taking my ball and going back to research

I moved to Australia with $13,000 in savings and the delusion that I could become a commercially successful writer within a year.

That didn’t work out.

For starters, Australia is more expensive than I anticipated. Even though I live in the cheapest place I could find and I hardly ever go out and do anything, I’m still spending well over $1,000 a month. Which means my plan to live here for a year and do nothing but write is not a feasible one. Plus, starting in February I have to make payments on the student loans I took out for graduate school.

As far as the writing itself, I admit that I got sucked in by the Indie hype. The advantage of being an Indie writer is that you can put out as many books as you want as fast as you want. I thought, with a little revision on the stuff I’ve already written, I could put out a new novel every 3-4 weeks. And within six months, I’d be making at least a few hundred dollars per month. Maybe even more.

But that only works if your books are good. Fortunately, I met a group of writers, editors, and book reviewers who were willing to take a look at my stuff. Even more fortunately, they were not afraid to tell me that my “masterpieces” are not ready to be published. Self-published or otherwise.

Writers (and their well-intentioned friends and family) are generally not great judges of when a book is ready to be published. I’m extremely grateful to the people who gave me the honest feedback I needed. Yes, it hurt to hear that my books aren’t good enough (yet), but I would never want to put a book up for sale if it’s not ready for general consumption. That just seems like it would be a huge disservice to readers. And to my career as a writer.

So much for my plan to become an awesomely famous writer in less than 12 months. And so much for my savings, which are almost gone now. And yeah, I could get a part-time job to pay the bills so I could keep my focus on writing. But to be honest, I’d rather not. I need to start paying off my student loans before the interest consumes me like a rabid wildebeest.

When I left China I swore that I was done with research for good. I love science, but I get bogged down by the day-to-day monotony of running calculations and trying to figure out why the fuck things aren’t working. On the other hand, I did spend $60,000 to get a PhD in chemistry. And it’s something I’m good at, so at least there’s that.

I knew from the start it was kind of a long shot, but I applied for a research position at RMIT University here in Melbourne. And somehow, I got the job. I start in January, and my boss seems cool. Plus, the pay is like six times more than I’ve ever made in my life. So that’s nice.

And just in the past few months, my outlook has changed. Maybe it was the Vipassana meditation, or maybe I’m just being more realistic, but the thought of going back to research doesn’t bother me as much as it did before. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on writing completely though. I’ll still write in the evenings and on the weekends as much as I can, but now I’m not looking for the instant gratification. If it takes me ten years to produce a good novel, that’s fine. I’m in no hurry.

Research actually is pretty cool.


About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

23 Responses to taking my ball and going back to research

  1. Kaitlin says:

    Yep. Australia is REALLY expensive. If you’re working in Aussie dollars though, you’ll be making like, 1.5 as much in American dollars, too… so, nice!

    With discipline and patience, you can totally write with a full time job.

    Good luck!!

  2. danniehill says:

    Andy, You’re an honest man and I really like you! I guess every writer has the hope of sudden fame but like acting or anything connected with art it rarely happens like we dream.

    I’m really happy to read that you aren’t giving up! When people ask me how to make a lot of money writing I always say, “Write non fiction How To books.” A fiction writer– even being published by one of the big 6 has a very hard time of it.

    I really enjoyed your book, Peace Corpse and you have a good style so just keep writing.

    If things get too tough come on over to Thailand and help me with my corn, lol. Writing for me is a must and I didn’t start out expecting to make real money at it. I just have to write. I’m making more than I expected and I live in a place where you can make money go a long way.

    Some day when I’m– or you are– famous I’ll be there to promote your writing. People with Phd’s don’t just fall off of trees– well maybe some do– and you’ve got a lot going for you!

    Keep on blogging and tell me more about the land of OZ and the wild angry birds!

    Never stop writing for fun about things you would like to read.

    • I want to work on the tapioca farm!

      Seriously though, it’s been great to connect with you online, and I would love to make a trip to Thailand at some point. Who knows, I just might.

      And yeah, I think we can both keep dreaming of fame and fortune, and who knows, we just might get there.

