Surviving the Writing Life

Surviving the Writing Life (Oasis con panel notes from 2005)

The Oasis con writing panels cover a lot of territory, as did the panel, Surviving the Ups and Downs of the Writing Life with Andrew Fox (moderator), Jack McDevitt, Jane Lindskold, Adam Troy-Castro, and James C. Bassett. Lots more interesting writing background and advice. (It took McDevitt 25 years to realize that he didn’t have to compete with Charles Dickens. He had read David Copperfield when he was 19 or 20 and thought he’d never be able to write so well so he didn’t write for 25 years!)

Castro: You have to want to write. Fox: He wrote an interesting story for a class that voted for the best story; he didn’t win by one vote, but he learned that he liked writing. Lindskold: She was a story teller growing up; she told stories to her siblings. She had practical parents though, and she became a college teacher, which she enjoyed. (Interesting personal background about the end of her college teaching and her marriage…)

They discussed mentors; McDevitt said that his were the writers he read, such as Ray Bradbury. Castro mentioned writers he’d read: Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, and Harlan Ellison, who is nice and helpful to new writers… Fox mentioned that Anne McCaffrey was personally encouraging also, as was George Alec Effinger. (He took his workshop.)

Lindskold came across an Amber–Write Your Own Adventure book, and she wrote Roger Zelazny; he wrote back, and they corresponded; and later she wrote a biography of Zelazny, using his letters to her, with his permission, for the Twain American Author Series. After her first story sale, he sent her a tax organizer; and when he was dying, he contacted his agent and others and told them that he wanted her to finish Donnerjack and Lord Demon. [I picked up a copy of Lord Demon in the dealers’ room, btw, because Zelazny’s Lord of Light is one of my favorite books; and she autographed it for me at her book signing.]

Workshops: Workshops can help. However,Lindskold writes solo and hasn’t done any workshops. If a number of people make the same suggestions, think about it. You have to be confident, but not pigheaded.

How do you earn a living as a full-time writer? McDevitt: He had his retirement pension, but he still had two kids to send to school. Concentrate on writing, not surviving. Castro was fired after 17 years and was not in a good financial situation (heavy debt), but he had sold some Spiderman stories, and his wife and other people said good–now write. His wife made more money than he did. He wrote every day, including non-fiction. Desperation helped… What if there are children? It’s a juggling act; you need a supportive, enthusiastic spouse.

Someone mentioned that Spider Robinson was given a choice–Keep job or write. He decided to write. However, don’t quit unless you’re selling. Lindskold wasn’t supported by anyone, and she splits the bills with her current husband. (She’s been writing ten years, as I recall–and now earns more than her husband.) When a check comes in, you make it last. Learn to budget. You buy clothes second hand, etc. Castro: Payments are intermittent. Remember that you must pay taxes, including estimated taxes, which are based on the previous year, so they could be higher….Writers don’t retire and don’t have pensions. Fulltime writing is not for everyone.

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