Once, in one of my (not uncommon) moments of thinking that I could no longer handle the ﬁnancial uncertainty of the children’s book writing life, I read a book that purported to match creative people to potential career pursuits. I read the advice, ﬁlled out the quizzes, and ﬁnally received my assigned “type.” With great anticipation I turned to the section at the back of the book where possible career paths were listed by type. I expected to be told I should train to become a lawyer or an ad exec, something with a perhaps-somewhat- more predictable income stream than my own.
But here are the career options I was strongly encouraged to pursue:
With apologies to all the highly paid mimes of the world, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged at this advice (almost the way one might feel if one were trapped inside a glass box).
I was recently reminded of these possible detours on my life’s path when some writer friends shared “Non-Teaching Jobs Twitter Recommends for Writers” (I have already added “criminal mastermind” and “dolphin” to my own bucket list). And all of this popped into my head again at a school visit, when a student asked me the question I am almost always asked: “How much money do you make?”
The truthful-but-vague answer, as I explain whenever I am asked, is that while a few children’s book writers do get rich, most of us do not. I try to describe to the students some of the other advantages I ﬁnd in the writing life, but I know that’s not what most of them remember. I worry that those of them who want to grow up to be puppeteers or mimes or even dolphins will give up their dreams too early after they hear my honest response.
So if you have a young writer in your life, go ahead and tell them the truth: most likely, they won’t get rich. But on my behalf, I hope you’ll also let them know that there’s a lot to be said for loving your work. In having the chance to make an impact on the lives of young people who know you only through your stories. In deﬁning yourself not by how much money you make, but by the richness of your experiences.
Tell them that living their dream may be tough, but that there is more than one kind of pay-oﬀ in life.