I think many writers would tell you that when they have thoughts of making a living as a writer, they imagine the career of John Irving, J.K.Rowling, George Beard, or the novelist, journalist or poet they most respect and admire.
I’m no different. I dream about Raspberry Sassafras, the main character in my series of children’s books, being the next Captain Underpants. I think about being an “overnight” success, of meeting the little kids who are my biggest fans and which A-list actor will provide Raspberry’s voice when Pixar makes the animated major motion picture.
But the thing is, once you reach a certain level of success, you’re not making a living, you’re making a killing. As of 2018, J.K. Rowling’s net worth was roughly $1 billion. I’d say she’s doing rather well and probably living quite comfortably. I’m not too worried about J.K.
The dream of being a writer is to have your name accompany your words and to be recognized for your work. The reality of making a living as a writer is that you get paid to write. And that means that sometimes your words go out into the world without you.
I ghostwrite, and I sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). I give up custody of my writing in exchange for money. At first, this felt strange, and I was resistant to it. What if I wrote something great and someone else took credit for it? What if I wrote something really great and someone else made money from it?
Then I decided that would be something akin to a painter never selling or displaying his work for fear someone would copy it. Or a dancer, dancing only in her room so no one could steal her style. You have to take chances in life (especially if you want to get paid), and if you occasionally get the short stick, those are just the breaks. And, as is evident from some of the postings in my blog, a fair share of the clients with whom I contract are perfectly happy to let me put my name on my work and share it here and elsewhere.
But the point isn’t whether I’m getting credit for whatever piece of writing I do. The point is that I’m getting paid to write. And that was the plan all along — to make money as a writer.
Have I been invited to be a guest on Ellen to discuss my latest blog post? Not yet. But, did the very nice gentleman from New York who hired me to write about the fear of flying give me some awesome compliments about the work I’m doing for him? Indeed he did! And that’s what matters even more. He’s happy to have me writing for him because he likes my work. I have a fan!
For me, it’s all a matter of perspective and expectations. If I only consider the Irvings and the Rowlings and the Beards successful writers, then I can spend my life being bitter and frustrated, since my chances of joining their club are about as good as my chances of getting a full scholarship to Hogwarts. And not because I’m not good enough, because I’m pretty damn good. But there are a lot of us who are pretty damn good, and the stars will only align for a few.
But if I go back to my childhood and ask myself what I want to be when I grow up, the very simple answer will always be, “A writer.” Not a billionaire writer, not a best-selling author, just a writer. Now, I know a lot of kids who wanted to be a lot of things when they were growing up. But how many ballerinas, cowboys, mermaids, and astronauts do you see walking around? Not many.
But me, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. And that’s exactly what I am.