A Win, Feasts, and Famines

If you’ve not heard the news—my story “Wendigo” has won first place in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest! (You can read it here!) Now in its 38th year, this is considered one of the largest such contests in Canada, so that’s very exciting. Especially since while “Wendigo” asks a lot of difficult questions about art and artists…it’s also a straight-up fantasy story about cannibal ice-monsters.

One interpretation of wendigo. Art by Onki Dayan. Found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/401172279286144735/

One interpretation of wendigo. Art by Onki Dayan. Found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/401172279286144735/

But hey, “Six Stories” is also straight-up fantasy about faeries and folklore figures—and it got Ontario Arts Council funding. I seem to be doing well with Canadian cultural institutions this year.

This year.

It’s interesting—in the three (?!) years since I finished my undergrad, I’ve gotten a taste of the creative life’s feast-famine cycle. Admittedly, it’s a baby taste. Full-time writing with training wheels. Still, it’s good practice.

This has been a feast year, and I’m VERY grateful. So far in 2016…

  • I got three full manuscript editing gigs
  • Plus one partial that still helped
  • The OAC funding came through
  • This contest totally surprised me

And that’s the work I’m getting paid for now. It feels weird listing it all out. Talking about the business end of things feels uncouth, sometimes. But the business end is important. If you want to be a full-time writer, you need to face it eventually. At the end of the day, you need to ask, “Can I live off what my writing brings in? If so, how? If not, what can I do?”

Most people take dayjobs. I’m lucky enough that mine directly feeds my writing. I’m also lucky that I’m happy there. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because it’s seasonal.

Eight months = guaranteed paycheque.

Four months = KT makes a go as a full-time writer.

Whoot!

Whoot!

As long as my year-round writing can cover that off-season, I’m happy. Partly, it’s a matter of pride. I want to be able to say that my writing keeps the rent paid and the fridge full. And the uninterrupted four months of creative time are important to me. I don’t want to have to take a serving/retail job to make ends meet. I’d write less, and the goal is to write more—to eventually hit the point where I don’t need the museum.

(Although I suspect that I’d cut back my time, rather than bail on them entirely. I love it too much. It’s good for my writing. It keeps my social skills from rusting away. It’s home.)

So, you lay out what’s important to you. What you’re willing to compromise on (I’ll take on extra responsibilities around the house for cheaper rent) and what you’re not (I really don’t want to take a serving/retail job). For me, I’ve made the current arrangements work for three years.

But I’ve been crazy lucky. This was a feast year. 2014 was a feast year (Yeti’s Parole Officer and the East o’ the Sun libretto saved my bacon).

Last year was a famine.

There weren’t really any editing gigs. No major projects. No big sales. I’d squirreled some of my libretto paycheque away, so I survived, but I’ll admit that the wolf got a little close to the door. Then last fall, a number of things hit at once (I’ll miss my Stonecoast pals, but not the tuition) and I heard stealthy paws under the window again.

...or maybe it was just the little monster.

…or maybe it was just the little monster.

Feast and famine. For a long-range planner—a planner who needs a back-up plan, always, just in case—it can be maddening. Creative work is uncertain by nature. You can’t predict when the next feast will come, how long the next famine will last. Even when you do get lucrative projects, you can’t always guarantee when you’ll see the money. Advances come in lumps. For freelance gigs, I usually get paid half upfront, half on completion.

Uncertainty is the nature of the beast, but you can prepare as best you can. I have an emergency fund: rent and living expenses for a few months. Beyond that, I’m careful with money when it does come; always anticipating another stretch of famine. I’m thinking about what I could jump on right away—what contacts I could tap, what gigs I could land, what I could pull together quickly, if needed.

And yes, I’d totally pick up another day-job if necessary. Of course I would. I like eating and paying rent.

It’s another part of the writing life, one that bears careful pondering. For other takes on the business/monies end, check out these posts by my former Stonecoast mentor Theodora Goss and my pal Marie Bilodeau. They’ve much more experience at this than I do!

Hopefully, your feasts are long and your famines of inconsequential duration. 🙂

Cheers, pals!

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

After all that talk about full time writing, I’m insanely close to returning to work. While I love gallivanting about like a bohemian artist, it does feel like it’s time to go back. I miss our shared desk. I miss the brewery. I miss gallivanting about like a Victorian guttersnipe. I miss walking through the village in the early morning, when the air is clear and dewy and everything feels brand-new…

So here’s a sentimental little piece, based on Dvořák’s New World Symphony. It always starts running through my head, this time of year.

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Posted on April 25, 2016, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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