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So What’s the Payoff?

by Kathy Harris

“You could make a lot more money in a different career.”

Those were the words of the industry professional who recently spoke at a local writers conference I attended.

Everyone in the audience laughed and nodded knowingly. I suspect there were no millionaires in the room. If there were, it would be safe to say they hadn’t earned their riches from writing royalties.

Surprising perhaps to some, that would include those who were teaching at the conference, even though one or two had watched several of their books soar up the most prestigious bestseller lists in our business. Only two or three in attendance were currently making a full time living with their writing – and, for the record, that didn’t include one of the New York Times bestselling authors.

So what about the rest of us? If we aren’t writing for the money, then why are we writing?

The answers to that question are likely as diverse as the number of people reading this commentary. Yet, in the end, it probably comes down to this…

We’re storytellers.

We love to spin tales of romance and intrigue and adventure. We enjoy taking the almost-unbelievable story that is real life and juxtaposing it into believable and compelling fiction. We love working our way from first draft to polished potential, all the while whittling away at sagging middles and too much backstory. We live for the thrill of hunting down “be” words and replacing them with action verbs that put our readers in the moment.

But what’s our payoff?

Why do we spend hours honing and perfecting our manuscripts – and our craft – when we receive relatively little financial reward?

Once again, that list is far too great to print here. We all write for different reasons. But if someone asked me to compile a Top Five, it would look something like this:

1) We write to experience the challenge. Who doesn’t love the adrenal rush of typing THE END?

2) Putting words on paper is cathartic. Can you think of a better way to excise your angst than manipulating plots and character arcs?

3) We write because we can’t NOT write. Enough said.

4) We are fulfilling our purpose in life, our calling, by writing.

5) Last, and most importantly, we write because we want to touch people with our words.

We want to help change our readers’ lives for the better, whether that means giving them a few hours of entertainment or helping them work through their problems, even to experience a paradigm shift in their beliefs. As Christian writers, we are especially motivated by this last reason.

So, what would your list look like? If you knew in advance that you would never earn a living, much less a fortune, with your writing, would you still write?

If the answer is ‘yes,’ then it’s time to get started. You have too much to gain to lose.

Kathy Harris SeptemberKathy Harris is an author by way of a “divine detour” into the Nashville entertainment business. Abingdon Press published her debut novel, The Road to Mercy, in 2012. She blogs regularly at www.DivineDetour.com and is enthusiastically working on her next book. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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4 Responses to So What’s the Payoff?

  1. Kariss Lynch says:

    Thank you for writing this! Your timing is perfect. Lately, I’ve had more people ask why I write. Most of my reasons mirror what you wrote. But recently I added one to the list: It would be disobedient not to write. Because the Lord has given me this desire and passion, I’m not stewarding it well if I don’t put it to use in some form or fashion.

  2. Kathy Harris says:

    A really good point, Kariss. Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard some people talk about ‘tithing their time.’ If we followed that rule, even by writing 10% our free time, we could accomplish a lot.

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