August: The Month of Rags and Riches
Just reading over the wonderful recent blogs on I.N.K., I admit I am intimidated even starting this one. At the moment, August heat has sucked all inspiration from my constantly-dwindling supply of blain—I mean, brain—cells. But while Montana’s long—and I mean LONG—summer days and heat often do inflict a summer malaise on yours truly, that’s not why August is such a tough month. August is tough because:
a) no one pays writers in the summertime and
b) by August, one’s savings account has usually evaporated
I used to think this happened only to me, but talking with a number of other writers, it’s a phenomenon that affects many of us. Why? For me, most of my royalties come in April, right about the time when school visits are also winding up. As if by some evil conspiracy, most editors also go on vacation (or, at least, it seems that way) so very little happens in the way of new contracts and advances in the summer. What’s a writer to do? Buy canned goods in spring? Tell the kids to forage in the woods for their meals (assuring them that summer is the time of abundance)? Tell your in-laws that unless they pay your mortgage, their grandchildren will be out on the streets?
As appealing as these ideas are, I’ve found that none of them are very effective. About the only thing writers can do is try to diversify so that not all of our payments come at the same time. In addition to my novels and science books, for instance, I’ve been writing a series of “American Heroes” biographies for Benchmark Publishing the past few years. These are nice because I can plan them so that I am usually getting a few paychecks in the summer. I also work with enough different publishers that, by the luck of the draw, a couple of them pay me royalties at the end of June. Still, these do not usually amount to serious mortgage money. About all most of us can do is try to plan ahead, not buy too many toys in the spring, and hang on until the writing weather improves in the fall.
Ironically, though summer leaves me cash-poor, it makes up for it by providing my richest writing time. With school out, I find myself at home a lot more, and with a big enough chunk of time to tackle one or two large projects. Just yesterday, I finished the first draft of a new novel. Before that, I made serious headway on a book about the environment for older readers. Best of all, I still have about six weeks left to write before a busy fall travel season.
So, every August, while I am lamenting the dwindling number of digits in my checking out, I remind myself that this is my time to explore new territory, break new ground, and enjoy the real riches that the writing life offers.