Making a living as a writer is a tough gig—as reported in this Publishers Weekly article about a recent Authors Guild survey, “the majority of authors would be living below the Federal Poverty Level if they relied solely on income from their writing.”
Hence Mentors for Rent, our critique service, and the many other things both of us do to generate additional income (follow our “making a living” thread to learn about some of the others). The bottom line is, even with all the things we do to support our “writing habit,” if we were just in it for the money, we’d have moved on to another line of work long ago! So why do we continue to write for kids? What keeps us motivated as we barely eek by?
I know the answers to those questions for myself. I’ve been very deliberate, over the years, about identifying the other things by which I measure my own success as a writer. I encourage you to figure out the answers for yourself, too, if you’re serious about this line of work. Measuring your writing success by the income you generate—or by whether or not you’re published yet—can quickly lead to a sense of inadequacy.
Think through some other markers of success for whatever stage you have reached in your writing career. Are you still a beginner? Perhaps you can measure your writing success by the amount of energy you faithfully invest, by the fact that you continue to show up, day after day, to refine your writing skills. Are you at the stage where you’re struggling to get published? Perhaps success for you translates as persistence: that rather than giving up after ten rejections, you instead started drafting a new story.
One of my own current goals is to write books that speak personally to kids, books make them fall in love with reading the way I did growing up. Measuring by that, this line from an email in which a mom reported her son’s reaction to one of my books made for a very successful day: “Mom, remember that book, Turn Left at the Cow? I really loved it, I think it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”
Another of my goals is to inspire kids to be creative and cultivate their own imaginations. So reading this note from a young fan made for another successful day: “I love your novel Turn left at the Cow. It gave some ideas of my own!”
And honestly, another of my goals is to do work that perhaps provides some small good in the world and that makes me feel good about myself. So I was pleased as punch this week when I had another encounter with a fan in an unexpected place. (One of the most notable of these encounters came as I waited for a root canal; you can read that story here.) My most recent encounter came when I learned that the son of a tech at the vet’s office where I take my cat had read one of my books, and loved it. The tech’s face glowed as she shared the story. It was clear that she thought what I did for a living was a super-cool thing.
She was right. What I do for a living IS a super-cool thing—even though “cool” often outweighs the actual income I generate doing it. It’s true that I can’t take cool to the bank—but this week, despite that, I still felt like a successful writer!