How to make a living as a writer

It wasn’t her real name, of course, but close enough. An author’s nom de plume. Still, seeing it at the end of the printed article gave her a thrill. Every time. I felt the same way when that first magazine dropped through the letterbox with my name at the end of the article. Like mother, like daughter. There was a pride in that, hard to put into words.

It was, for both of us, so many years apart, a small thing… but to a writer it means the world.

I am not a million-dollar author with a major publishing house, I am not even a respectably sized fish in that particular pond. But I am a writer.

It took me a long time to call myself that, to ‘own’ it, as a friend said the other day. My Mum was a writer…she had things printed all over the place. I just wrote things. Even when ‘The Mystical Hexagram’, written with Gary Vasey came out, published by a publisher, I still didn’t feel right about calling myself an author.

You see, I grew up in a house with an Author… one who actually attained the Holy Grail… she made a living from her work. I knew the system. Long hours hunched over the ancient Imperial typewriter, later succeeded by a more portable affair. Always coffee, occasionally turning the typewriter upside down to shake out the fallen cigarette ash and biscuit crumbs. Pages thrust at me to read… red pen…retype. Long, involved discussions… we’d call it brainstorming today… about how the plot should unfold. My mother, you see, is a storyteller.

011She had always written. Starting with poetry, she had penned her first novel when I was very young, largely because the title came to her and she had to write the book. Two other novels followed. Stories I adored as I grew old enough to appreciate them. Later there were children’s tales. Each manuscript when finished would be placed in a big manila envelope, signed across all the seals and posted back to our home to get the postmarked date… the only way to protect copyright back then. Every so often, when she could afford the postage, she would duly type a letter to a publisher, package up a copy of the MS and post it off in hope with a stamped return envelope. And every time the book came back with a rejection letter.

Meanwhile Mum was writing articles and short stories, trawling through the Writers and Artists Year Book that was renewed every year and sending them off. Sometimes there would be a whoop of excitement as she opened the envelope that held a cheque. Most times she packaged the story back up for its next tentative voyage.

This went on for years… most of my childhood in fact. Over those years Mum wrote several stories in Yorkshire dialect; amusing pieces showing the archetypal character of our home county, entitled ‘Dahn at t’ Pig and Whistle’. One of these pieces landed on a desk and there was a letter… an invitation to write and record a Radio series for the BBC. Those were exciting times for my mother and we all gathered round the radio for each broadcast in shades of an older time.

But of course, the series ended all too soon and she was back to the typewriter once more. More articles were sent out, tons more rejection slips were received. Still her novels had not been published and gradually they were sent out less and less often. She had tried for ten years with no success. But she didn’t give up.

cover ideas

One day, she had a letter. One of her stories, sent to a women’s publication, had ended up, quite by accident, on the wrong desk. The letter was from the occupant of that desk, Ian Forbes. The content of my mother’s article was totally unsuitable for the publications he managed… but he had read it anyway and liked her style. Would she like to try something a bit different?

Mr Forbes… or Uncle Ian as he became affectionately known…ran publications many of my generation may remember. He had sent samples scripts of what he would need. My mother sat down to study them. She didn’t write romance… it wasn’t her thing, but, she decided, she’d give it a go. The fee was too good to refuse.

For the next few years, until I left England for France, we would sit every month batting ideas around like tennis balls, backwards and forwards. Every month a cheque and a copy of the latest Love Story in pictures would be delivered. The author’s names did not appear on these little magazines. I only have one copy now, stored amid the family papers… a supernatural tale set in Egypt which we had written together.

I learned a lot about the writer’s craft back then, some of the stories she wrote were even my idea initially and my first bit of design was featured in one tale called, I believe, Lucky Blue Dress. I learned how to collaborate back then too, I suppose, as well as how to tell a complex story in few words and images… which has served us well lately with the publication of the new graphic novel, Mister Fox.

I learned other things too.

My mother had spent a lifetime following her dream and when it finally arrived, bringing that monthly cheque equivalent to a woman’s wage back then, it did not resemble the dream she thought she had. I learned how little it actually matters whether or not you get public recognition…like your name on the cover… as long as you have put your heart and soul into what you do, because you love what you do. I learned that you could take an unpromising vehicle… for so my mother saw love stories… and incorporate something meaningful; her stories always had a moral and the type of motherly teaching that young people need woven into them. Even a lightweight love story could have depth.

