Home » Quit Day Job, Self-Publishing » Brace yourself. I know this is shocking, but I’m about to rant again.

Brace yourself. I know this is shocking, but I’m about to rant again.

28 January 2015

From author and TPV regular Libbie Hawker:

Virtually everybody who first sets out to make a career as a writer does so under some form of delusion–take your pick: that it’s easy, that it’ll make you rich, that once you have a book deal your problems will be solved, that all you’ll ever have to do is write, that all good books get published. I found the process of snapping out of these various delusions rather painful–what do you mean, the career I’ve wanted since I was eight years old isn’t anything like the media and other writers and the whole damn world have led me to think?–and I’d rather not see more writers hurt by the same uncomfortable wake-up calls. So I think it’s important to disseminate the truth about writing–about what it means to be a working novelist. Writers are, after all, my people, and nobody wants to see a member of their own tribe suffer.

. . . .

In the Salon piece, Bauer asserts that “full-time authors” are putting on a certain masquerade. She uses her own life as the ultimate example–

Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.

–to assert that all full-time writers a) live a privileged life (not true) and that b) they couldn’t possibly get there or stay there on their own. They must have outside support in order to obtain the privilege we associate with “the writer’s life.”

. . . .

Except that Bauer isn’t right. She’s dead wrong. I agree with her that it’s both important and rather creepy-feeling to talk about one’s class and one’s income, but I also think it’s important that the truth gets out there. The whole truth, not the “truth” as distorted by Bauer’s privileged perspective.

. . . .

I don’t like seeing other writers discouraged, so I’m about to introduce you to a full-time novelist who earns more than her husband does. I’m about to introduce you to a working writer who has no other job, no family connections, and no education–no privilege or advantage of any kind, in fact, unless you count general societal white privilege, which is probably counter-balanced by the very real bias in this industry against female authors and also by the fact that I grew up poor as hell.

Yep, that working novelist is me.

. . . .

I’m not disclosing this for head-pats or to make you think I’m cool. I’m disclosing it to comfort those who were discouraged by Ann Bauer’s skewed ideas about what is required in order to write full-time. I’m trying to undo some of the damage this vicious myth does to aspiring writers—that you have to be rich to begin with, or marry into money, or else your dream will never become a reality.

. . . .

I was born in rural Idaho to a family of middling but unspectacular means—by rural Idaho standards. In Seattle, where I live now, my family’s comfortable income wouldn’t pay for rent in a shoebox, as we found out when my parents divorced and my mother moved us to Seattle to be close to her family.

. . . .

We sometimes had to turn to the welfare dole just to keep food on the table, and I quietly went without the things my friends had—the things I desperately longed to have, too, like summer camp and horse-riding lessons. I know my mom and granny would have given me those childhood experiences if they could. But I also knew, as young as I was, that my family just couldn’t afford it.

. . . .

In my early life, fate shot my chance at Writerly Privilege in one foot by sticking me in a decidedly non-privileged family. (That’s irony, in case it doesn’t come across. My family is awesome and I wouldn’t change my past even if I could. Okay, maybe I’d spend one summer at camp.)

I shot my potential privilege’s other foot, though, by deciding not to go to college.

I knew I wanted to be a writer someday—all that time my sister and I spent as latchkey kids while Mom and Granny worked, we mostly spent reading, and I knew from the first time I cruised through Watership Down in the second grade that I would accept no career other than writing.

. . . .

To recap, let’s tally up the strikes against my Writer Privilege: not from old money; not a socialite; did not go to college; doesn’t even have a valid high-school diploma.

. . . .

My richest year post-divorce and prior to marrying my second husband (who, like Bauer’s second hubby, is a real partner and adds immeasurably to my life) I earned a whopping $11,000.

. . . .

But as dirt-poor as I was, I still look on that time as one of the best points in my life. It’s not enough to say that my writing flowed. It ripped out of me; I was so unable to not write that I carried a little pocket-sized notebook and a pen with me all the time, and whenever a compelling thought or a lovely sentence would pop into my head, I’d stop what I was doing and write it down.

. . . .

But why the notebook? Why didn’t I stop what I was doing and go work on my actual novel?

BECAUSE I WAS WORKING. All the time. I had two jobs, each about 37 hours per week, one of which required me to commute 114 miles round-trip each day.

. . . .

But I didn’t let that stop me. During this insanity, I wrote Baptism for the Dead, which stood as my best novel ever until Tidewater came along, and depending on your tastes, you might still find Baptism to be the superior book.

. . . .

I realized that the intense feelings that allowed me to produce high-caliber art wouldn’t be with me forever. I found out during those strange, poignant, intensely beautiful days what it means to be a real writer: that you do it—you do the task, you complete the chapter, you work with discipline and focus—even if you have to juggle a divorce and two jobs and a 114-mile-a-day commute. You write, no matter what else is happening around you, including the necessities of your day-to-day life, or you don’t write. You are a writer, or you are not a writer, regardless of whether the timing is perfect, regardless of whether you have a desk to sit at, regardless of whether you can make your mid-day yoga class that your husband’s insurance pays for.

In those difficult days, I learned that the timing might never be perfect—ever. I learned to listen to my senses and my emotions as I worked at my day jobs, so that I could tap that well of words when it was time to write. I learned to make time to write, every single day. I learned that being a writer doesn’t mean living a certain lifestyle. It means dedication and drive. It meant, for me, not waiting for my career to land in my lap due to circumstances or privilege. It meant grabbing hold of the identity I’d always sensed was mine, from the first time I’d read Watership Down as a latchkey kid, and making it my reality in spite of my stunning lack of just the right set of privileges.

