Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
About Career Writing and Writing Through Grief
Q: Would you recommend creative writing as a career for someone who is undecided about his or her choice of career?
A: Creative writing is a hobby, an art, but not a career until you have sold several books. No one can afford to live without any income for a couple of years while writing a novel that has only a one percent chance of selling to a publisher. If it does sell, the advance may be $10,000 or less, and royalties, which are only about six percent of the retail price, don't come in until the advance is earned out. Because of the low potential of a financial return, novelists write for the love of writing, and some eventually become talented enough to sell their work.
Professional writers, however, do as I did and find other ways to work with words that will pay, and that's why my motto is "I'll write anything for money."
Writing is one of the professions that must come from the heart. If you don't love writing and feel a need to write, you will not continue to improve, and if not, you may as well quit.
I always knew I wanted to write for a living, even against the advice of my high school advisor and my father, both of whom said I could not make a living writing. Perhaps they thought only of novelists as writers, but writers take many forms.
I decided I would prove to everyone that I could make a living writing. As a result I have written ads, brochure copy, company profiles, resumes, radio commercials, trade magazine articles, consumer magazine articles, newspaper articles, newsletter articles, advertorials, and poetry. I've written, co-written, or ghostwritten several books, too. I've edited anything that will pay the mortgage. No matter what I write or edit, I'm working with the raw materials I love: words. As a result, I have made my living as a writer and editor since the 1970s. I call my house "The House that Words Built," because every penny I paid for it came from my pen and my willingness to "write anything for money."
If you do not feel compelled to write, do not choose writing as a career, whether you hope to sell a novel or plan to write advertising and other commercial copy.
Q: My ten-year marriage is ending. I don't feel like writing. I have made only two entries in my journal. Do you have any advice on how to fight through the pain and write?
A: As a veteran of two broken marriages, I feel your pain. I'm sorry you have to go through it. Many people need time to go from "overwhelmed" to "productive," though.
Any loss results in grief, and grief that goes unresolved can lead to mental and physical problems. When I was going through a divorce at the same time my mother experienced an episode I thought would lead to her death, I read "On Death and Dying," a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It helped me see things in a new light.
I hadn't thought about my divorce as being a loss that would result in grief, but Kubler-Ross made me realize I was going through a double loss. She defined the stages of grief, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Give yourself time to experience your emotions and progress through the stages toward healing. Don't be too hard on yourself for not being able to write right away.
Journaling helped me, although it might not work for you. I started with "Day One" and wrote down what my then-husband said to our son about our separation and what my husband and I had actually said to each other. I recorded my surprise that the two messages differed greatly. I actually felt good that I could journal again without fear that my husband might find and read my journal.
Writing every day in my journal did not make me want to write creatively right away, but I recorded material I might forget. Years later I returned to the journals and resurrected conversations, events, and emotions and used them in stories and memoirs.
If journaling doesn't work for you yet, don't push it, but sit for a portion of each day with pen in hand and see if anything happens.
I will reveal a deep personal secret. I keep my journal in the bathroom. I have to sit for a while each morning anyway, so I multitask for those five or ten minutes, recording my feelings, dreams, plans, fears, or whatever comes to mind while I take care of my morning constitutional. See if it works for you.
You might also sign up for a class that gives writing assignments or look for places with monthly competitions and see if assignments and competitions inspire you to write. My e-mail newsletter has a monthly assignment, too. Subscribe to it and see if my assignments get you to write again. I belong to the Georgia Writers Association, which has monthly competitions. They often inspire me to write. Deadlines inspire me, too. See if giving yourself a deadline will help.
Of all that inspires me, my critique circle has to be the top. Every Saturday morning I must bring five new pages to our meeting, so I not only have a deadline, but I also have encouragement and helpful feedback that keeps me going.
Try any and all of those things and see what works for you. I wish you well.
Folks, I need your questions, to keep this column going. Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com today!
—Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, freelance writer and author of "Write In Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing," published by Union Square Publishing and distributed by Simon & Schuster. Send your questions to the book doctor at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com