I saw that it wasn’t enough to have talent, nor a gift for the use of words. Nor was it enough to be patient or to be doggedly pursuing something for a decade with single minded dedication. You could do everything right and still not succeed. You also need that single stroke of luck… and the persistence and faith to keep on keeping on so that if it arrives, you are ready to seize the opportunity. Because one thing is certain… had my mother stopped writing the opportunity would never have arisen.

My mother’s novels have not yet been published. But they will be. I’ll do it myself. One of her children’s stories, Monster Magic, is now in print and the phone call I had when she received the first copies in the post was as full of excitement as I can ever remember. It was the very first ‘proper book’ she had held in her hands with her name on the cover. And when I told her she had to send one to the British Library…! She has waited all my life and most of hers for that.

Surfeit cover

All ready for the edited manuscript

My mother stopped writing many years ago. It doesn’t erase a single word of what she has written. Her stories may be from an older, gentler time. They may never sell a copy except to the family. But that really doesn’t matter. She wrote because she loved what she did. She wrote because the words inside her needed to find the page. She wrote from the hidden heart of her even when the vehicle wasn’t what she would have chosen. She made it hers. For some years my mother made a living as a writer. But more importantly perhaps, for a lifetime her writing has made her live.

You see, my mother is a writer. And so am I.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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151 Responses to How to make a living as a writer

  1. Love this! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    Like

  2. sknicholls says:

    Awww. What a lovely story. I have to wipe the tears. It’s very moving. My mother wrote well and wanted to become famous. She wrote a story about Uncle Charlie Trashcan, the town vagrant who was accosted and beaten by some smarmy lads, that was published in the local paper. She also danced (ballet). The dancing she sacrificed to have children. She tried to go back to school and majored in journalism after she and my dad divorced. Then she became horribly depressed and gave up on herself. I’m glad you are publishing your mums novels.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      My mother went the other way… she learned to be happy, which is when she stopped writing. Now the technology would leave her behind. I wonder how many wonderful works will never see the light of day simply because their writers couldn’t keep pace with that?

      Like

      • sknicholls says:

        That is a curiosity. I used to write volumes in spiral notebooks. With the beautiful cursive writing the words seemed to simply flow onto the page like rivers of water from the soul. When I got my Brother word processor, it was all for business, not fiction. Now it’s typed words and they seem choppy and my writing seems formed like puzzle pieces. OR maybe I’m just getting older. My grandmother used to sit down and write letters to family members every night. I couldn’t imagine her with a computer.

        Like

  3. G. M. Vasey says:

    Love it! At the end of the day, we may not make any money but it sure as hell is fun….

    Like

  4. G. M. Vasey says:

    Reblogged this on The Wacky World of G. Michael Vasey and commented:
    A few days ago I wrote about not being a writer but being a storyteller, here friend and co-author of The Mystical Hexagram, Sue Vincent, talks about being a writer……

    Liked by 1 person

  5. stevetanham says:

    Such a ‘contained story’ but raging with positive emotion – lovely, and I’ve met her, if only once.

    Like

  6. …this is terrific, m’Lady, Sue… gotta reblog ..too good not to share !! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Seumas Gallacher and commented:
    …this is terrific, from m’Lady, Sue Vincent… gotta reblog ..too good not to share !! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That was a real gem. All good things and all that 🙂

    Like

  9. This is a lovely compliment to your mum, Sue. My mother once told me she had a story to write about my Uncle Joe who ‘followed the sun’. Years later I discovered he was the family disgrace – a tramp-. I like to think he was a free spirit. Which is what I think your mum was? Certainly her daughter is.
    .

