Last night, I received my royalty statement for the third quarter for the last book I published in 2015. After viewing the sales and returns, the release of the reserve funds, and the final payment, an avalanche of emotion overwhelmed me.
I am a failure.
Not only can I not support myself as a writer, but I cannot earn enough to call myself a professional either. I am a hobbyist, as a co-worker at my day job called me.
To me, that is synonymous with failure.
After all, I devoted 30 years to writing, starting out with the first poem I published for $5.00 to the first article I wrote for $35.00 to the first book excerpt I sold for $2,000.00. But if I cannot pay my mortgage and put my child through college, I cannot call myself a professional writer.
That wave of emotion I felt consumed me for a couple of hours. I sat, editing chapter 28 of my book, a manuscript that is incomplete and hardly worth the paper it is printed on, when I realized sadly my status as a writer has nothing to do with time or talent. . .just sales and net income. Fans will go out of their way to pay for a copy of my work, and new readers still email me to say how much they enjoyed my writing and ask when the next book will come out.
I am, theoretically, a success since I am good at what I do and there is a market for it.
But, technically, if you define success as whether or not you can support yourself financially with your talent or your craft, then I am a failure.
To me, I am a failure because others call me a hobbyist. If I was a stay-at-home author, then others might not place the same label on me. But they have, and it hurts.
It hurts as much as the other labels I wanted and failed to achieve: wife and friend. I am no longer a man’s wife and am currently devoted to a man who has professed his desire to never remarry, which, therefore, eliminates the possibility that I might have an opportunity to reclaim that title and make things work the second time around, if I choose to stay with him. I have also lost the majority of my friends during my divorce and have yet to find replacements, which makes life rather lonely.
I could list other things I have failed at, but what would the point be?
Everyone has failed at one time or another. The important factor is how to move on beyond it and find the motivation and desire to continue to pursue something else, regardless of the consequences.
Most endeavors do not contain any guarantees of success or failure. They are born of hope and pursued with faith. The outcome is independent of the process.
It remains to be seen whether or not I accept the label of hobbyist and resign myself to my small corner of literary life complete with the knowledge I will always need a patron of the arts to support me, even if that patron is myself. All I know right now in this moment is I have to create because it is who I am as a person, whether that creativity takes shape as a book or a painting. To know who I am, regardless of the labels others choose to give me, is enough to sustain the battle wounds and continue with the journey. I am who I am, and no failure can change that.