Way back in the halcyon days of 2014 I wrote a blog post about the Hope Machine and how it affected me. I don’t think about the Hope Machine much anymore. I honestly can’t say my motivations are that different, I’m just in a different place in my life. Recently, though, I’ve thought about it more.
First, some context.
Since 2014 (actually, starting approximately two months after I first published that blog post) I’ve had a stable, well-paying job. I’ve gotten married. Bought a house. Adopted cats. Sired a child.
My situation has changed. And so my mindset has changed. I keep coming back to the odds.
A few years ago, John August and Craig Mazin discussed the odds of becoming a professional screenwriter. I don’t remember the exact episode, and I can’t find it via searching, so I’ll just link to Scriptnotes generally because it’s great. Anyway, if memory serves, they assigned any particular person’s chance of becoming a professional screenwriter at less than the chances of someone becoming a professional athlete–somewhere in the vicinity of >1%. The difference is that when you’re competing to become a professional writer, the pool of competitors is much larger than athletes have to face, since athletes have such a limited window to be competitive.
I’ve often heard it said that only the top 1% of the top 1% (so, something like, .00001%) of people can make a living in the arts. But there is a huge pool of competition vying for eyeballs. In considering my career options, I’ve been thinking a lot about, and researching, self-publishing, especially for my less commercial writing. The numbers are intimidating. According to this chart, there were over 1,500,000 new self-published books in 2018, and that number has only been going up.
How do you separate yourself in that kind of environment to get noticed? It’s a problem that has a solution–others have done it quite successfully–but it’s one that intimidates me.
Last year I set a 3-5 year goal to replace ~40% of my income with money from writing. I drew up a tentative plan (which included this website and these blog posts!) and have stayed the course. But the further along I get, the more I think about the odds, the more I wonder if I’ve chosen the best strategy, or the right path, or even if those things exist. I don’t think they do.
And, of course, I don’t have much data to draw from. So, all I’m really going off of is anecdotal observation, paranoia, and ignorance. Which, of course, is the best way to live ones life and make important decisions.
I don’t have a strong conclusion or anything, this is just something that’s been on my mind as my wife and I await our first child, I get further ahead in my day job, and the constant push and pull between money, time, and writing tears at me a bit. I’ve always been risk averse, and am not one of those people that can get by on four hours of sleep and spend that time writing. My brain is too mushy for that. Which leaves me navigating the “safe” route to writing success and happiness.
The best course of action, at least to the rationale mind, is to keep on keepin’ on. So that’s what I’ll do. Maintain this site, publish a novella and short story collection next year, and work on my next novel. If nothing else, I do love storytelling.
Perhaps that will be enough.