    Like

  10. olganm says:

    Lovely to learn about your Mother’s story. You’re right. There are many stories that we’ll never get to hear of people whose letter didn’t land on the right desk or who never came to anybody’s attention. I’m sure your Mum must be pleased…:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      That stroke of luck is unpredictable… but maybe it matters more that the stories are told. That is the one wonderful thing about the Indie movement.
      And…I hope so, Olga 🙂

      Like

  11. Ali Isaac says:

    A story of inspiration if ever I read one! I’m so glad you were able to give her that moment of holding her first book in her hands! We Indies dont realise how lucky we are to live in the digital age!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. barbtaub says:

    Reblogged this on Barb Taub and commented:
    As the mother of three daughters who are writers, I just had to share Sue Vincent’s beautiful post. Anyone else out there for whom writing is the family business?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. jenanita01 says:

    It must be wonderful to have a mother to be proud of, Sue. Apart from anything else, it must have been one hell of an inspiration. Does that mean you have a kind of pedigree?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Ani objects to me beng thought of as anything other than a Heinz 57 😉
      Both my mother and her father wrote and painted. It is a double edged sword in a lot of ways because you have to follow their footseps and always wonder if you match up… till you relaise you don’t have to and can just be yourself.

      Like

  14. Mary Smith says:

    I loved reading this wonderful story – thanks for sharing it. It is not only an inspiring story it reminded me – and no doubt many others – of why I write. I also remember the excitement and joy of my first acceptance letter from a magazine. I carried it around until it fell to pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. evelynralph says:

    Reblogged this on evelynralph and commented:
    What determibation, what courage to keep wtiting, whatever. Wd hould all think the same way when we get dusheartenef.
    Evelyn

    Liked by 1 person

  16. alienorajt says:

    Truly lovely and inspiring, Sue. You mother sounds a real character; I can see very strong traces of all of this in her lovely daughter! xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    AUTHORS – NEVER, EVER GIVE UP WRITING 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Reblogged this on daydreaming in words and commented:
    Beautiful post

    Like

  19. evelynralph says:

    You are very welcome. Determination, fortitude and a lesson for all us writers.
    Evelyn

    Like

  20. evelynralph says:

    Again, my apologies fir tupos, Ipad plus eyesight. Sorry, evelyn

    Like

  21. loving – inspiring – simply wonderful – thank you for sharing this insight into your own literary genome

    Like

  22. What a beautiful moment for your mother to finally hold that book in her hands. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    Like

  23. fayelucinda says:

    Such a lovely post, and really inspiring to an aspiring writer! I’m really glad I found this!

    Like

  24. macjam47 says:

    There are so many adjectives to describe this post – beautiful, heartfelt, touching, inspirational, for a few – but most notably is how proudly you have told your mother’s story. This genuine account of your relationship with your mother and support of her writing touches me deeply.

    Like

  25. Elyse says:

    Heartwarming. I followed over here from Barb Taub’s reblog.

    Like

  26. sknicholls says:

    Reblogged this on S.K. Nicholls and commented:
    From the author of Mr. Fox: The Legend, Sue Vincent, an inspiring story of hope and perseverance.

    Like

  27. Kate Loveton says:

    What a great post!

    Like

  28. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful written story, Sue. It would make such a lovely read as a short story in a book about writing. As I read it, I could almost see and hear your mother typing away at the typewriter (I used to sell those many years ago in Selfridges – now I’m showing off my age).

    I hope anybody reading this leans that you have to keep moving and trying when it comes to writing, because those party poppers of success may not be yours quite yet. Never give in to defeat, and stay positive all the time, because changes for us all as writers could be just around the corner.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thanks, Hugh. The big old Imperial was a great machine… one of the really heavy black ones with ‘bureaumachinenwerker’ printed in gold across the front 🙂

      No, we just never know what is round the corner but it is certain we never will if we aren’t looking 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  29. amreade says:

    What a beautiful way to tell a story and honor your mother. Thank you for the lovely post!

    Like

  30. sparkyplants says:

    Lovely post!

    Like

  31. My little heart is doing the Scottish highland dance.This is a wonderful and inspiring story! ❤

    Like

  32. A lovely post about your mother, Sue. We learn so much from our mothers.

    Like

  33. Fantastic story of a fantastic Mum! Pinned on books and then again on authors on Pinterest!!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Eliza Waters says:

    I enjoyed this very much, Sue. What a privilege to grow up with such a role model and that you can share your writing successes with her today is such a blessing!

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’m not sure she entirely approves of my subjects, Eliza 🙂 But yes, another of those things you do not realise you have had,, because they were ‘normal’ for you as you grew up.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Toni Betzner says:

    Very beautifully written. You can tell writing runs in your family.

