Doug Wilhelm author logo

rev ight group

Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

Writing for a living: the tradeoffs

I used to wonder why January first got labeled New Year’s Day, when the working year seemed to kick off after Labor Day. But I get it now. This is the reflecting time.

After the holidays, when nights are longest and we’re most aware that another year has passed, we hope, however fleetingly, to make more of ourselves in the new one. Myself, I’m thinking about 33 years of producing words (by the millions) as a self-supporting, freelance writer. Now I’m 61. I have 14 books out, but no savings or retirement. Has it been worth it? Can I, should I, go on doing this?

My novel The Revealers appears to be the most-used work of fiction in American middle schools today — yet like so many writers, I mostly scrabble out a living. The hard secret of book writing is that publishers make sure they earn nearly all of what a book earns, if it does. So I visit middle schools often, and for many years I’ve done writing and editing projects for nonprofit clients. My one goal, along with earning a living, has always been to write the best books I can — and to be self-employed as a writer/editor has always seemed the best path for making that possible. The tradeoffs are very real — but all work brings tradeoffs. You can sell your soul and hate your job to get vacations and a 401k. Myself, I get to do what it feels I'm meant to do.

So far, I've managed. And because I write for middle schoolers, for that crucial and turbulent age, I often see and hear that my books have had some impact — sometimes even that they’ve really mattered to someone. They'll tell you it has, and you can see in their eyes how they mean it. It’s easy to say that this makes everything worthwhile ... but the reality is more complex. On a cold winter's night, the financial side, or lack of it, can loom awfully large.

From what I’ve been reading lately, I understand that my working life is growing more widely typical — that we’re becoming a nation of freelancers, building packages of contracts and projects. And I meet so many young people who want to do creative work, such as writing, for a living. I’m not sure how much my ongoing experience may be worth — but among my resolutions for 2014 is to post in this space more personally, twice each week at this length. About my journey as a writer. About making it work. I’ve recently gone independent as a publisher of my own work, and that’s a huge challenge too — one that reflects an enormous, widespread movement within the book world. So I’ll also be writing about that.

I’ll be brief and personal; but also, I hope, worth reading. I guess my sense of doing worthy work always comes down to that: to write something worth reading. Every day. So often, I fail. Yet sometimes, something does comes through. And that can only happen when you’ve resolved yourself, come what may, to try. 

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

What if the 'new media' were 2,000 years old?
The hopes and fears of all the years
Free Joomla templates by Ltheme