Link to the rest at Libbie Hawker

Here’s a link to Libbie Hawker’s books

Quit Day Job, Self-Publishing

38 Comments to “Brace yourself. I know this is shocking, but I’m about to rant again.”

  1. Nicely done, Libbie–both the post and the career. A+++

  2. Kudos. I admire transparency. Let’s tell our stories, whatever they be, and confusion to the rest of ’em.

  3. Excellent.

  4. Great post, Libbie. I just have one nit. I’ve always been told that growing up in rural Idaho was a privilege. Are you saying I was lied to? 🙂

  5. Yay Libbie! Wonderful article.

  6. Standing ovation, Libbie! Best post of 2015! (Okay, I know it’s only January, but still.;) Will be sending this link to some newbie authors I know.

  7. I missed somehow the media image of a writer having lots of money. maybe it’s about being British where you are trained that the only people who make money from the arts are those who were already part of the wealthy establishment. The media I listened to always made the point that writers had day jobs.

    Although I did switch back to a desire to be a novelist from my existence as an unpublished poet by the media hype that poets have to pay to get published.

  8. Yay, Libbie-rant! *noms virtual popcorn* *rewinds to favorite part and watches again*

  9. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    Fighting crime, trying to save the world,

    Here they come just in time, the Power Puff Girls!

    Go Libby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Best rant I’ve read in a long time. And one anyone interested in writing should read. Thank you for sharing your personal and inspiring story Libby!

  11. Rant away, Libby! A wonderful rebuttal.

  12. That was a wonderful read! I’ve been in a similar boat, working several under the table jobs in NYC for peanuts and trying to write. Yours is an essay all writers need to read and ponder.

  13. Wow Libbie! Much love, much respect. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Wonderful post. I think that Libby has captured the reality of the writing world. Of course not everyone has her talent or drive. But now, in todays world, everyone has her opportunity.

  15. Shared on Facebook.

  16. YAY Libbie! I came to writing so very, very late in life. I so love hearing the success stories and cheering loudly for my tribe!

  17. Thanks, everybody! Glad you liked the rant. Man, that Salon article steamed me…as Salon so often does.

  18. Yeah, I loved reading this Libby. 100% class act. 🙂

  19. Libbie –

    I. Love. This.

    Thank you!

  20. Good post!

  21. Wonderful!

  22. Go get ’em, Libbie!

  23. Awesome post, Libbie!

  24. Excellent post, Libbie.

    Let me add that “Baptism for the Dead” is an exceptional piece of work and one of the loveliest novels I’ve ever read. That someone without what is considered a traditional writer’s education produced that book is both awe-inspiring and encouraging.

  25. Incredible post, Libbie! So easy to relate to.
    Been there. True & real & spoken with so much heart.

  26. I thought Ann Bauer’s article was simply about authors being transparent about their source of income whether it be a wealthy spouse or an inheritance or several non-writing jobs. I didn’t read it as boastful or instructional. I believe she was just asking other authors to admit, like she did, that not every full-time writer earns enough to support themselves or their family.

    Btw I was born in Pocatello, Idaho, or as I not-so-affectionately think of it, “Truckstop Town.” I wouldn’t consider that to be a privilege.

    • LOL. Not an unreasonable name, AK. (The town where I was born which I won’t divulge would deserve it even more though.)

    • That was my take, too, AK.

    • High-fives to all my fellow Idahoans!

      I suppose what frustrated me so much about Bauer’s article was that she didn’t specify that there are writers out there who actually do support themselves. She basically said, “Let’s be real, y’all. Independently-wealthy people are writers. The end.” There was no mention made of other authors who do support themselves through writing, (possibly because she and most Salon readers are into literary fiction) or who write successfully even though they have to work hard at day jobs.

      That left a lot of folks in the comments section feeling very sad. I don’t like it when my people are sad. 😀

  27. FYI: If you haven’t checked out Libbie’s books, you really should. I read Tidewater last year and it was great. She has a really lovely voice. Just click on Look Inside and take a gander. Go, scoot!


    • I second that emotion. Libbie has a great voice.

    • David, coming from a writer who I admire so much, that is a very high compliment. Thank you.

      USAF, you can only be talking about my writing voice. My speaking voice has been charitably compared to Kermit the Frog and I won’t even subject you to my singing voice unless it’s karaoke and you’re drunk enough not to care. I do, however, really know how to rock Mr. Roboto at the karaoke bar.

      • lol LIbbie. I did mean writing voice of yours is a great one. And

        I dunno, some night we might try being the singing frog family at karaoke….[surely there are some others here who are natural rana pipens.] I can talk reasonably well, but I was one of those kids in school that chorale teachers said, ‘shhhh just mouth the words.’

  28. Kid in a tin-roofed shack in rural Oregon calling the latchkey kid in rural Idaho. 🙂 Tell it like it is. I could be accused of being a writer because I’m not really all that good at anything else, but the fact remains. I wrote three books while working two part-time jobs and partially homeschooling two young children. And I’m legally blind and have to walk to commute. That said it isn’t the writing that tends to be the problem for serious writers. It is the being invisible. If you have or acquire some of that privellege it is much easier to be seen and heard. Just saying. Don’t discourage those who are writing in those cracks of time between jobs and obligations but have sold less than 100 books. Marketing books is a full-time job and there is no way aroudn that. It also takes a fair amount of money to do right. Those without the time and money will never be able to compete and many of the best authors will remain invisible and unheard. I wrote before my husband made it possible for me to work a bit less and have a few hours scheduled to write and market, but I owe every bit of marketing to that privellege. My husband works at construction sites.

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