For Love or Money
Why do you write? For love of writing or for money? And what comes first—your writing or your life? I’ve been thinking about priorities lately. For thirty years I worked in academic publishing and wrote early in the morning, late at night, on weekends. My children were used to hearing, “Go on, now. I’m busy.” I was a driven woman. In retrospect, I’m not sure if I wrote for the sake of writing or because I wanted to build a career. The latter worked to a certain extent; the former is still with me.
I’ve been retired for four years now, and I’m still writing fairly prolifically. Right now, I have five projects—a newly published mystery, Desperate for Death, for which I must do more heavy marketing than I have so far; a first draft of a third entry in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries, which needs heavy, heavy editing; a historical novel set in Chicago which is off to an editor; a half-written sequel to The Perfect Coed, first in the Oak Grove Mysteries; and a chili book, Texas is Chili Country, due out this fall from Texas Tech University Press.
Writing has saved my life and—I hope—my mind in retirement. When I first became of an age to think about retirement, I worried about waking up and thinking, “What will I do today?” Friends assured me I would be busier than ever, and I admit boredom has never been the problem. Too much work sometimes has. Writing has given me focus, as have my associations with Sisters in Crime, the Guppies (Great Unpublished), and the Story Circle Network. Those things keep my mind busy, which I firmly believe, and hope, wards off dementia. And I enjoy the writing and the involvement in the writing community. I’m happiest sitting at my computer, even eating my dinner there.
But at the same time, I’m retired. I like to lollygag about in the mornings, reading emails, Facebook, and the newspaper. I like to have lunch and dinner with friends, and I care for an eight-year-old every afternoon after school. I like to entertain and experiment with recipes. In other words, I have a life.
There’s a third factor in this equation or whatever it is. I’ve never earned enough in my long (forty-plus years and sixty or more books) to support myself. It’s just something I’ve always done. I can’t imagine a life without writing. I’m probably earning more money right now from my writing than I ever have—and I credit web technology and a large backlist with that. But I’m fortunate that I don’t have to rely on writing for food and shelter. I could quit tomorrow and go on with my lifestyle, with fewer restaurant dinners and the like. But I wouldn’t starve.
The few people who go into writing to make a fortune are deluded and probably not born writers. It’s often a hard life on a tiny budget unless you have an inheritance, a working spouse, or a day job (which brings in the money but cuts the writing time). Only a few reach any kind of pinnacle of wealth. Writing can be painful—words won’t come, ideas sink and fade, writer’s block sets in—but it can also be exhilarating, and I admit after all these years to a thrill when I hold a new book with my name on it. Someone asked which is my favorite book, and I replied it’s like asking which is my favorite child (a constant, good-natured rivalry among my four children—don’t ask them that question!). I write for the exhilaration of those moments when it all comes together and you can say to yourself, “Darn. I’m not half bad.” Or that wonderful stranger who rushes up to you and says “I love your books.”
So which comes first? Why do you write?
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at the Tremont House and The Oak Grove Mysteries which debuted in 2014 with The Perfect Coed.
Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Web page: http://www.judyalter.com