Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Even if no one paid me

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

I laughingly call writing my sub-minimum wage job. Counting the time involved in coming up with an idea, writing the first draft, revising, editing and creating a dozen or more successive drafts, gnawing at my fingernails, sleep-walking and dreaming the story, the ROI is nothing to write home about.

And then there's all the time and energy spent on promotion. Especially energy, I happen to be a total Introvert.

No amount of money could adequately compensate for the strain on my nervous system alone. But  I do this job anyway. Because for me, writing is that mythical job people would do even if no one paid me.

That includes writing for this blog. You're getting this post because I literally had nothing on the monthly subject. Nada. I was going to try writing about romances between older women and younger men, mostly because I am one of those good ole girls and I like reading books that help me dream large. However, not even that thought brought any ideas to my head, and frankly this gig doesn't pay at all and I found myself wondering why I felt the urgent need to come up with something for the readers.

And then, serendipity struck and suddenly I knew exactly why this was so important, why it had to matter to me. Because it matters to readers.

I saw an article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune (yes, some of us do still read newspapers) about work making our lives better. "The notion that people labor only to make money is wrong," the sub-caption read.

And I said, "Exactly."

Barry Schwartz has written a book "Why We Work."And i found myself nodding at everything the article and the psychology professor, said.

My pre-retirement job paid well. I mean really well. I did not take early retirement over pay issues. There was a point in time I loved my job. A time when at the end of the day I could lean back in my chair, sigh and feel a glow realizing my efforts had made someone else's life better. Life, and work, was hard, but really good and I wouldn't have traded that job for anything.

But times changed. Work became more rote and my activities were divorced from other people inside the company and outside. The glow dimmed. I was making more money (I did say they paid me well), a promotion, nicer title, but less...feeling. The job was actually easier because I had been around so long I knew things inside out. But I no longer wanted to do the job.

I no longer had the feeling of worth, that I was helping someone else. The bigger paycheck did not compensate for the straight-jacket wrapped around me. Things became so tedious that I don't think I would have stayed if they had doubled my salary. (Okay, I admit that's an exaggeration, if they doubled my salary I would probably have stayed for another year, I mean two years pay for the price of one, I'm not a total idiot.) But they didn't and I grabbed early retirement.

I left a lucrative and fairly easy position to do a job that, in the early years, paid negative money. Many of you who are also writers know about those "lots of green going out and nothing coming in" startup days. There is a reason I tell new writers they should wait before quitting their day jobs.

Chicago Streets

But the rewards began coming quickly. In my very first fan letter a kid whose teacher termed him a reluctant reader tole me my book "was better than cable." That is high praise from a teen boy and his teacher said he wanted more time to read. Another reader, a Windy City ex-pat, told me he could see, hear and smell Chicago streets in my words. Most of my stories are set in my home city.  And the mother of a bipolar child sent me a handwritten note telling me how my story about a family like her own left her feeling a little less alone.

I won't lie. My writing is finally bringing in a little money (enough to cause me extra sweat during tax time). My agent is shopping my newest manuscript, and if that middle grade books is snapped up by a publisher, that just means more time spent revising plus more time and effort this raving introvert will have to spend in promotion.

It will also mean more kids will find a story that will make them smile.

My readers provide my real paycheck.


Judith Ashley said...

B.A., I'm thrilled you have to sweat during tax time! If I got a little choked up over the notes and letters you mentioned, I can only guess at how you felt. To know that your goal or writing stories reluctant readers want to read is manifesting is fantastic. Also, your Diversity Workshops are making a difference in how writers write their stories. Are you teaching one now or just starting one?

However, I totally agree that readers are the real paycheck (although the other kind is nice also).

Sarah Raplee said...

"Because for me, writing is that mythical job people would do even if no one paid me." Exactly!!!

Great post!!!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Beautiful post, B.A. And your work is definitely making a difference in the world, which is the ultimate paycheck.