How to make a living as a writer #amwriting

I was speaking to a friend this morning, a woman whose writing often glows with lyric beauty, yet who has stopped writing because she could not sell her manuscript and will not self-publish.

As a writer, and much as I would like to, I don’t make a living from my work. Like most authors, and especially Indie authors, that is a dream about as realistic as winning the Pulitzer Prize. For many, the literary Holy Grail appears in the nebulous form of an Agent or a Contract… but even for those who attain it, making a living will almost always involve a day job as well as the untold hours tapping away at a keyboard. It is only a few who will go on to live the dream.

There are moments when you might wonder whether it is worth it; when you think of all the other things you could be doing with your time and all the things you might be missing while you are chasing unicorns across a page of dreams.

For many disillusion sets in and the pen is laid down, their stories are left untold and their ideas, once forgotten, return to that great sea of inspiration from whence they arose.

For some, though, the dreams come true and remind us why we should never give up…

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 once friend said. 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, and with a contract,  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, which was 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 fair 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.

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 with the publication of the three graphic novels in the  Mister Fox series.

green man montage small

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 when 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, well…! She has waited all my life and most of hers for that. There will be others.

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 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 has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. 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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106 Responses to How to make a living as a writer #amwriting

  1. Like mother, like daughter – beautifully expressed, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing post.Beautifully written and expressed.
    “My mother is a writer and so am I “So wonderfully put.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonfderful story. I am so envious that you loved your mother’s work and she shared it with you. I too wrote, and my first break was inot radio scripts, but then the media sucked me in and for over 30 years I earned my living by writing – but now, since retirement, it’s different. Now I write what I want to write – stories amd, like you, the royalites don’t pay the bills. But it’s still a buzz when you hold your book in your hands – there’s nothing like it on earth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I still love her stories, though the editing is proving a pain as all I have are the typed manuscripts to work from. I’ll get there, bit by bit. But I agree, Lucinda, there is nothing like holding that book in your hands… nothing at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ritu says:

    This is beautifully written Sue!

    Like

  5. Jennie says:

    What a wonderful, WONDERFUL story! Thank you, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: How to make a living as a writer #amwriting #wrtr2wrtr | Words Can Inspire the World

  7. Great post. Very beautifully written. Kudos!

    Like

  8. Thank you so much, Sue – I really needed to read this xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Could we stop even if we wanted to?

    Like

  10. Reblogged this on texthistory and commented:
    An inspiration and common sense on a career in writing

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a beautiful piece, full of truths many of us learned on the long, hard road. I think it’s even harder now than it was in your mother’s day. So many fewer publishers, so many fewer readers. A writer may not be able to make his/her living writing, but we all write anyway. It’s like breathing. Gotta do it.

    I love this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. redgladiola says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Reminds me that publishing shouldn’t be the only goal. ❤

    Like

  13. That’s beautiful, Sue, and truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Like

  14. This was so beautiful! I know this feeling. I question daily whether I am good enough. Somehow, I keep asking for help and I keep learning more. It’s still terrifying but I’m still going to publish on my own. It just feels right. ❤️ Thanks for sharing this lovely story. Many hugs to you!

    Like

  15. Bun Karyudo says:

    I found what she said very interesting, but not entirely unexpected–particularly the part about luck. I think this applies not only to writing but to many other fields too. During my life, I’ve met several individuals who were outstanding songwriters or artists and whose work I felt was easily as good as that of much more famous figures. They just never got the break they deserved–quite often, sadly, because they didn’t look the part–and so few of the public ever had the opportunity to enjoy their work. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I was married to one such for a long time, Bun… a poet with a guitar who lacked the looks. A little luck goes a long way… but even so, my mother’s work added something the her own life that went way beyond income or recognition.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Pingback: HOW TO MAKE A LIVING AS A WRITER #amwriting – SUE VINCENT | SERENDIPITY

  17. Dalo 2013 says:

    This is part of the magic you hold as a writer ~ feeling, a sense of being immersed in such a spirit from a young age and then nurturing it to make it your own. I love the idea of you publishing your mother’s works. A writer writes, it is what they do. Ideally, their work is read and admired ~ but it never is so easy to get work out there to be read. Great post Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    For anyone who may be interested, the link to Sue’s Mum’s Book is:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KYW2YFS

    Liked by 2 people

  19. TanGental says:

    Hope floats, doesn’t it? Or at least this tells us not to force it under. Lovely story for all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    A fabulous post that all who write should read. The story of a writer who perservered, kept writing, accepted rejection, kept writing and finally began to see some financial recompense.. but above all she maintained her love of writing… Sue’s mother and now in print …wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    A wonderful story…

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Darlene says:

    A wonderful story in itself!! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  23. besonian says:

    Said with heart and feeling Sue. Thank you. Like you and many others, I write because that’s what I do.