    Like

  36. Meredith says:

    After 80 comments what is left to be said. This was the best true story. It held my interest to the end, and it ended satisfactorily!

    Like

  37. Reblogged this on graemecummingdotnet and commented:
    Sue Vincent offers the uninitiated a real understanding of why most of us write. Sure, we’d be delighted to be in the same financial position as JK Rowling and James Patterson, but that’s not really the point…

    Like

  38. Darcy says:

    Beautiful!!! This one, I want to re-read. A lot. And then some more.

    Like

  39. Tonya R. Moore says:

    An amazing story, and wonderfully told. I admire your mother’s tenacity and her love for writing. I feel my thoughts will come back to this every time I start doubting myself–which is often– and remind me of what really matters, when it comes to stories needing to be told.

    Like

  40. Bastet says:

    Reblogged this on Bastet and Sekhmet's Library and commented:
    I saw this over at Barb Taub’s and thought it’d be interesting to read … but it is far more than interesting to read … it’s inspirational, it’s all about what writing is to a writer, it’s the explanation of why you and I probably write … whether we get our name on a Best Seller’s List or not … a great post!

    Like

  41. A lovely story, Susan, and a great inspiration to other writers. 🙂

    Like

  42. ksbeth says:

    fantastic and beautiful story about two storytellers )

    Like

  43. suej says:

    Lovely story about dedication, perseverance and most of all love for your craft…

    Like

  44. Dale says:

    Beautiful.

    Like

  45. softsenta says:

    Thanks for this. It reminded me of the real reason I write and was very inspiring

    Like

  46. merrildsmith says:

    What a lovely story! I’m so glad you had your mom’s story published.
    My mom’s in her 90s now and doesn’t see very well, but she still paints, although not as often as she did a few years ago.

    Like

  47. Julia Lund says:

    My mother longed to be a writer, but leaving school at fifteen with no qualifications meant she had no belief in her own ability. However, she finally found a niche with a monthly column in the widely read parish magazine. She touched many lives with her words. After her death, I found some unfinished drafts of stories. I, like Mum, never believed I had any business aspiring to write. Until I changed my belief. I’m preparing my second novel for ebook publication and know that, whether or not anyone, other than those who love me, ever reads a single sentence , I’ve discovered that second breath, the one that makes my imagination live. Writing. Thank you for sharing your story. Truly beautiful and full of encouragement.

    Like

  48. Pingback: Best Fiction and Writing Blogs | M.C. Tuggle, Writer

  49. Mike says:

    What a story! I don’t see how you do this so consistently. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  50. Georgia Rose says:

    A wonderfully moving story Sue, I’m so delighted you’re getting your mothers novels published – how exciting for her – well done and for writing this terrific post 🙂

    Like

  51. Wonderful story Sue, sounds much like mine. Started writing when I was eight then life got in the way and I married raised three children and worked full time. Published “The Italian Thing” when I was 70. It was the most satisfying feeling for me. I am now approaching 72 and am still in love with the written word. I know how your Mum feels, and she has given you a wonderful gift. Kudos from across the Pond. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  52. NL Quatrano says:

    Reblogged this on Words Count and commented:
    This post is well written and inspirational, too. So often I’m asked this question – and this piece is spot on!

    Like

  53. NL Quatrano says:

    This article is terrific! I have similar conversations with authors all the time, but I’m never quite sure they get my point. Thanks for sharing this.

    Like

  54. truth42 says:

    Very nice, Sue. xxx

    Like

  55. patgarcia says:

    Hi Patricia,
    First, thank you for liking My Viewpoint on Easter.
    I read this about your mother and about you and your own insecurities about being called a writer. It is an amazing story because inbred in this article is the seed of hope and determination. Thank you for opening up and sharing this. It touched my heart. I could relate to it heavily and it gave me hope.
    All the best and Happy Easter.
    Shalom,
    Patti

    Liked by 1 person

  56. A.M. Simpson says:

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s a great encouragement to keep on going. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  57. dgkaye says:

    What a wonderful share Sue. A truly beautiful story. And once again my ‘like’ won’t show up.

    Like

  58. Bojenn says:

    Your mother’s story brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful description of her toiling over the love of writing, you have given.

    Like

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