Many strings to my bow

A few months ago during the Q&A session of one of my library talks, I mentioned that I had a day job. One of the attendees promptly asked me whether, in that case, my novel writing was just a hobby.

I have to say, the comment stung a little. I replied that, no, it was not a hobby. That in fact many Australian writers could not afford to write full time and therefore had day jobs as well as writing novels and short stories. Some are lawyers, academics or office workers. We squeeze in our fiction writing around our jobs and families. We get paid, even if it’s not always a lot of money. For every writer who also has a day job, writing is not ‘just a hobby’.

The fact is, my day job is part of my work as a writer. I’m very lucky that I get to be a writer for my living as well as my vocation. I generally contract my skills out these days, so I have done all kinds of writing: external communications, advertising copy, editing of content for the web, report writing, copyediting.

At present I edit training materials for grammar, punctuation and style. It may sound dull to some of you, but i’m getting paid to be pernickety about grammar, so I enjoy it. I learn a lot too, so it is helping me becoming a better writer in other fields.

Those other fields include writing content for iPhone apps. My app, Melbourne Literary, was done in partnership with the US tech company Sutro Media. They provided the platform (the content management system, basically).  I pitched the idea of the app to them and then wrote everything and sourced all the pictures. I’ve pitched another app idea since then and am in the process of writing that one too.  We share the profits of the apps sold through iTunes (and hopefully one day soon through Android). So that’s another little bit of income from my writing.

I have my fiction writing, too. So far I’ve had four novels published, one short fiction story and one non-fiction essay. I wrote a one act play once, and was paid a royalty by the little theatre that performed it in WA a few years ago.

Another writing-related activity I do is public speaking. I talk to libraries and organisations (and very occasionally schools) about different aspects of writing and reading. Of course, being a writer, pretty much everything I do counts as research. Travel, theatre, reading, shopping. It’s a good life.

There are so many things to being a writer, especially these days, when diversifying your skills is so important. All writers, these days, also need to be marketers, PR people, public speakers, educators, mentors and more.

I consider myself so lucky to be a professional writer in so many parts of my life. I pay the bills, I nourish my creative self and I have opportunities to meet and encourage other writers and readers. And every different type of writing (or speaking about writing) that I do adds to my knowledge and skills, and makes me a better writer.

Really, I have the best life!

(But I confess, if no-one paid me to write, I’d write anyway.)

 

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

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Posted on November 7, 2011, in creativity, writers, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. You really are blessed – and very talented. I don’t understand why someone would imagine that a person who has books published does it for a hobby. Just as well that person didn’t ask you what your real job was! Rudeness.

    • 🙂 Thanks! I don’t think she meant to be rude. Perhaps a lot of readers who haven’t met writers don’t realise that most of us have to fit our writing around better-paid activities. We all have the dream of one day being self-sufficent with our writing, though. As I said, I’m lucky, because I get to write, or do writing-related things, in all the different areas of my life.

      • That’s actually a pretty good description of you. I like it.

        • I’ve certainly felt a lot happier since I realised that all the different parts of my writing work add up to a whole writing career. I’m always struggling to find enough time to write, as fiction is my first love. But when I view it holistically, I’m pretty much leading the life I want to live. Eventaully the mortgage will be paid off and I’ll shift the balance a litte.

  2. In a related news story, Hazel Edwards is quoted in this Age article about writers being ‘authorpreneurs’. Perhaps this is what I am?

    http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/new-breed-of-writers-conquering-cyberspace-20111107-1n3p8.html

  3. Creative folk of all kind have this problem – as an artist in Australia, the job is essential, and we dream of going full time with the art. ATO considers my hours of artwork a hobby and won’t allow me to claim anything for it because at the moment I have to work full time. It’s…. depressing.

    • Until you make a little income, in which case the ATO is very keen to see it as a business. And yes, any creative pursuit generally has to be supported by full time work most of the time.

      I very occasionally encounter people who think that artists/musicians/writers/actors are in it for the money. When I’ve stopped laughing I usually weep for a little bit.

  4. Don’t forget your blogging – both as yourself and as Lyssa & Gary. Some of your pieces I’ve enjoyed the most were movie reviews written as a conversation between your characters. 🙂

    • I’m delighted that you enjoy those. I love writing them, and they’re a terrific writing exercise in themselves. I’m very much enjoying getting into blogging more regularly, too. I’ve been able to discuss personal observations about writing as well as articulating some bigger picture issues.

  5. I am glad you like being pernickety about the training materials… at least one of us enjoys all that effort. 😉 (I bet your entire team enjoys the time spent picking our stuff apart for standards, language and grammar… and being in general the bane of our lives.. :D)

    Seriously though, it was very nice to know that someone who is a published author has also got a day job. It gives people like me a hope that we could be more too… Am I making sense? Am not saying that you are ordinary, but rather that everything can be extra ordinary.
    It also makes it seem that the books would be more because the author would know what it is to be a real-life person.

    I guess most authors (that I like) would be like you really. Otherwise how would you have the life experience required?

    And may be, for a writer (or artist), writing (or art in general) would always be the thread that holds everything together (or the red thread which distinguishes your work, whatever it is)?

    I know this post is old. The things is I have this habit of posting on blogs whenever I come up on it, even if it has been months since the post was er… posted.

    • I know so many writers who have a day job as well as working on their writing, so you’re not alone. YOu are also absolutely correct in saying that continuing to work in day jobs of all kinds helps to provide material for a writer. One of my favourite things about being a writer is that *everything* is research. Including surgery, bad travel experiences, exotic cocktails, getting stuck in a lift and having your landlord murdered in the downstairs flat. All of which have been ‘research experiences’ I’ve had…

  6. Excellent article! We are linking to this great content on our website.
    Keep up the great writing.

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