Friday, January 16, 2009

An Author's Life for Me

by Anna Jones Buttimore

About an hour from now, I need to go off to Thundersley Primary School, where I am the guest speaker in a mixed class of children from years 3 and 4. These lovely 7 and 8 year olds are going to ask me questions about being an author. I've known most of them since they were 3, since one of them is my middle daughter and they've been in the same group for their entire school lives. Needless to say, I'm terrified.

I've got copies of everything I ever had published packed up in my bag, from a dreadful poem I wrote in senior school to an article in LDS Living - and my three novels, of course. The children are, apparently, going to ask me questions about being an author. Naturally I shall feel rather a fraud as I answer them. Living out here in the UK, far from my target market in Zion, means that I have never done any book signings, never seen my books on display in a bookshop or library, and never encountered anyone reading one of them on the Tube - apparently the no. 1 thrill for UK writers. So being held up as a "real life author" in front of thirty children is going to seem rather odd.

And what do I tell them?

Q. Do you make much money from writing?
A. No, very little. With my next royalties cheque I plan to take my family out for a meal. To McDonald's.

Q. Is it exciting being a writer?
A. No. Mostly it involves slogging away trying to be inspired, and get words onto a page, which, to be frank, can be very boring. Then you wait and wait and wait, with some worrying thrown in before more waiting ... and then you give up sleep altogether in the mad rush to get an edit finished by an impossible deadline.

Q. Are you famous?
A. No. Thousands of people could buy your books and profess to love your work, but not one of them would recognise you in the street. Well, would you recognise John Grisham if you bumped into him at the Supermarket?

Q. Is it easy to become a writer?
A. No. Any published author will tell you that they have acquaintances come up to them on a regular basis saying that they are in the process of writing a book and would like some help with it, especially with getting it accepted by a publisher. Lots of people write books. Most of them result in nothing more getting printed than several rejection letters.

Basically I think I will be telling the children that it's not a viable career choice, so they really should stick to their plans to be firemen, astronauts or ballerinas. I don't think Miss Ellis will be inviting me back anytime soon.

So why do we "real authors" do it? I think, for many of us, the answer is simply that we love writing. Those of us who understand the power of well-chosen words get a real thrill from using those words to stir emotions and create worlds. I have a "real" job too (see and was asked by my boss a few weeks ago to put together an article on alternative treatments for depression. I spent a couple of days researching the subject, phoning people I knew to have suffered from depression, or to be proponents of complementary therapies, and then I started writing the article. Halfway through I remembered that I was being paid for what I was doing, and realised how blessed I was in getting £10 per hour for doing something I loved. Don't tell my boss this, but I'd have done it for nothing. After all, I wrote an 80,000 word novel for the chance to try the new McChicken Mayo.


Cheri J. Crane said...

Best of luck with the speaking engagement. ;) You'll do great! And I agree, writers write because they love it. I always tell people to not quit their day jobs if they consider it as a career. =D

Jennie said...

Well put, Anna. Who but a bunch of demented writers would work as hard as we do for so little financial return? Yes, there are a few writers who make big bucks and some who make a decent living, but most merely pay for the little extras whether it's a long dreamed-of vacation, a new sofa, or dinner for the family at a favorite fast food restaurant. But whether our royalty checks are fat or thin, it really isn't the money most of us write for. It's a part of us, just something we do, something that gives us our greatest highs and sometimes our deepest lows, but something so ingrained in us, we can't imagine not ever writing again. Good luck with the speech.

Gale Sears said...

Well said, Anna! It is a tough job, but extreamly engaging. I figure there are few stars in the work-a-day world, so we shouldn't get too discouraged. Have fun sharing with all those bright shining faces.