Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Being a Writer

Although it has been a rocky road, I have enjoyed some success as a writer. I have five books to my name—only one of which was a self-pub. I have been a columnist for a short time with the local newspaper—The Florida Times-Union, and I have published many poems and articles in numerous literary magazines and several glossy mags.

However, if I were to total up all the prize money, the royalties, and the contributor copies I have earned, I’d be surprised if I have made even as much a $7,000 in a career that has spanned just over 40 years. By my count that would mean I would have made approximately $175 per year, and that wouldn’t have even kept a hamster in seeds and grain. Thank goodness I had a teaching career on which to fall back.

So, why do I keep at it when there is so little money to be made? It is for the same reason as the rest of the world’s writers—the compulsion to write. I have, as I think all writers have, a drive to put on paper (or on computer) the words that help me process the world. And I sense that there is a bit of immortality in the process, as well.

Think of all the writers from days past whose words have moved and excited you. I suppose, I like to think that in the distant future, someone might come across a poem I have written or a book over which I have labored, and they might find an answer or an insight into the human condition. Pretty lofty goal, isn’t it?

I also enjoy great satisfaction when I get an idea on paper that is exactly what I needed to say. Whether I am paid for my efforts or not is immaterial (although I will never turn away a writer’s fee). The glow that comes from preserving in words an emotion is intoxicating and has kept me writing whether there is anyone else in the forest to read it.
Just about a month ago, I signed a contract to write my 6th book, another Jacksonville, Florida,  history, and even though I have an accelerated deadline and a mountain through which I must sift, I am excited that once again, I will be able to capture thoughts and memories of people before these thoughts and memories are lost to oblivion.

I love recalling and preserving earlier customs that we no long practice. Remember wearing hats and gloves, even in Florida, when it was time to go shopping downtown? Remember sock-hops and cruising through the curb-service restaurants? Remember hanging out at the beach, and celebrating that fact as you listened to the Beach Boys on an AM transistor radio? Remember being painfully smitten with a person who didn’t even know you existed? Remember falling in love for the first time and being certain that THIS IS IT!?!

It is a privilege to be privy to the memories of others, and it is very satisfying when I can capture those moments so that they will live forever somewhere in the Cloud or on a network or in pages. I will continue to write until I lose all my words.

I do want to be clear about one thing, however. I don’t give my writing away. Once I was “stiffed” by a tabloid after I had written four articles for them, so I have been careful ever since to be sure that some portion of payment is made before I begin, or that I get it in writing what I will be paid. I also recall being asked to write for an up-start website for a pittance, and I turned them down flat. It may seem somewhat contradictory that I would do that, but I felt my time was worth more. And this website was totally uninteresting to me.

Perhaps if the site had been for a charity that I support, I would have written for it for free. If the site had even been about something about which I wanted to learn, then I could see myself writing for little to nothing.  Still, there has to be a pay-off for any writer—be it expanding ones knowledge base, which might come in handy at another time, or helping a cause in which one believes. Then, and only then, would I write for free. 

Writing is a sacred calling. It is something we writers are compelled to do with our days on this earth. And because it is sacred, writers must value their worth and consider carefully the payoffs in the offing—be it tangible or more esoteric. Then, our hope of enlightening readers will come true, and we need not give ourselves away to those who would take advantage.
Dorothy K. Fletcher
Pen Woman , Jacksonville Branch

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