Writing is not like any other profession I’ve ever had. I’ve been a movie candy girl, a flower deliverer, a legal secretary, a marketing director in law firms, an assistant in a psychiatrist’s office, a second grade teacher, a massage therapist, a health coach, and probably a number of other things I’ve left out. But every single one of those jobs came with regular pay checks that were delivered very near the time the work was completed.
Not writing. Even in the case of freelancing, rules vary. Some publications don’t pay until your article comes out and frequently you are writing several months prior to publication because of the time required to publish a magazine. This is getting slightly better with groups like Ebyline, but still there’s a long way to go towards closing the gap. Where this is most apparent, though, is the book advance.
The term “advance” stems from way back, I’m told, when deals were made at Parisian bars over a handshake after an idea was thrown out to an editor. The editor would then give the writer money (said advance) to write the book. Since he’d be busy writing, he’d need money to live.
In today’s market, though, it seems to me most manuscripts need to be pristine to ever get to the advance conversation. And to get a manuscript pristine takes hours and hours and hours of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting…in my case, six years. Now my critique partner Darbie is reading Stephen King’s craft book where he says a first draft should take 3 months. (Whatever, Stephen. You clearly aren’t raising kids. Or going to the grocery store. Or ever leaving your chair to sleep.) Nevertheless, even if we go with that, that’s a first draft and that’s 3 months. What other job do you work at for 3 months (ah-hem, 6 years) and not get paid? Oh, and maybe never get paid?
Fact is I don’t know many writers in it for the money. If they are, they quickly leave when they figure out the “in-between” (um, maybe if you’re very lucky) thing because, in case you didn’t already know this, there’s usually a ton of work waiting after the advance, both in and out of the cave.
I’m pretty sure writers write because they have to. Because nothing gives them the same satisfaction as the idea that their book, their published book (story, article, research, poem), will be out there in the world for others to read.