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You Don’t Need A Lack of Funds to Be A Starving Artist

July 13, 2015 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

At some point, behind the writer’s curtain, you’ll hear a conversation that goes something like this…

How’s that novel coming?


Uh-oh. What now.

You know that whole starving artist bit? Well, it was getting old. I needed to make more money. But I refused to make it behind someone else’s desk. I wanted to earn money behind my own desk. Writing copy. Brochures. Direct mail. Press releases. Anything. I’m a writer, right?

I thought you wrote fiction.

But I couldn’t make money writing fiction. At least not on the quick. So I waited for some guidance. A sign. A nudge in some direction.


Nothing. Not a peep. So I figured: what the heck, I’ll try copywriting. Best way to make money as a writer, right?

Go on.

So I checked out books on how to start a copywriting business. I picked the brain of a successful copywriter. I gathered brochures and saved those donation letters that come in the mail and dug out some old newsletter copy I’d written for a non-profit and handed out my card prematurely and the person I handed it to actually contacted me and asked for some samples and I dashed some off roughshod and emailed them and I didn’t hold my breath. I watched television. I took long walks in the woods. I stopped writing. Went back to waiting for a sign. A peep.

And your fiction? What about your fiction writing? What about that eight-week intensive workshop you took?

I’m getting to that.

Five hundred dollars it cost. And the teacher said…what did he say? Something about how he could read your writing for a long, long time.

I know. I know! Don’t remind me.

But go on.

So where was I? Oh yeah. I started blogging. An entry a week.

You stopped sleeping.

I know! Something kept me from sleep.

And you lost weight.

Ninety-eight pounds was all I weighed. Ninety-eight pounds. My pants slid down without hips to hold them up.

But still you waited for a sign.

I was boiling with frustration. I stormed into the library, to the eight hundred section, skimmed the meager selection for books on how to write a pitch.

For that reality show concept?

Yes. And I slid my fingertips over the spines of the fiction-writing books and my fingers tingled. Was that a sign? No, I told myself. I took a book home about television writing because it had a chapter about pitching a show, and instead of reading about how to pitch a show, I read the novel that my father sent me, Beautiful Ruins. And it blew my mind. The writing. The voices. Each chapter a story of its own. And somehow they all fit together. How? What was the author doing? I wanted to create that. I wanted to get it. I wanted it so bad it made my heart race.

That was your sign.


But you ignored it.

I started a copywriting business. Now I’m making money as a writer. Which is what I wanted, right?

And that novel you were working on?

No time for that.


I feel untethered.

Another sign.


Takeaways this week:

One of my concerns, starting out as a copywriter, was how to find the time to devote to my fiction. So I asked Peter Bowerman, a top copywriter, how he managed. His response? A sigh. This author of The Well-Fed Writer said he had no time for his “soul food.” Well, I decided that wouldn’t be my road. But venturing out, I found myself on that very same path, ignoring the hunger pangs.

Sometimes we need to make sacrifices to keep the wolf from the door. But beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing who takes his place. Oh, sure, we manage to avoid becoming the proverbial starving artist. But we find ourselves starving in other ways. What can we do? We’ve already given up television, maybe exercise and socializing. What else is there? We can’t sacrifice family, or sleep, or eating, or downtime, in order to write a novel that may or may not ever see the light of publication. The good news is, we don’t need to give up one thing for another. Instead: borrow. Ten minutes from family time. Fifteen minutes from sleep. Five from downtime. Total them up. You’ve now got thirty minutes to focus on what really feeds you. Need more time? Borrow more.

And then honor those precious borrowed moments by writing whatever it is you’re meant to write. Make it a priority.

The signs are there. Be aware.


  1. J M Levinton (@JMLevinton) says:

    I actually tried to learn to copywrite and ended up staying with editing. Until I couldn’t survive without the soul food part anymore. Buses and trains have been my friends as I scribble along the commute.

    • Diane says:

      Ah yes, buses and trains are great vehicles (ha) for focused writing time. And you’re not tempted to jump up and check the refrigerator!

      • J M Levinton (@JMLevinton) says:

        I just realized, you’re a copywriter so you’re way ahead in the game of marketing your work! (Silver lining.)

  2. Shawna says:

    Thanks for this! Exactly what I needed to read today!!

  3. Joan says:

    One of Steve’s brothers just self published his books that he’s bee working on on Amazon. Maybe that’s a possibility for one of your already written novels. Just to get you started.

    • Diane says:

      That’s a possibility. ‘Course, I’d need to finish rewriting one of those novels.

      Maybe I should publish “The Best of Squirrels in the Doohickey”.

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