Friday, 29 March 2013

The Price is Write

I'm not sure that pun in the title entirely makes sense, but bear with me. I wanted to talk this week about the price of being a writer – how much it does and should cost in monetary terms. Clearly, there is also a massive cost in terms of time and an emotional cost of delving into the darker parts of your psyche, but for now I'm just going to talk about money.

When I first started out as a writer, I don't think I perceived that the activity had much actual value. Of course, I was going to be more famous than JK Rowling and give up my day job in a blaze of success, but I didn't want to invest any actual cash to make that happen. So I would "borrow" notepads and pens from work, while also eschewing any form of writing tuition. We had an old laptop at home, and I used that to type the book up, even though the keyboard randomly failed to register certain key presses unless you stabbed it really hard. Even so, there was a certain romance to that and I could imagine I was some kind of Ernest Hemingway type, locked in my garret with only a manual typewriter and a bottle of scotch (although I'm a lightweight and mostly drank tap water). How amazing would it be to transcend my circumstances, to prove that all you needed to write a brilliant book is pure talent?

Unfortunately, I did not write a brilliant book. The next one was a lot better, though, and I took my first tentative steps into the wider world by joining an adult writing group that cost me £3.50 a week – quite a commitment at the time. I found myself paying for other things too, a laser printer for printing those all-important 3 chapter samples for agents, as well as the stamps and envelopes to send them with. Slowly, I was beginning to value my hobby and put some actual cash behind it.

A major psychological shift for me was when I joined SCBWI for the first time. Previously, the idea that I would spend $75 (as it was then) to join a writing organisation would have been preposterous, and I still needed the prospect of entering Undiscovered Voices dangled under my nose before I ponied up the cash. But from my perspective now, I think the SCBWI membership fee is a great thing. Not only does the money keep the organisation running, but it also ensures that each and every member has made a commitment to their writing or illustration. Suddenly, you are put in a position where you want to get value from that investment, and I'm sure this is one of the reasons that the organisation is so vibrant and the members so engaged.

In recent years, my spend to support my writing has continued to rise. There are conferences and retreats, writing courses and events to attend. I bought myself a decent netbook and am gradually getting with the times by writing my first drafts directly into it. I do also buy all my own stationery and haven't "borrowed" anything at all from my last 3 employers (honest). Just this month, I decided to buy a web domain that's prominently featured in my work in progress, even though the book isn't finished yet. It's something I've thought a lot about previously, usually so I could fret about someone else taking the domain before I could get the book published. However, I've also been aware that titles and character names change, and it wasn't worth setting anything in stone before I had a publishing contract. But somehow, buying that domain has solidified my determination to see the book finished and published – now I've put my money as well as my time behind it.

My very latest thought is that I'm sure I would get a lot more writing done if I went out at lunchtime every day and worked in a cafe somewhere. My best writing sessions are always the days where I leave the office, because I can get a clean break from work and the walk helps to clear my head. Plus, I find caffeine and cake are very conducive to the creative process ;-) My problem - beyond the idea being hugely self-indulgent – is the cost. I'd be spending roughly £5 a day, which quickly becomes £25 a week and a massive £1,300 a year! Is my writing worth that much? Hmm, I'll get back to you on that...



  1. Ha - I think your estimateis conservative, Nick.

    When I didn't have a pbublishing deal, I asked myself many times whether the outlay was worth the payback - especially since it made me feel guilty to be squandering family funds on this ... indulgence ... But as my husband explained to me one day when I was ranting guiltily about my lack of progress, we're not in it for the money or for the book deal, we're in it for YOU. Cuz I am a very bad tempered wife and disgruntled mother when I'm not writing. The investment makes life better for everyone.

  2. This is very topical. I think it's the fact that the investment is speculative that makes it questionable, and the fact that quite a lot of people DO get a book deal after a relatively short time and not much financial investment - the time investment is a very big deal, years of one's life can can be involved.

  3. Hi Nick, like you I started off with an old notebook and a pen and now have evolved to a laptop I keep specifically for writing. I think writing is good for my soul but definitely not for my bank balance! I try not to count the cost too much or the guilt would kill me!

  4. I'm thinking about that issue a lot at the moment. It's April Fool's Day and a new financial year, and that brings unfathomable changes to the tax and benefits system. I claim working tax credit and can write off my writing costs against other income, but who knows what will happen next? If I think about it too much I panic. And yes, Nick, I have exactly the same inner argument about buying domain names before finishing (or selling) a book.

  5. That is a very interesting point...I see what you mean about money tying you to the "hobby." Then again, when you add up the cafe cost as you did...well that's a lot more than a little conference! That'd take more ppl than I know to buy the book (i think a very low probability). Good luck to you!