Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What else do you do? - Anne Rooney



Katherine's post yesterday on why writers seek publication raised the possibility of publishing in order to be paid. No-one followed that one up in the comments. Profit is an unreliable motive in this job.

Philip Pullman began a talk at Cambridge Wordfest last weekend with reasons writers write, and the first was 'to put food on the table'. He reminded the audience that writing is a job and we should be paid for it. I wasn't there, so I can't tell you the audience's reaction, but I agree wholeheartedly. This is my job, I do it all week, I'm not too bad at it, and I expect to be paid a decent rate for it. But that's not really how the world works.

We all know most writers earn very little. We all know there are plenty of others willing to step into our shoes if we complain too much (though this is a bit of a red herring waved around to keep us in line). So many - probably most - writers do something else besides writing to put food on the table. We might visit schools, teach in universities or on adult education courses or residential writing courses; we might have a part-time 'real' job (ie one with a formal employer who deducts tax and NI) such teaching in a school or working in a library.

I write such a wide variety of things I can usually earn enough just from writing. I sometimes do other things - the odd talk or workshop, a bit of university teaching - and I've been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow (and will be again in September) helping students and university staff with their writing. These are all writing-related at least. The only completely different thing I ever do is building websites. I've worked in the high-tech industry and on its fringes since the early 1980s, and it's useful to have this to fall back on when the writing is on the wall rather than the page.

What do other writers do to keep the wolf a fair distance from the door? Please list all your extra activities in the comments. Are you an actor? A farmer (yes, K, looking at you)? A police officer? A civil servant, like Chaucer? Work in a library, like Larkin, or a bank, like Eliot?

And if you feel like having a rant about how we shouldn't need to have anything to fall back on, please do!

Anne Rooney blogs as Stroppy Author and is, well, a stroppy author.

14 comments:

Anna Bowles said...

I do what would seem to be the obvious and edit (Egmont, then HarperCollins and freelancing). Only it can't actually be that obvious or more writers would be doing it.

I certainly can't live off writing at the moment but it's gradually working its way up as a percentage of my income. It's because I'm not a 'proper writer' in some usages of the term - all my work so far has been written for hire - that I don't live in economic peril!

Penny Dolan said...

I - as an ex-teacher- manage to make the finances work by doing the School Author Visit rounds. In general, the days are great fun but demand lots of adrenaline & energy. So I'm always trying to balance the highs (and the resulting lows) of Going Out There against writing time for the next book project. Without which, eventually, it would be hard to go out there and do the school visits. A vicious circle, really.

It all feels very hand to mouth at times, as you suggest Anna, but I do admire your productivity, Anne!

catdownunder said...

I do not get paid to write and I do not get paid much to do my
'day' job either!
My day job is 'writing' or constructing communication boards for what are officially called "complex humanitarian emergencies" (disaster zones). These are the means by which some aid workers communicate with the locals instead of relying on interpreters (who can be in short supply or not trusted). I work with words all the time - but often in languages I do not understand at all. As an occupation it is even more hand to mouth than writing!

kathryn evans said...

Yep, farmer here, but oh the guilt I feel when my writing hours don't contribute to the household. Especially when I'm not actually writing and it's costing us money - conferences, seminars...paper,ink.

Gillian Philip said...

I do holiday rentals from about April through to October plus the festive season. I also do the school visits thing, though, and like you Anne take on as many writing jobs as I can - I don't want to lose sight of the fact that I'm a writer first!

Nick Green said...

The totality of my earnings from fiction writing to date were spent long ago, as part-payment on a second-hand Ford Focus, which I still drive, though it is showing its age now. And that, so far, is it.

My regular income derives from another kind of writing. I have always been a copywriter of one sort or another. I used to market children's books, but now I write corporate publications for a firm of accountants. So - not so glam, but dependable!

karen ball said...

I work full-time as an editor and do my writing at weekends. My writing doesn't earn me anything like a live-able income, but then I have never tried to properly develop it as a freelance option/credible source of income. I'm quite happy having both jobs in my life, though when deadlines loom it can sometimes mean seven-day weeks - not so much fun.

Rachel Ward said...

I work 4 days a week for my local Council (in Keynsham, which is NOT a 'typically poky drag full of pound shops and pet shops' as a rather unkind Sunday Times journalist labelled it, but rather a bustling, thriving market town in a beautiful green setting), and write before work, on Fridays and weekends. I do schools visits on Fridays (and sometimes other days if I can juggle my schedule). Not surprisingly, I'm knackered most of the time, but although I've had a good year with my first book, and another book out soon, I'm cautious about leaping into writing full-time because I'm well aware that one swallow doesn't make a summer...

John Dougherty said...

I do school visits, and I sponge off my wife. Oh, and we rent out our first house, which income - since interest rates dropped - is now covering the mortgage on the house we live in as well.

I reckon I could live off just my earnings (writing, visits, my half of the rent) if I had to, though supporting my children in the manner to which they've become accustomed would be a very different story.

Gillian Philip said...

OK, John, I forgot to mention sponging off my husband! But I do all his secretarial work, so I hope that balances out...

Stroppy Author said...

Ah, sponging - I'd forotten that possibility. Just need a spongee...

Julie P said...

Hi, Stroppy Author

I used be a nurse at a local GP practice, but gave that up. I now do a few hours as a lunchtime assistant/nursery assistant at my daughter's old nursery that's attached to the primary school she now goes to. I get paid for this, but I also do volunteer reading support with key stage one and two kids at the school.

I don't yet earn enough from my writing to do it be able to give it up and do writing full-time and I'm not sure I'd want to give it up - it gives me a precious link to the outside world and provides me with so many writing ideas!

Julie xx

Andrew Strong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Strong said...

I'm a headteacher in a primary school. I write in the early hours, and at weekends, when my dreams overpower the halfwit bureaucrat, a dull cog in the education machine.