Can I afford to write books?

Money’s been on my mind lately, brought into focus today because I filed this year’s tax return for my creative writing income.

Hooo boy.

Detail from Death and the Miser by Hieronyous Bosch.
Image shows an old man reaching for a big bag of gold coins he keeps hidden in a chest. The bony gentleman in the winding sheet is at the door. You can’t take it with you, folks, but all the same, you don’t want to run out before you die…

For those who don’t know, I work for a big organisation three days a week, mostly writing or editing reports. That helps pay the bills. The other two days a week are, in theory, ‘writing days’. In fact, the ‘writing’ days often turn into ‘taking kids to appointments / animals to the vet /other unavoidable jobs’ days. But in terms of income, those two days are earmarked for creative writing or related tasks such as book promotion.

So, I’m super privileged, right? To be in a position where I CAN (in theory) write books about magicians falling in love two days a week.

And when the writing’s going well, it’s great. It’s living the dream.

But these days, like us all, I’m getting older. I’m middle-aged. Lots of my hair is grey and my knees hurt when I walk down hills. Other bits of me are stiff or bothersome and my memory isn’t what it was. Nothing too bad, but still.

Sometimes I worry about the future. Specifically, whether we can afford for me to write romance novels two days a week when I could be earning a lot more doing something else. Last year I made around NZ$11,000 from my books. I paid about $3,500 in tax today, so that leaves just over $7,500. The cost of living in New Zealand is high. Our supermarket bills are wince-inducing and interest rates for mortgages have just gone up. And I’ve made $7,500 FOR THE YEAR to put towards feeding everyone, paying the mortgage and all the other bills, including saving for retirement.

Not that I can imagine retiring.

And all this is happening at a time when so many writers are complaining about declining incomes, when people using Chat GPT and other prediction engines are likely to flood the market with just-about-readable mush. Not to mention the usual dull fears about my own ability. Do I have the range to keep writing? Already I’ve found myself unintentionally plagiarizing myself from time to time and I’ve only written three books. Do I have an original bone left in my body?

Anyway, I’ve said before that when it’s going well, writing is the closest thing I know to magic. I transcend myself. I become a conduit for words. It’s like flying in a warm sea of stars. Who wouldn’t want that?

It’s warm and you’re flying. You’re free! You’re at one with the stars and the water… [Image shows a million white stars in a vast midnight sky, some reflected in a still pond. A tree bedecked in green hints at balmy summer breezes… Image credit: Gustavo Tavares via Pexels.

But as we know from fairy stories, magic has a price.

This is the price for me. Worrying about the future. Wondering if I should quit writing and try to find a fulltime corporate job. Then we could afford carpet that isn’t held together with duct tape. We could buy curtains that match and maybe even get health insurance. We could pay off our mortgage faster and save for retirement. I could still write, sometimes. I’d be too tired in the evenings, but I could get in a few hours at weekends.

Or, do I try to hold fast to the magic? Do I carry on with writing? Do I try to get faster, to learn better story planning skills so I don’t end up with so many unfinished manuscripts? That never worked for me in the past, but I could try again.

For now, my plan is to write another book. See how it goes.

But I’ll be keeping an eye on the magic to worry ratio.


  1. Dear Lee,

    As I’ve just told another author who’s been having the same worries, you do you and sod everyone else. Yes, it’s nice to be able to have the option of doing what you want when you want [sort of], treat your writing as a little ‘side’ job and [up until now anyhoo] not worry too much about the consequences BUT there does come a time when you wonder if it’s all worth it…and it appears you’ve hit that point in recent weeks.

    You can damn well guarantee that your readers will ‘fill the space’ that you’ve left with other authors, and I know that’s a hurtful thing to say but it’s so, so true. I’ve done it countless times over the 10+ years I’ve been reading M/M when my favourite authors have lost their mojo and stopped writing altogether or become so popular they’ve ‘sold out’ and gone mainstream, and can’t seem to write anything other than ‘samey’ Rom-coms now to pay the bills [oops, sorry not sorry]. Or family life has become their main priority [and why wouldn’t it be?] or they simply just can’t be bothered with all the hassle anymore but keep stringing their readers along anyway [surely much better to ‘fess up’ as they say?]. We readers will find other storytellers to ‘fixate’ on, fact of life.

    Hoping that you find a solution to your worries in whichever way works for you, but please put yourself and your family’s needs first. I know everyone is having cost of living nightmares at the moment, and NZ does appear to be a pretty expensive place to live.

    Very best wishes for the future,

    Bev U.K.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bev! Fear not – I am putting myself and my family first. Currently I still want to write another book, but I’m definitely keeping a watchful eye on the situation and if it feels that the money is more important I’ll make the changes I need.


  2. I appreciate your honesty here. The sad truth is that too many people have to choose between creative pursuits and survival. I love your books and would hate to see you stop writing! I think the real issue here is: would life be worth it if you didn’t write? Because having those 2 days (even if they aren’t always available for writing) might be enriching your life far beyond what anything else could.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve hit on the heart of the matter! Creative pursuits are enriching (if hard sometimes). I’m reminded of a panel from Posy Simmond’s great ‘Gemma Bovary’ where the heroine suddenly realises in horror: “I’ve chosen an artist’s life and now I’m POOR!” I’m not ‘poor’ but there is a tension in balancing my enrichment with the needs of the family. But yes (sighs) it would make me sad if I had to take on a 40 hours + per week corporate job again.


  3. I love your books but I’m fine waiting, for years or decades if that’s what it takes. Of course I wish you could hold on to magic, but you do what’s best for you. I’m not a writer myself but I relate to your troubles and worries (and not only in this particular post) a lot in other ways, and unfortunately have not yet found a solution that works for me. Meanwhile I find comfort in works by you and other fantastic writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! And for your patience waiting for another book – I do have one underway at present which is great. Yeah, it’s not just writers trying to balance all the things but practically everyone I know. I guess we just keep on balancing through x


      1. Only the luckiest creatives are not weighing these questions these days, I think. Which, leftist idealist that I am, makes me sad and anxious – because if only those who can afford it make art, what art will we see? I desperately want more writing time myself but in the times I have it, I’m often too tired from the job that pays the bills. All this to say, your voice as a writer is an important thing. You might not be able to keep that time free for your art – it’s a hard balancing act – but it’s a precious and wonderful thing that you do very much deserve to have.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. From one leftist idealist to another, this worries me too. I mean, I can just about maintain the balancing act, but there are HEAPS of people out there who can’t and who simply have to give up their creative pursuits or never start. And you’re right about peoples’ creative voices being inherently valuable and important. I sometimes forget that, or devalue my own, I think, because it’s so easy to fall into the trap of ‘if it’s not making money it’s not worth enough’. But, of course, some things are priceless – and worth making sacrifices for. x


  4. As a reader we sometimes think that our favorite authors do nothing all day but sit at home or their office and continue to pour these wonderful ideas into their stories that we love to read.  Instead, reality hits and we realize that authors have the same human problems.  Trying to pay bills, keeping up with family life and trying to keep a balance between that and their creativity.  You have to do what’s best for your family and yourself.  Take care of that and the creative process should follow.  At least I hope it will.  I am still envious of you and other writers, who have the ability to take an idea and put them to paper for others to enjoy.  

    Thank you for sharing this😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Yep, it’s a balance all right. And it’s true that I find it difficult to concentrate on creative writing if there are unpaid bills or family matters that need sorting. It’s all about priorities, I guess (but I wish I got to prioritise writing romance novels just a little bit more!)


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