Prospering as a Writer

Reading about Canadian writers can be downright depressing. In this month’s Quill and Quire non-fiction writer Katherine Ashenburg has penned an article called “The Penniless Trade” bemoaning how little money she makes as a full-time writer. For writing her most recent work, The Dirt on Clean, she profited to the tune of $86,825 – for four years work. This works out to $21,700 annually, or roughly the minimum wage in Canada. This is pathetic, especially when you realize that most of this was earned from the publishers’ advances and government grants. Actually, Ashenburg earned more from government grants than she did from the publisher to write the book. It is also interesting to note that no where in the article does she indicate whether she expects to earn out her advance and receive royalties.

This is pretty discouraging for someone who dreams of being a writer full-time. Again and again, I hear or read the words “don’t quit your day job.” Sigh. But what about a part-time job?

In today’s Globe and Mail, 2009 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Christos Tsiolkas writes about the benefits of keeping his part-time job as a veterinary nurse. He is now in a position to live off his writing (yes! it is possible), but has decided to keep his part-time job. His job gives him more than just a steady income; it keeps him connected to the world. He enjoys the camaraderie of his co-workers and these same co-workers keep him informed of pop-culture by making him mixed tapes and inviting him to goth-rock concerts. These experiences inform his work;  an upcoming novel features a veterinarian and a play features a character grieving the loss of dearly loved animal.

Writing can be so solitary and solipsistic that I find it important to be reminded of the world outside my own head. In a roundabout way, I guess what I am saying is that the job I do to pay the bills keeps me grounded.

~ Christos Tsiolkas

While I’d love to stay at home and write full-time, the reality is I’d go crazy if I wasn’t somehow connected to the world. I’m employed full-time right now, but that job is coming to an end in the fall. As crazy making as it can be, a day job can provide a wealth of material for writing. Now, I just need to find a part-time job to pay the bills, provide a little inspiration and a lot of time to write. Here’s to hope!


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