“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by night, mother of two and a 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Melissa’s writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Sum Journal and elsewhere. She splits her time between Montclair and Bucks County, P.A. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @MelDSullivan.
Tennis is a mystery to me. First of all, why are scores counted in 15s? It just seems overly complicated. Second, why are the prizes weird? At Wimbledon, the men’s champion gets a trophy topped with a golden pineapple, and the women’s champion gets a big ol’ plate. And finally, why on earth do they say “love” when they mean zero?
On that last one, even the folks over at the estimable Oxford English Dictionary don’t have a clue and can only posit a couple theories. The first is tied back to the game’s unconfirmed French origins, hypothesizing that because the written zero resembled an egg, “love” was a corruption of the word l’oeuf.
The second theory is that the term “love” is a shortened form of the phrase “playing for the love of the game.”
“The idea here,” write the experts over at the Oxford Dictionary in their online blog about the origins of wordst, “is that if a person is playing purely for the ‘love’ of the game then they are less likely to be getting paid for it, earning nothing/zero/nil.”
Or, in other words, if you have zero points, you must be a bloody horrible tennis player, and no one is going to pay to see you play. So if you are still out there on the court in your kit, sweating away on the clay, grass or acrylic-covered concrete, you must be playing purely for the love of the game.
For fiction writers, it is very difficult to find someone willing to pay for a story. Instead, we are supposed to be driven by some internal, cash-free-related reason to put our writing out in the world. Then, we must gladly and graciously offer up our work to publishers that pay zilch. Sometimes, we even pay a couple of bucks for the privilege.
Of course, most publishers aren’t making huge profits themselves. But even the most successful authors aren’t making enough to get by on their writing alone.
A 2018 study conducted by the Author’s Guild found that incomes for writers averaged only $16,889 a year. Writers of literary fiction, my wheelhouse, made even less, clocking in at $10,000. In fact, of the total income reported by writers in the survey, over 60 percent was attributed to non-writing sources.
Even those writers who have great sales and award-winning books might not be making enough to pay their cat food bills. Kameron Hurley, who won a Hugo for her novel “The Stars are Legion” and is therefore a bona fide Big Deal in the science fiction world, relied on her day job for necessities like health care and mortgage payments. When she got unexpectedly laid off in January with no severance, she tweeted that her only source of income for February would be the donations she received from fans.
Present column aside, I consider myself primarily a fiction writer, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have been compensated for a story or novel. So why do I do it? Why don’t I just write articles and creative nonfiction essays for online consumption? Why, if I could make some money doing that, instead of no money writing fiction, wouldn’t I focus exclusively on best prospects for making a living?
First of all, because it’s hard, and I’m not very good at it.
Second, because I am lucky to have a day job that pays for diapers and tortillas and the other requirements of life.
And finally, because I love the act of writing fiction for its own sake. While it’s satisfying to see a story get published, notify my 300 Twitter followers about my latest accomplishment and add another line to my writerly C.V., I like the actual act of writing.
I love sitting down with my pen and my cheap Staples notebook and scrawling out the first few lines of a character who has recently abandoned his friends to take a ferry ride across the San Francisco Bay. I love the need to research esoteric facts, like how a will would have been written in 1925 or what time the sunsets in January in Massachusetts. I love going back to a messy first draft to cut the literary throat clearing, impose narrative structure and maybe write a real ending.
I write fiction because I love the feel of writing, much like I bet Serena loves how it feels when she serves an ace right down the middle T. I write fiction because there is something visceral in the doing of the act that satisfies me deep within my brain. I write fiction because I love doing it.
And though I do want someone, someday, to actually pay me for my fiction, in the meantime, I’ll keep doing it for love.