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Becoming a Writer

Volume XXI, Issue Four | December 2021

Some years ago, a friend asked me to meet with a colleague who had quit her job to become a writer. She’d never been published. My friend wanted me to give her advice. I met with the woman, who told me she knew she’d have to write travel articles and such until she was established.


If you’re lucky, I thought. Even selling travel articles isn’t easy.


The woman came to me a little late. If she’d asked earlier, I’d have told her to keep the day job.


This came back to me when I read an article by Western Writers of America President Chris Enss in WWA’s Roundup magazine. The median income for a writer in 2019 was just $14,300, she writes. Of course, we all know the phenomenal advances and royalties paid to best-selling authors. And we hope to get there one day. But in the meantime, the pay for most of us who grind away hoping to sell books and articles, is significantly less.


That’s why keeping the day job is important. Even writers who made it big, started out with everyday jobs, toiling away at night on their typewriters, Enss writes. Zane Grey worked as a dentist. John Steinbeck was a caretaker at a fish hatchery. Agatha Christie was a pharmacist’s assistant. (Good training for working drugs into her novels.) Even the great Harper Lee had a daytime job as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and British Overseas Airways, before she published To Kill A Mockingbird.


My first novel, Buster Midnight’s Café, came out when I was 50. But I kept on working as a journalist until I was 60 and felt confident enough to become a full-time novelist. Still, I didn’t quit until I discussed the future with my financial advisor. She told me if I was frugal, I would be okay until I was 99. After that, I’d be on my own.


I’m writing this not to discourage anyone from following her dream of becoming a writer. I just want you to be aware that it can be a tough road from dream to reality, and it’s tempting to throw up your hands and quit. Who knows how many would-be great writers got discouraged by trying to write after working a full-time job, then coming home to fix dinner and wash diapers?


That describes my early years as a writer. There were times when I was too exhausted to care. But I was able to eek out a little time for myself. The lesson I learned was not to wait until I had a day off or when the grandparents took the girls for a Saturday afternoon. No, I wrote a little bit each day. My advice is to carve out a few minutes for yourself each day. Write instead of watching the 10 p.m. news or get up a half-hour earlier. My time was after the children went to bed. I typed (no computer then) for a half-hour, while my husband read the paper or watched television. I was pretty faithful about it, except for the nights when “Magnum. P.I” was on.


Was it worth it? You don’t have to ask. Just read on.

Recognition For A Lifetime Of Writing


It was honor enough when my friend the wonderful mystery writer Margaret Coel nominated me for the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. But to actually be named to the Colorado Hall was the thrill of a lifetime. Twelve living authors and four “legendary” (read dead) authors were inducted. I was delighted to be listed among the living.


The September induction was a formal dress-up affair at a Denver hotel, with hundreds of attendees. I was pleased that friends from the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum bought a table. And I was delighted that my daughter Dana could attend with Bob and me.


The whole evening was exciting, but I left with mixed feelings. Where in the world do I go from here?

 

My Next Book:

Little Souls

Publication date is April.


I’ll tell you about it in the next edition of Piecework.

 

Sandra’s Picks


Lightning Strike

By William Kent Kruger. Atria Books.


William Kent Kruger wrote a dozen Cork O’Connor mysteries before he turned to stand-alone novels. The second of these, This Tender Land, was on the “New York Times” best-seller list for weeks.


Now, in “Lightning Strike,” Krueger uses the lyrical writing of his stand-alone books in a Cork O’Connor prequel that is both a series mystery and an independent book—and most likely another best seller, since it debuted at the number five spot on the Times list.


In this latest work, Cork is 12, a happy outdoors kid whose father, Liam, is the sheriff. On a hiking trip Cork and his friend discover the body of an Indian hanging from a tree. Liam suspects the dead man’s brother, but Cork isn’t convinced and launches his own investigation.


Lightning Strike explores the tender relationship between father and son. I think you’ll like it even if you’ve never read a Cork O’Connor mystery.