      The important thing is to keep writing, right?

  3. Good job! I understand about wanting to not work and write full time.. but there are those pesky loans and cost of living bills.

    On another note.. I commend you for being honest with yourself about your writing. I will be just as honest with myself. I have read a few “self-published” works that seemed to be unedited. My embarrassment for these writers is still lurking.

    Nice post.

  4. oldsalt1942 says:

    “Research actually is pretty cool.”

    Maybe, but not as cool as being an internationally famous writer…

  5. Congrats on the new job. That must be a relief.

    As for your goal of becoming a writer who can live off their work within a year, I’d suggest that was overly ambitious for someone whose strength is science. It took many years to acquire your Phd and a lot of (self) discipline. The fantasy that writing is easy and lucrative is widespread — although I have no idea why. I’ve been writing for a living since 1980 and have commercially published two non-fiction books. It is rarely easy and even more rarely lucrative!

    • Yeah, I was most certainly not being realistic. But you know how in America people are encouraged to follow their dreams? Sometimes that just isn’t a really good idea–if the dreams aren’t practical.

      When it comes to science, I always knew exactly what steps I needed to take to become a good scientist. With writing, I had no idea. I just figured I could tell all the awesome stories in my head and somehow it would work out. Because I was emotionally attached to the idea, I couldn’t objectively view the feasibility of my plan.

      Lesson learned.

  6. Kali Hetrick says:

    What an (dare I say) adult perspective.

  7. mbm8377 says:

    Writing just happens to be one of those “jobs” that you might love to do but won’t pay the bills unless you hit it big, but if you love it enough, I find there is always a way to make time for it. Hell, you might write better if you’re not subconsciously stressing over whether or not you can pay your rent that month.

    Your writing is good, so I’m glad to see you’re not giving it up completely. That would be a shame. Work it into your schedule and write for the enjoyment of it, not for the fortune and fame aspect of it.

    Good luck friend 🙂

  8. Liza says:

    Wow, good on you, Andy! Everything you wrote in this blog resonates with awesomeness. So glad you will continue writing and that you will also continue researching. With your attitude, you are bound to succeed! So. Glad. For. You.

  9. Hey, I’ve read your book, and it’s GOOD!! Glad to hear you’re not giving up on writing!
    Having said, that, there’s nothing wrong with having a “day job” either! I like my day job enough that I’ll probably never quit, even if I do “make it big” in writing.
    But I also know that I WILL write, ’cause all those books are in there and they’re screaming to get out!!! Having read your work, I know it’s the same for you. So I’m glad to hear about the research job… but when’s your next book coming out? 🙂

    • You’re very fortunate to have a job you enjoy that much. I couldn’t say the same in the past, but hopefully with my new-found change in attitude I’ll like this research position as much as you like your work.

      At the moment, I don’t know when the next book is coming out. I’m currently working on a novella, two novels, and a bunch of short stories. Plus several other books I want to write if I ever find the time and motivation. But I’m going to keep at it, and I’ll finish them as soon as I can.

      I’m glad to hear you’re going to keep writing no matter what too. I’m really looking forward to “Iona Stronghold”!

  10. Very real writing on your experiences, Andy! I enjoyed reading and will read the posts about your travels…cool! I love travel and hope to venture to more places.
    Congrats on your wonderful and better-paying job. You should be able to pay off those loans, now! : ) As you stated in other words, never quit writing! It seems to be your true passion. We all have that one passion that helps us keep our sanity. Mine, of course, is art!

  11. Melbourne, home of the Australian Open, and a new job in Research . . . Wow! What a vey cool turn of events. Because you are living a writer’s life. The time structure of a job can actually be beneficial to new writing — it takes discipline. I drove to work three hours early so that I could write for two uninterrupted hours.
    As for your writing, the more you write, the more practice, the better it will become and I’ll continue to be a fan — I hope to read more here as well.
    Cheers to you.

  12. Thanks! And all true. The new job has helped me make more efficient use of the free time I do have, and practice does indeed make perfect.

    I just need to keep practicing. 🙂

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