Shelley Widhalm

Making the Best of Not Being a Paid Novelist

In Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

Imagine in flashing neon the highlights of your writer resume.

You’ve made the New York Times best-seller list (over and over), sold a screenplay and watched it on the big screen, accepted a Grammy or two, and traveled the world, attending packed book signings.

Yep, you’re a dreamer, a dreamer of the type that can’t give up.
But you have to do this thing called work that takes time, energy, talent and effort away from what you really want to do.

That’s my story as a journalist who wants to be a novelist and can’t think of anything else to do but write. I go to my steady-paycheck job, trying not to feel resentful that my dreams didn’t arrive by courier, handed over just because I want instant publication, fame and money.

A coworker has taped to her desk, “Focus on what you have control over, and enjoy the crap out of it,” an attitude adjuster for when we want to complain about our dismally low paychecks and wacky hours.

I took a photo of that saying, which my coworker copied down from another journalist friend.

So, here’s how I’m enjoying the crap out of one writing job (journalist), when I want the other one (published novelist):

• I get to experience things that I wouldn’t get to in most other jobs, such as sitting in a Cessna, riding in a fire truck, traveling on a three-seated airplane, taking the passenger seat on a combine, hanging out on roofs to learn about new technology, and riding a hot air balloon (and getting paid for it).

• I get to interview people in all different types of jobs, getting a glimpse into what their work lives are like, information that comes in handy for character development.

• I practice my writing daily. I interview. I research. These are things novelists also do.

• I get bored with my work writing. I get writer’s block. I can’t think of a lede. All for about five minutes. There’s deadline. Translate: I try to treat my after-work writing life like a job, so that I can’t come up with loads of excuses.

• I absorb how other reporters approach their jobs, because we’re all in one large room where we can overhear each other. I compare how they ask interview questions to my own methods, adding to my repertoire, and I pick up on their comments about interesting and annoying assignments.

• On occasion, I can sneak in some of my own research. For instance, I wrote about an apartment fire in one of my novels and asked the American Red Cross, when I was writing about disaster response, if the nonprofit goes to individual home and apartment fires.

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  1. Right now, fiction writing is a luxury – something you look forward to and crave, right? (me too)! Would that change if fiction writing was your day job? In my case, I think the answer is a resounding YES. I used to think I’d quit my day job in a heartbeat if I could be a full time fiction writer/novelist. Nowadays, knowing what I do about the publishing industry, I’m not so sure anymore.

  2. I agree. I don’t like the idea of giving up my say on the cover art and having to be careful every step of the way with traditional publishing.

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