Thursday, May 13, 2010

The New Thing Part 2 is coming in 5 days

There is lots of anecdotal evidence that having a career as a writer in New Zealand is f--ing difficult. Like, there are somewhere around 20 screenwriters working in New Zealand who make a living from writing full-time. Like, our most successful novelists with an extensive back-catalogue are earning around $30,000 p.a. from their work.

Here's an excerpt from a Salient interview with Witi Ihimaera that illustrates this point:
Every time I look at Maurice Gee’s work, or Patricia Grace’s work, I’m always stunned at what they’ve achieved. If they were working overseas they would not be working, I would not be working. They would be supported, I would be supported. Let me fire you an example:

Sky Dancer has know sold out 4,000 copies at $34.95, of which I get 10 percent in royalties – $3.45 for every book. From 4,000 copies I will realise $14,000.

It’s not a lot of money, so we do it for love, we do it because we have this commitment. I remember Maurice Gee saying once on the radio, he won an award for about $12,000 and the interviewer was saying ‘what are you going to do with this money?’ And he said ‘oh well, there’s a thing called the mortgage, and this will help to pay it off.’
About six years ago, I was script-editing at Gibson Group (which, in my experience, involves trying to find the funny while infected with the flu and working till 2am). I hung out with the other editors, who'd been writing professionally for years. When I asked them about their careers, they kept emphasising that they had other jobs - part-time, sure, but steady incomes - and they wrote and created in multiple areas, just to make sure the money kept coming in.

I begin to suspect that my experience working on lovebites has ill-prepared for the realities of writing in a number of ways.

So, my starting position is this: I need to be writing and creating stuff because I love it ... and worry about the potential (or 'hypothetical' or 'tiny') monetary rewards later. So rather than money, I want to be mentally engaged and excited by building stuff, and I want to feel that it's adding to my life.


Pearce said...

I recall reading a piece by Neil Stephenson once where he talked about being at a gathering of writers, many of them apparently quite well known in their fields, who kept asking him "What do you do?" He would say, "I'm a writer," and they would clarify: "No, I mean what do you do for a living?"

The point of which seemed to be that even somewhere like the US, even well-known writers often can't earn a crust.

Look at Joyce Carol Oates: we've all heard of her, lots of us have read her, she usually publishes at least two new books a year, she's considered to have been one of America's leading novelists for almost 50 years, several of her books have been made into movies... and she has a day job. (Even now, aged 71, she still teaches. She must be the world's champion at time management.)

John Brunner is another example. One of the most legendary writers in British SF, but according to Thomas M. Disch, when Brunner died his entire estate was valued at something like two thousand pounds.

Disch is yet another example: a highly-regarded writer in several different genres, he ended up committing suicide when his rent was raised past the point he could afford.

So yeah. As Bryan Ferry said, love is the drug that sets you free.

Mashugenah said...

This is pretty directly why I became an engineer rather than following my more obvious interests in literature.