of the methods I’ve used to keep them separate –– and, in certain moments, to sync them up.

Assuming, of course, this series of author notes doesn’t go the way of most new year’s resolutions. Time will tell…