Do I Want It Enough?
Pardon me while I show my straight white male privilege.
One thing holding me back from being a true writer (with a capital “A”… I mean “W”) is that I am well-off. By day, I am a computer programmer. That’s an in-demand position. I get a near $100K salary and comfy benefits. And the reason I’m a computer programmer is because I went to college. And the reason I went to college is because my parents paid for it (so add “no student loan debt” to that list of reasons to hate me). And the reason they paid for it is because they could, by saving and being smart with money and having no external thing to pay for. All this translates to the fact I have no base need for money.
But someone who writes for a living, they get the chops becasue they have no choice but to be good. Or they die. Neil Gaiman says that his motivation/inspiration came from needing to feed his children. Seanan McGuire came from a trailer. You don’t live like that and think “When I grow up, I want the comfortable financial stability of a writer.” I imagine she spent her life reading books one after the other (because they were cheap), then became a writer because it was the only thing she saw herself doing. Like Chinese gymnasts that start at two years old and do nothing but, then are thrown away at sixteen.
The short version of this can be explained in this parable: A Zen master was out for a walk with one of his students when they noticed a fox chasing a rabbit. “According to an ancient saying the rabbit will escape,” said the master. “Not so,” replied the student, “the fox is faster.” “Never-the-less, the rabbit will elude the fox,” the master stated. “How can you be so certain?” asked the student. “The fox is running for its dinner. The rabbit is running for its life.”
In computer programming, you start off with a well-paying job out of college. Because you took that time gaining those skills. You are the computer whisperer. You can make it sing and dance the way companies want you to. You know how to make the lightning brain think.
In writing, you don’t start off in any sort of job. First, you get a little work. Then a little more. Seanan McGuire had to keep writing and writing and writing because she had to. Otherwise she would earn no money.
You create art and hope someone purchases it. And the big hurdle is people purchase art because they want it, not because they need it. Companies don’t need art, they need results. They need profit margins and cost-benefit analyses. And they pay the people who can provide that, because it takes special skills.
John Scalzi says you can quit your day job when you’re making 30% more than your annual salary (to cover healthcare costs and retirement and such). I am going to have to be a superstar writer to match the salary of a software engineer working for one of the biggest companies in the midwest. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, but it means resisting the urge to lay back and be a fat lazy dog.