In June Stories in the North hosted Gail Anderson-Dargatz for  two workshops and an evening reading (with music by local duo the Crossroads Magdalenes). During the afternoon workshop, Gail announced that she was going to give us the un-sugar-coated truth: most writers do not make a living at writing.

It had an incredible impact, coming from an author whose work had been twice nominated for the Giller award, and has just had a third nomination. She has published more than ten books, and yet, she said, she doesn’t make her living at writing.

“Writing isn’t a way to make a living,” she told us. “It’s a way to make a life.”

I come from close on twenty years of making a living at art, first as a printmaker and graphic designer (when you did it with a pencil, not a mouse), and then as a potter. It’s never been a great living, but it’s been sufficient. When I decided to earn money writing, I thought I’d be able to do the same thing, and when I couldn’t, I believed I was a failure. I had no standard of comparison except for a few friends who seemed to have it nailed, and my own success in my former arts endeavours.

It’s been ten years since I earned my living by my art, and up until about 1:00 p.m. on June 25th, I believed there was something seriously wrong with me because I wasn’t making the money with writing that I’d made with pottery. But Gail’s unvarnished truth made me look at my writing with fresh eyes. I’m actually quite astoundingly successful (and also incredibly modest, may I say!) Here’s why:

I’ve had two books published. I have quite literally hundreds of publication credits on radio, in print and on the internet. I’ve won grants with my work, and awards as well. I write with pleasure, and I finish what I write. I put it out for sale, and I don’t give up when it doesn’t work the first time. Perhaps most importantly, I’m happy with the things I write, and glad I’ve written them. An unsold story is still a story I made up and told, and that’s (almost) enough in itself.

So thank you, Gail. I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.


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