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Friday, 1 May 2015

A Real Writer – by Fiona Veitch Smith

I had been invited to speak to a group of university students on the topic ‘the writing life’. My brief was to give a realistic view of what it was like to work as a ‘real writer.’My first response was: 
“You do realise I’m not very successful. Although I have ghostwritten seven published books, my name isn’t on any of them, and the books where my name is on the cover, it’s because I’ve self-published. I’m still waiting for a ‘proper’ publishing contract or on-going film or theatre deal. The film contract I thought was in the can has been cancelled and the funding for the theatre play has been withdrawn. I have to supplement my writing income with lecturing work, and even then, I don’t always earn enough to pay tax every year.

The lecturer, who had known me at the time for seven years, said yes, he realised that, and that’s what he wanted the students to hear. Besides, he was offering to pay me 50 quid, so naturally I agreed.

Fiona Veitch Smith
I tried to strike a balance between enthusing the students to follow their dreams, yet tailoring their expectations. I majored on some of my successes: the cover article for Sports Illustrated, the People’s Play Theatre Award, my short film, Enemy Lines, that had been screened internationally, my children’s books that were available in bookshops. But when they asked me how much I earned in a year, and one of them informed me it was below minimum wage and I would get more if I was on benefits (as if I didn’t know!), things started to go down hill.

I retorted that money wasn’t everything and job satisfaction was far more important, but a mumbled ‘tell that to my student loan’ told me I had lost them. The final blow came when a student commented on my varied writing pursuits: ‘Don’t you think you might have got further if you’d just focused on one thing?’

Afterwards, at home, I wondered if he was right. I was a jack of all trades, master of none. I took it to God in prayer, crying out my frustrations and pain. And then the most wonderful thing happened. I felt a peace come over me as I heard an inner voice say: ‘But you have followed one thing, Fiona, you have followed me. And I have led you down these many paths for my purposes. And I will continue to lead you if you continue to follow.’

That was four years ago. Since then I have been far more relaxed about what it means to be a ‘real writer’ (although I still have the odd wobble). Being a ‘real follower’ is far more important. And if that had led me away from writing, back into a ‘proper job’, then so be it. But it hasn’t. Since then, the Lord has opened doors for a number of publishing contracts and I’m hoping to bother the tax man again this year. I’m still waiting for my big scriptwriting break – but only if that’s where He wants to lead me.

For more information on what the average author earns see the latest survey reported in The Telegraph.


Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her formerly self-published children’s books The Young David Series, are now available from SPCK. Her mystery novel, The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), is due out in September 2015. http://fiona.veitchsmith.com

18 comments:

  1. I think you should get yourself booked in to go back and do another talk, and say to them, 'Here I am, and if I'd taken your advice and packed it all in, where would I be now? Eh? Eh?'

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  2. Ironically, I've just had an offer to cover for a lecturer in that very department this coming August. Pity that group of students will no longer be there :)

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  3. Thanks for your honest piece Fiona - it's all so true, and yet vital that we still hold to following God and doing the things He opens up before us... Thanks for the reminder :)

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  4. Tough to do when someone is rubbbing your face it in Claire. But it only hurts so much because we fear it's true.

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  5. Thanks for this, Fiona. It was just what I needed to hear today.

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  6. I wonder what a 'successful' writer does look like? I mean, apart from the obvious three or four famous ones, how do we define success at writing? I think the jack-of-all-trades thing is actually a measure of success: it means you're flexible at your craft and you continually develop your skills, rather than sticking in one safe area and trying to make it work. Means you're a writer, rather than a script writer or a children's writer: and that's surely the only way to make any real money writing. Or am I saying this to comfort myself, since that's exactly my approach?! Take on every little paying project to fund the bigger ones I'm really passionate about!

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    1. I think I write across so many different media because a) I'm fascinated by how stories change across different media. Like a musician who plays different instruments, I like to try different ways of expressing myself, and different media are suited to certain types of stories better than others, and b) if I'm honest, I simply tried as many doors as possible to see which one would open!

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    2. And yes, I felt I could earn more money this way. Like you I take on paying work that might not be my heart's desire so that I can write what I want to. It's funny how there appears to be an inverse corrolation between what I enjoy writing and what I get paid to write!

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  7. Love this post, Fiona. Thanks for reminding us of what really matters.

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  8. Excellent post, Fiona. Thanks so much for sharing this. Having known you for some years now, I'd say you're one of the most successful and encouraging people I know, especially at a time when I needed it most.

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    1. Ditto back at you Merrilyn. You have encouraged me many times. Pass the tissues ...

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  9. Brilliant post Fiona. Brought a lump to my throat (though that could be the lemon cake I was gorging at the time - there being no cheesecake currently available). I am about to hand in my notice so I can move to a less demanding job freeing up more time to write. Although this is actually quite scary financially, God has opened up all the doors for this and it's good to be reminded His economy is unlike all others. It sounds to me as though He has used your multi-talents in many different ways. May they multiply further...x

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    1. Oh Deborah, that is so brave of you. Unlike the students I spoke to you know the realities of living in the real world and also the reality of needing to write, not as a 'career choice' but because you cannot imagine life without it. Yes it is going to be a challenge for you financially, but God can and will continue to provide what you need as long as He continues to call you to follow Him on this path. Bless you!

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  10. Brilliant post Fiona. Brought a lump to my throat (though that could be the lemon cake I was gorging at the time - there being no cheesecake currently available). I am about to hand in my notice so I can move to a less demanding job freeing up more time to write. Although this is actually quite scary financially, God has opened up all the doors for this and it's good to be reminded His economy is unlike all others. It sounds to me as though He has used your multi-talents in many different ways. May they multiply further...x

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  11. This is great Fiona - I love that reminder that it is better to be a real follwer not just a real writer (or insert any other dream).

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  12. Never fall into the idea that being trade published is more 'real' than being an Indie writer - not if you want to be part of the movement that's happening in publishing, anyhow. (Or, never unless you want to pick an argument with an indie writer ...) Seriously, it's the commitment, the care, the creativity which makes a writer real - not the agent/publishing house ...

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