    Like

  24. Rae Cowie says:

    Such a touching post and one that every creative should read. : )

    Like

  25. dgkaye says:

    Now we know where you get your talent from Sue. How wonderful to grow up from a parent who writes. 🙂

    Like

  26. Bryan says:

    I absolutely LOVE this Sue! It really resonates with me. (My daughter is many things, but a writer she is and will always be -not necessarily by choice, but more because she is compelled to write… and I, myself, am finally able to label myself as this too.) My favorite part of this beautifully written blog is “She wrote because the words inside her needed to find the page” Amen. Best Wishes for you and your Mum:) xo

    Like

  27. I love this. So much. How beautiful. 💞

    Thank you for sharing these memories.

    Like

  28. I have leaky eyes again for the second time in as many days. Great back story and awesome news. Wonderful- wonderful as Lawrence Welk used to say. Congratulations. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Like

  29. noelleg44 says:

    You nailed this, Sue. Lovely. My Mom wrote, too, never published. I have some of her stories, maybe will make them into a book.

    Like

  30. I absolutely loved reading this again, Sue. It’s such a confidence booster. I’ll be joining the ranks soon. Reading this post could not have come at a better time.

    Like

  31. I think the most beautiful and inspiring story about you Mom is what you are doing today. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    Like

  32. LensScaper says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Within every scientist there is an ‘artist’ waiting to escape is a quote I remember stumbling across many years ago. I was a scientist of sorts (Doctor) and photography has always been my ‘Art’, but inside me I have always wanted to write. On a very superficial level writing a Photography blog provides me with an opportunity that I describe as having a column in a global magazine where there is no editor leaning over my shoulder and saying ‘I want 2000 words on subject ‘X’ by tomorrow’. I am my own editor and no-one tells me when or what to do. And that is very liberating.
    A few years ago I stumbled on a plot for a novel and it sits half written in my filing cabinet. One day I might finish it. The satisfaction has been in the writing. I find it difficult to explain – but it is a way of expressing myself and I take great pleasure in the act of story-writing. It is the grown up version of day-dreaming perhaps.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I think there is an artist in everyone, if they can find the way that suits their need for expression. I can understand the attraction of photography…I’m not a photographer, but I seldom move without a camera. Writing, thouggh, is a different matter and deeply personal. From journals to stories, it brings thoughts and imagination into a different level of reality… I like the idea of ‘grown-up daydreaming’ 🙂

      Like

  33. Love this post. Expressed the essence of why I write.
    Welcome to that little voice, and thank you for following my blog.

    Like

  34. Ellen Hawley says:

    Your tweet of my post led me to find this. I’m tweeting it not because you promoted mine but because it’s good and writers who are struggling should read it.

    And I’ve been traditionally published–three novels so far–and don’t make a living at it either.

    Like

  35. Skilbey says:

    Wow! Great post. And a message to all writers about perseverance. Thank you.

    Like

  36. Reblogged this on Writer A.K.Baxter and commented:
    Thank you for your words! I have shared this on my blog

    Like

  37. Lindsay Nell says:

    Reblogged this on .

    Like

  38. Alex Sarll says:

    What an amazing article 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing! I’m writing a book at, a self help book/memoir on my experiences with mental illness. My dream of course is to get it published.. I just figure I need to put in the time and the effort to make it happen 🙂

    Like

  39. This is such a beautiful story Sue. So inspirational 🙂 thanks so much for sharing 🙂 x

    Like

  40. “for a lifetime her writing made her live”. What an excellent example she set for you, Sue. And it shows in all that you write. Thanks for sharing this one again. Brilliant.

    Like

  41. dronstadblog says:

    Either we will rise to the top, or write trying. This is very eye opening and touching in the same time. Thanks for sharing your life story (perfect for a plot).

    Like

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